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Out-of-school programs prepare students for success, help families

This piece was co-authored by David Egner, president and CEO of the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, and originally appeared in The Detroit News. Read the original post.

Fahria, a 17-year-old high-school student from Hamtramck, spent her summer attending the Detroit Food Academy’s virtual Summer Leadership Program. She says she had learned valuable lessons in teamwork, developing and running programming and becoming a leader.

Most importantly, she has learned more about herself and where her passions lie. For some of us, that kind of self-discovery takes a lifetime.

Fahria’s story is like those of many other Michigan youth. As our state continues to navigate through the pandemic, afterschool program providers went above and beyond to ensure Michigan kids could engage in programming reliably and safely.

Fortunately, we have a robust supply of programmatic resources at our disposal. Across Michigan, community-based before- and afterschool programs are helping students regain their footing socially, emotionally and academically. In fact, research shows that children enrolled in out-of-school programs are more like to stay in school, graduate and pursue a post-secondary education.

These programs offer innovative approaches to learning and essential adult connections that create a strong, engaged citizenry for the Michigan of tomorrow.

Even as the pandemic waged on and resources became tighter, afterschool providers still made sure our kids had opportunities to learn and socialize, access to resources and programming vital for development and — in many cases — basic needs such as meals and school supplies.

Many providers reallocated funds to make this shift while often uncertain of their ability to bounce back from potential financial setbacks as a result.

For example, Downtown Boxing Gym in Detroit launched an emergency fundraising campaign and hired more staff to provide full-day programming for students both virtually and in-person. Central Detroit Christian ramped up volunteer recruitment and collected laptop and tablet donations so kids could continue to learn while at home. And Developing Kingdoms in Different Stages held reading classes and learning activities over Facebook Live so parents could join their kids.Get the COVID-19 Update newsletter in your inbox.

This is often the case across the state. Some of the most compassionate and engaging hours of Michigan children’s lives are happening before and after school with caregivers in rural and urban centers. While the ingenuity and persistence of these providers should be lauded, one thing has become clear: if we want to see more afterschool programs for our kids, we need to fund them more.

While we at The Skillman Foundation and The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundations proudly support dozens of afterschool providers in and around Detroit, these vital programs need more to create the best possible learning and development opportunities for all Michigan kids.

Beyond that, families need to be sure that their kids are in a safe, constructive environment during out-of-school time when parents are working or taking care of other responsibilities.

The demand is clear: More than 751,000 children would be enrolled in an out-of-school program if one were available to them.

We’re not alone in this call for more funding: A coalition is urging legislatures to invest $100 million in Michigan’s before school, afterschool and summer programs. This amount is substantial but will go a long way in ensuring the safety, development and socio-emotional well-being of our kids.

And we know Michigan residents are ready for this level of funding.

A recent voter survey commissioned by The Skillman Foundation showed that 62% of Michigan residents support more investments in children. What’s more encouraging is that 58% support this investment even if it means raising their taxes. There are many needs competing for attention and funding — but investing in our children’s well-being and their ability to pursue a bright future is a necessity Michigan residents are ready to get behind with their own pocketbook. Before we must cross that bridge, we have an opportunity with the American Rescue Plan to fund developmental afterschool programs for children across our state. There is decades of data to show the impact of afterschool and summer programming.

But this is a chance for people to see the value for their own family. And the return on investment continues as our children grow.

In Fahria’s case, her afterschool programming had a lasting impact. She was happy to have a safe space with caring adults and like-minded teens where she could give back to her community and improve her social and leadership skills for her path ahead.

Before- and after-school programs are known to improve academic achievement, provide stable relationships, and ensure the personal growth of the youth they serve. They are understood to be an integral part of preparing young people to succeed in work and in life, with 78% of survey respondents supporting investments in expanded learning time.

As Michigan works to strengthen our people, our education system, and our economy, investing in out-of-school learning opportunities will be critical. From sunup to sundown, we can ensure our children are nurtured, inspired and prepared to create a better tomorrow for Michigan. If we invest today, we all benefit tomorrow.

Angelique Power

Angelique Power is the president and CEO of The Skillman Foundation.

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