Friday, September 24, 2010

Avoid the Danger Zone to Protect Our Future!

Robert Puschantz, age 17 (After School Matters - Chicago, IL)
What are the most dangerous hours of the day for school age children?   Are they in the early morning as they walking to school or wait for the bus?   Are they during the late night when criminals lurk in the dark?   Do you think they are during the school day when bullies seek out their unsuspecting prey? They are none of these.  The hours of 3 pm to 6pm are the most dangerous hours for kids in grades K-12.   It is during these hours when more children become involved in dangerous activities and risky behavior.  

During this brief three hour period children are most likely to experiment with drugs and sex.   Why?   According to the 2009 America After 3PM survey sponsored by JCPenney Afterschool for the Afterschool Alliance, Illinois has 641,975 K-12 children responsible for caring for themselves after school.  It's only natural that unsupervised, adventuresome children would participate in activities that responsible adults would never allow.

McCormick Boys & Girls Club Science Club members

The Afterschool Alliance is a nonprofit public awareness and advocacy organization working to
ensure that all children have access to quality afterschool programs.  As our nation and state faces the devastating effects of a declining economy, many afterschool programs have been negatively impacted.  Funding has been slashed, offerings have been reduced, and unfortunately some programs have even been eliminated.  The America After 3PM survey discovered that in Illinois 845,397 children would participate in afterschool programs if they were available in the community.  Parents stated that the largest  barriers to their children's participation in afterschool programs are cost, lack of quality programs, and  lack of safe transportation.

Michael Caldwell, 16 (After School Matters - Chicago, IL)
As we deal with such pressing issues facing our youth as escalating violence, dismal graduation rates, and poor health, we must recognize the success of afterschool programs in addressing these concerns.  Afterschool programs allow children to develop character and life skills, explore their interests, and foster caring relationships with peers and adults.  After school hours provide academic enrichment, participation in the arts, and goal setting.  The largest providers of these programs in Illinois are public schools.   However, religious organizations, private schools, city initiatives, and Boys & Girls Clubs also play an important role in providing these opportunities for youth after school.

We must do our part to support and promote quality afterschool programs in our communities.  Be an advocate for these programs.   You can sign a petition showing your support by visiting the Afterschool Alliance.  While visiting the site be sure to check out the Advocate Newsletter tab for news on current issues and political developments.  Participate in the 11th annual Lights On Afterschool Rally on October 21st, when over 1 million Americans rally for afterschool programs.  Lights On Afterschool will consist of thousands of events nationwide.  Attend an event in your community to show your support.   

Our youth are depending on us.  Our deeds must be in line with our words.  If we say our future depends on our youth, we must provide them with all the tools necessary for success.   School hours alone are not enough to adequately prepare our youth in grades K-12.  If you don't believe me, listen to the voices of our youth in this video produced by What Kids Can Do. Then vow to make a difference.

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