By Tina Fetzer
Director of Ratings and Assessment

Yes, this is Qualistar, so why are we talking about school age programs?

We have spent the last two years refining our School Age Qualistar Rating and assessments for out-of-school time programs. As an organization that supports quality in every facet of the early childhood education community, we believe all children’s programming should be high quality. Our obligation to offer quality programs for children does not end when they enter Kindergarten. Children continue to seek out supportive relationships, positive guidance, and healthy learning opportunities throughout their young lives and into adulthood.

Quality out-of-school time programs provide all those things and more. They provide children with the skills they need later in life as they join our workforce.

A study conducted last summer by the Riley Institute at the Furman University found there are at least five workforce readiness skills that are developed by children when consistently participating in quality out-of-school time programs: teamwork, communication, problem solving, self-confidence, and critical thinking. With all the discussion today around America’s economic future and our place in world affairs, these skills are critical for children’s development into future leaders of our nation and its position in global outcomes.

School age programs that provide activities with intentionality can influence these workforce skills. For example, programs that allow children to make choices for themselves in learning activities such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) and in social activities such as student government or leadership groups promote children’s self-confidence in making decisions, working as part of a team, problem solving, and critical thinking. Programs that create environments where children can reflect, participate in group discussions, and debate also support these skills. Art and drama activities support communication skills and allow for self-expression. Athletic and sport camps promote teamwork, good communication skills, and provide needed physical outlets as well as promote healthy lifestyle habits which reduce stress.

In addition to the readiness skills, consistent participation in high quality out-of-school time programs provide many other benefits, particularly for at-risk youth.

Studies have shown that children participating in these programs have a higher level of self-esteem, better attitudes toward school, achieve higher grades; including achievement test scores, and have reduced problem behaviors; resulting in better social skills and quality relationships with peers, family, and primary care adults.

A 2007 publication by Joseph Durlak out of the Loyola University at Chicago, cites the following:

“Youth who participate in after-school programs improve significantly in three major areas: feelings and attitudes, indicators of behavioral adjustment, and school performance. More specifically, after-school programs succeeded in improving youths’ feelings of self-confidence and self-esteem, school bonding (positive feelings and attitudes toward school), positive social behaviors, school grades and achievement test scores. They also reduced problem behaviors (e.g., aggression, noncompliance and conduct problems) and drug use. In sum, after-school programs produced multiple benefits that pertain to youths’ personal, social and academic life.”

With all the benefits of out-of-school time programs for school age children, how can we fail to support these programs with our time, energy, and funding?

Federal and state support of these programs is currently insufficient. The results of anticipated cut-backs will impact not only the working families and their children right now, but our nation as whole in the future. Support your local school age providers and quality out-of-school programs.

There are two opportunities each year for advocacy of quality school age programs.

The National Summer Learning Day is July 13, 2017. You can find information on how you can join others in ensuring kids are learning, safe, and healthy during the summer months on their website.

You will have another opportunity in the fall to support your local before and after school programs by participating in Lights On Afterschool 2017, which brings attention to after school programs and the ways they support children’s learning and discovery by exposing them to new things. This will be the 18th annual recognition event for celebrating before and after school programs and their critical role in our communities. This year’s Lights On Afterschool date is October 26, 2017.

Sound the alarm for continued support of quality out-of-school programs for children; it’s for all of us!