By Yvonne Samuel
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
While some before and after school programs in Missouri and Illinois are struggling to maintain their funding to meet the high demand in low-income communities, other have established partnerships, solicited volunteers and established fees to keep their programs afloat.
Most before- and after-school programs in the metro area are housed in schools, community centers, churches and local organizations such as the YMCA. Programs include tutoring and homework assistance, extracurricular activities, sports and other activities.
No matter the location, proponents say these programs are sorely needed to increase academic performance, lower teenage pregnancy and drug use and combat obesity. They provide supervision and structure for students while parents are working.
One advocacy group – the Afterschool Alliance – has launched a campaign to create awareness about the need for programs and funding.
“There is no question that we need more after-school programs in Missouri, and more secure funding for the programs we,” said Missouri Afterschool Network Chairwoman Sherry Comer, who directs programs for the Camdenton School District in Camdenton School District in Camdenton, Mo. “We must do better for our kids.”
The Afterschool Alliance surveyed 139 after-school programs in Missouri. The results showed that 80 percent operated at or above capacity; about 54 percent of students qualify for free lunches (a measure of poverty); 70 percent said funding is down a little or a lot over the last two years.
In Illinois, 489 after-school program sites serving more than 230,000 children were surveyed. About 70 percent operated at or above capacity and 60 percent said funding is down a little or a lot in the last two years.
“By not providing stable, secure funding, we’re playing Russian roulette with the Afterschool programs that are critical to our children and families,” said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant. Ron Jackson, assistant director of St. Louis for Kids, agrees.
It takes $1,500 a year for a child to participate in an after-school program, he said. This pays for three hours a day, five days a week.
Programs such as the YMCA heavily rely on volunteers to make their program work.
“We want to complement what the students do during the school day,” said Laurie McTearnen, vice president of Child Care Services for the YMCA. Volunteers assist with math and reading tutorials.
The YMCA’s 24-year-old program serves 158 elementary schools and eight middle schools in 29 school districts in St. Louis, St. Charles, Jefferson, Warren, Washington and Franklin counties, as well as in St. Louis.
“Children in high-quality, out-of-school-time programs do much better academically and socially in life,: McTearnen said. “The goal is to learn and have fun at the same time.”
Parental engagement, one-on-one tutoring, mentoring, personal finance training, study skills and character building are the hallmarks to a successful academic-based after-school program, said Frank Van Bree, president of UrbanFUTURE, an organization that provides an after-school program for Fanning Middle School in St. Louis.
Academic achievement is one of the core tenets of the program, says Van Bree. The program serves 120 of the school’s 320 students.
Students attend from 3:30 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Nearly 100 Volunteers serve as mentors for the program.
“We take sixth-graders who read at the second-grade level and train them for two years,” Van Bree said. “When the students graduate from the eighth grade, they can read on the eighth-grade level,” he said.
In the Ferguson-Florissant School District, students take after-school programming to another level. At Wedgwood Elementary, 12 students build robots using Legos.
“The goal is to provide enriching educational activities for our students other than in the regular classroom,” said teacher Andra Gwydir. “The bottom line is – we have fun.”