Tormohlen: What is your child doing after school?
National data show that the after-school hours between 3 and 6 p.m. offer myriad opportunities for kids to stray into juvenile crime, sexual activity and other risky behaviors.
If family members or friends are supervising kids in the afternoon, then this isn’t such a concern. But many children often have little to do after school, and nobody is waiting for them at home. Most low-income families cannot afford to pay for extracurricular lessons and often cannot transport kids to and from activities because they’re working and commuting long hours. There also is a lack of opportunities for families to participate in together.
Productive after-school activities deliver excellent results: improved work habits, social skills and test scores along with lower rates of misconduct, school dropouts, teen pregnancy and so forth.
Numerous organizations in the Roaring Fork Valley recognize the need for after-school services and are collaborating to fill the gap.
The Aspen Youth Center, for example, uses grant money to offer free extracurricular activities for kids from fourth through 12th grades. Using a game room, media room, computer lab and kitchen, the Aspen Youth Center offers instruction in everything from cooking to science, along with healthy snacks and homework help for those who need it. Last year, 1,434 kids took advantage of AYC, which is housed in the Aspen Recreation Center, and 28 percent of them traveled upvalley from Basalt, El Jebel and Carbondale, where fewer after-school options exist.
Things are changing in the midvalley, however. Every Wednesday, when the Roaring Fork School District releases its 5,600 students at 2 p.m. so teachers can sharpen their skills, many kids now attend “Enrichment Wednesdays.”
Last year, some 1,900 Roaring Fork students participated in diverse after-school offerings underwritten by the Aspen Community Foundation’s Cradle to Career Initiative. The foundation’s support has helped create partnerships between the school district and outside organizations. There are science and technology classes that involve fun, hands-on projects and math skills. There are movement classes that get kids’ blood pumping and excite their minds through exercise. For middle school students, there are community and career-themed classes that get them thinking about what’s ahead in high school and beyond.
“We hear from the students all the time, ‘I love Enrichment Wednesdays because I get to try new things,’” said Brian Berg, who coordinates the program for the school district.
“When Enrichment Wednesdays offers a class at the Wyly (Art Center in Basalt), most kids enrolled have never had the chance to take an arts class. I also get emails from parents thanking me for the program, which prevents them from having to take time off from work on Early Release Wednesdays,” said Berg, who hopes to boost participation this year to half of the overall student body.
On other days of the week, many other organizations, from public libraries and recreation centers to athletic clubs and martial-arts studios, offer ways to fill the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. Blue Lake Preschool, for example, offers buses to transport elementary-age children from midvalley schools to its location in El Jebel for its after-school BLAST program.
Through its SecondShift program, Access Roaring Fork offers classes for middle schoolers that emphasize life skills and character development. These low-cost, after-school programs in art, music, cooking and more are available to students at five middle schools in Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, New Castle and Rifle. Surveys show that 88 percent of Access participants improved their grades and 85 percent completed their homework more frequently.
So, while it’s true that some of today’s kids suffer from a lack of free time and the stress of too many obligations, far more kids come from households where no parents are home during the day. These dynamics are especially prevalent in high-cost resort communities such as those in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Fortunately, schools, businesses, nonprofits and local government have joined hands to create new opportunities for local youngsters.
Tamara Tormohlen is executive director of the Aspen Community Foundation.
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