According to a special report commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance, a non profit public awareness and advocacy organization based in Washington, DC, 56 percent of families in 1950 represented the “traditional” American image—one parent worked full-time and the other stayed home to care for the children. Today, less than a quarter of the families in the nation fit this image, leaving 14.3 million children to care for themselves after school.
The rest of the world has changed a lot since the 1950s too. Jodi Grant, the executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, says that another study points out how much more likely kids were to partake in dangerous behaviors while unsupervised during these hours. “Teens who do not participate in afterschool programs are nearly three times more likely to skip classes than teens who do participate,” she says. “They are also three times more likely to use marijuana or other drugs, and they are more likely to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and engage in sexual activity.”
But the image of the traditional American family and the dangers in the after-school hours are not the only thing that’s changed. On a more positive note, the demand for afterschool programming has increased and has been met with a number of evolving, engaging options for parents who wish to use the afterschool hours in a constructive way.
“There was a time when there were few afterschool programs, and what was available was more likely to be activities—a cheerleading group here, a chess club there,” says Grant. “We are making progress, the number of afterschool programs is growing, but we still have a long way to go. And the programs we have do more to provide the range of supports and activities that students need today than in the past. In many cases, afterschool programs engage students who may not be doing well in school by offering field trips, mentoring, opportunities to try art and music, physical fitness and sports, career exploration, and much more, as well as the homework help that students need.”
Rather than just providing baby-sitting, today there are a range of choices in the region that go beyond standard child care to promote creativity, teach new skills, and prepare children and youth for the responsibilities they will face in the workforce.
Center for Creative Education
“All you have to do is take a good walk around Midtown Kingston,” says Evry Mann, the founder and executive director of the Center for Creative Education in Kingston. “Kids today are confronting all types of serious risks and it’s dangerous out there—and not just in Midtown Kingston, it’s dangerous everywhere. You could sit in front of your big screen TV and it runs the gamut from drugs and alcohol abuse to the idiocy of too many hours playing video games.”
Mann’s antidote began in 1997, when his daughter was in third grade and he noticed a lack of arts programs in the schools. What started as one program in an elementary school quickly spread to three as Mann, a percussionist, utilized his friendships with working artists in the area who loved kids and could teach—a symbiosis that gave work to artists and enriched the education of children.
Today, the Center for Creative Education operates programs from its own performing arts center in Kingston. The center offers studios for multi disciplinary visual arts, percussion, dance, a computer music lab, and a homework tutoring center. Funding has helped provide Apple computers and GarageBand software for the computer music lab, where beginning to advanced students can create their own compositions under the direction of Peter Wetzler, who does professional film and music scoring.
The dance programs at the center are also widely acclaimed, and Bryant “Drew” Andrews’s Energy Dance Company has won awards from the Apollo Theater and BET. To participate in the dance groups that the center offers, Mann says that children must maintain a certain grade level at school—a further incentive to study and a way that the center ties together the arts and academics.
“We know classroom teachers who have says that the [dancer’s] discipline and focus pays off in math class because they’ll spend 30 minutes working on a step to get it right, and that can carry over to academics as well,” Mann says.
The center does charge for programs, but the fees are often covered by scholarships when students apply—Mann estimates that 86 percent of the 128 students currently enrolled at the center are on scholarship. The center also offers free programs at the George Washington and John F. Kennedy Elementary Schools, which provide theater, music, dance, visual art, and more to about 450 elementary school students.