The gap between school hours and traditional work schedules still exists.
Latch-key kids are still around.
School districts and nonprofits offer programs for after-care or extended-day programs, but all have a cost and limited space.
It’s an area of education that has remained a no-man’s land.
About 29 percent of Oklahoma children are alone after school lets out and spend an average of nine hours a week unsupervised, according to the Oklahoma Afterschool Network.
“We expect mom and dad to work until 5 or 6 at night, but their children have been out of school for a couple of hours by then,” said Sheryl Lovelady, executive director of the network.
“Not only is that the time kids become engaged with at-risk behaviors, but it’s a time that could be used for hands-on, experimental learning that better prepares students for the workforce.”
Rethinking the schedule: For whatever reason, our schools remain tied to a daily schedule more like a farmer than a kid.
In Tulsa, I’m dropping my kids off at school before any businesses are open.
They are being released just a couple of hours after most people return to work from lunch.
Each year, there is a waiting list for the school’s after-care program, and it’s not cheap.
Oklahoma is one of 14 states that does not budget for after-care programs, according to the Afterschool Network.
Our state doesn’t budget much for education in general we are 49th in the nation for overall spending and No. 1 in cuts since 2008, just as a reminder.
As lawmakers seek to change this, it would be worth taking a look at how the after-school hours are being used.
More can be done: After-school programs are regulated by the Oklahoma Department of Human Services as child care.
Safety is the basic standard. Anything above that is voluntary.
This is what the Oklahoma Afterschool Network would like to see change.
It adopted a set of standards last year that blends health and wellness with college and workforce readiness.
Recommendations include time for free play, creative activities, guest speakers and nutrition lessons.
The network also emphasizes programs related to STEM an acronym for science, technology, engineering and math.
National and state reports project growth in these fields at more than double the rate of the overall U.S. labor force.
About 20 percent of Oklahoma jobs are STEM-related and pay an average of $59,000, compared to $34,000 in other fields. That average jumps to $76,000 for STEM jobs that require a bachelor’s degree.
Also, about 25 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates seek STEM studies and less than 10 percent end up in STEM-related careers.
“We need to increase STEM opportunities for kids after school and raise awareness of these job fields,” Lovelady said. “Now it’s time for education and industry to work together.”
Commitment required: After-school hours can be used to put the lessons of the school day into practice.
“The after-school space is not as limited on time as the school day,” Lovelady said. “This can be a place for robotics or other STEM-related activities. Kids can really get engaged in the jobs they care about. They can see the connection between school and career.”
Studies in music and arts cut from school budgets could be placed back in through after-school programs.
Other states are using these precious two to three hours to add time to their school calendars.
It’s not an easy fix. It will take funding, staff and cooperation with businesses, nonprofits and colleges.
“Industry needs to take a step toward schools and be willing to make a commitment,” Lovelady said. “And, schools need to be open to these partnerships and be flexible. If we can do that, we will be moving in the right direction.”
Oklahoma after-school snapshot
- 12 percent of children participate in an after-school program.
- 29 percent of children take care of themselves after school.
- 41 percent of children not enrolled in an after-school program would be if a program were available.
- 81 percent of parents are satisfied with the after-school program their child attends.
Source: Afterschool Alliance