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10,000 kids may lose safe haven

Imagine nearly 10,000 kids suddenly having nowhere to go after school.

Right now, these kids have a safe, supportive environment where they spend the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. – a place where they can continue learning, in their own way, at their own pace, outside the classroom; where can they freely explore their interests, from dance to chess to math to music; where they get a hot meal and where their parents don’t have to worry.

Under proposed federal budget cuts, all this disappears. These kids have nowhere to go and their parents may have to choose between going to work or staying home with them.

Nearly 10,000 children in New Mexico participate in after-school programs funded by a federal program called 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Our kids and families rely on these programs to keep young people safe, engaged and on track for high school graduation, college and careers. These programs are offered in our public, private and charter schools, our faith-based centers and local-youth-focused organizations.

What do kids do in Community Learning Centers? Students may build robots, develop an app, create a mural or play basketball. They get help with homework or extra support in subjects they are struggling with. Some centers provide meals or access to medical or dental care.

For the many parents who are still at work when school lets out, these programs help them keep their jobs and, for many low-income families, are a lifeline.

And here’s the thing: After-school programs work. Research shows that when children participate in after-school programs, they attend school more often, get better grades and test scores and are more likely to graduate. Regular after-school attendance also improves children’s homework completion, class participation and classroom behavior.

A recent national study found students who attend after-school programs focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) are more interested in science and improve their skills in areas like critical thinking and perseverance. These are important skills for virtually any job.

In after-school programs, children and youth learn important social skills, how to look someone in the eye and how to shake hands. They learn how to ask questions and how to dream.

No wonder 92 percent of New Mexico parents surveyed said they are happy with their children’s after-school programs. More than seven in 10 parents across our state say that after-school programs help working parents keep their jobs and provide peace of mind because their kids are productively engaged in a safe and nurturing environment after school hours.

And after-school saves up to $9 for every $1 invested by increasing kids’ earning potential, improving academic achievements, and reducing juvenile crime and delinquency.

Far too many of our young people are already being left out. The worst thing we can do is take these programs away from the kids and families who depend on them.

This op-ed was also signed by Joe Hastings, Explora Executive Director; Tim Sheahan, CEO of Boys and Girls Club of Central New Mexico, Flo Trujillo of the Farmington Public Library and Jeff McConaughy, Encore Fellow.


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