By Marcus Session and Vanessa Rosado-Aguilar
President Trump called for eliminating federal funding for all local after-school and summer programs in April of 2019. The Trump Administration said at the time that these programs lacked strong evidence of their effectiveness.
This would affect many of the CPS students who attend after-school programs. After-school programs have been known to help both parents and students by building learning and leadership experiences.
CPS’s mission is to “provide a high-quality public education for every child, in every neighborhood, that prepares each for success in college, career, and civic life”. However, this mission is limited every year due to budget cuts and hundreds of schools suffer every year.
After-school programs are repeatedly getting budget cuts or removed entirely from the school. This is concerning because after school programs bring many benefits to the students, teachers, parents and the school as a community.
An article on CNN explains how the importance of after-school programs can be crucial in the lives and success of students. Especially in the city’s low-income neighborhoods, where parents and providers are stuck at work during after-school hours and aren’t physically able to supervise their children. The Trump Administration insists on cutting the funds for these programs.
Trump’s budget cut proposal was shut down, only for him to propose eliminating after-school programs again in February, for the 4th year in a row. This topic has been overshadowed by more important headlines like COVID-19. But Trump and his administration appear to be wrong on the effectiveness of after school programs.
Public Act 101-0007 appropriated $20 million for fiscal year of 2020 in General Revenue funds to provide the After School Programs Grant to school districts and community organizations for after-school programming . The After School Programs Grant is a two-part initiative. School district grant allocations total $17 million out of the $20 million appropriated, while another $3 million is competitive grant allocations for non-school district applicants.
In Illinois, about 52 thousand kids are enrolled into an after-school program and approximately $52 million in federal funds supports these programs statewide. In the proposed budget under the 2021 fiscal year, zero kids will be served and zero dollars will be funded into the after-school programs.
Parents often rely on these programs to keep their children safe and engaged while they are at work. According to police records, a child 16 or younger is murdered every week on average. While about 12 people from the ages of 10-24 are the victims of everyday homicide.
Many of the youth who fall victim to gun violence in Chicago are shot due to crossfire. They are sometimes caught in the middle of drug deals, gang violence, or are innocently in the line of fire. After-school programs limit children’s exposure to stray bullets as they reduce the number of times students are hanging around outside in the city’s most dangerous areas.
Johanna Fernandez, a CPS teacher at Benito Juarez Community Academy, has led many after-school programs such as Girls Swimming Club for 10 years and recently the students’ Voice committee for the last five years, had a comment about safety being a benefit of after school programs.
“It’s important that there continue to be programs that’s school-based,” she said. “Because if they’re already inside the building then they’re safe to stay in those after school programs.”
The dynamics of a student’s home life could be difficult and a safe space for them could be school, so after-school programs help extend their time outside of their home in a safe environment.
“There are also alternatives such as local park districts offering programs but this is not as safe as a school because of having to travel there and it being a more open accessible environment compared to a school.
Schools typically have security with metal detectors and require identification to enter. These programs do more than create a safe space for students. They also educate kids by teaching them skills and life lessons that aren’t taught in schools.
After-school programs provide an opportunity for students to further discover who they are and explore other interests. These programs help students develop themselves whether it’s emotional or social, but it provides a safe environment to interact with people who have similar interests. After-school programs are also education facilities and can help students get that one on one help that can’t be provided in classrooms.
Andrea Drew, a teacher at Benito Juarez Community Academy for 14 years, said after-school programs help improve the dynamics inside the classroom. Drew talks about the social and emotional learning students can receive while doing after-school programs but also the learning teachers can do when participating in after-school programs.
In CPS schools, it’s typical for teachers to be leading after-school programs and this enables them to learn about their students outside of the classroom. Drew commented, “in the classroom, there’s such a limited amount of information I can get from students.” she said. “While (outside of the classroom) I can see other qualities that you can’t see in the classroom..but now that I know I can tap into them in the classroom.”
After-school programs led by outside programs can be just as beneficial as the ones that are led by the CPS.
Organizations like the 21st Century Community Learning Centers help students in the essential subjects of math and reading. This program also has activities that can help students with their regular academic programs and offers educational services to the families of participating children.
The Boys and Girls Club is another after school program that supervises kids. They help build leadership and discipline in students in a caring environment. There are many more programs like this as well in the city.
After School Matters is an after school program that connects students to activities and pays them for participating. Edwin Anastasio, a former CPS student, attended Little Village High School where he participated in this program. He got connected to Yollocali, an art program where students join to explore art forms.
Anastasio talked about his experience “I joined because I was really into art,” he said, “I got to mess around (with art supplies) and get paid for it.”
Anastasio, a graduate of Little Village High School, was looking for an outlet to express his interest in art in a freelance manner which Yollocali enabled him to do. Creating an environment safe for him to explore other interests and expand himself creatively. Anastasio would not have been able to gain access to these art materials anywhere else which he expressed his gratitude and enthusiasm for this program.
Contrary to Trump’s belief that after school programs should be cut as they seem to not be effective. Teachers, students, and parents disagree because it provided an outlet for students to express themselves beyond academics. Fernandez says these programs give the opportunity to “ask questions about themselves (students) that we don’t necessarily ask of ourselves in our academic or family situation”.
Referring to Fernandez, these programs explore beyond the academic realm and encourage students to venture into something new to expand their mindset. It also provided an extra place and person to rely on and that can be important to someone who needs to feel an adult is on their side to listen to their problems. It’s important to understand that after school programs are not the only solution but it is a solution to improving the students learning environment.
Funding is so important for CPS after school programs because the majority of the students come from low-income families. These families need these programs to be free or close to free to be able to allow their children to explore and expand themselves outside of academics. Limiting funds for these programs hinders students’ learning and removes a safe outlet for them to learn new skills or strengthen existing ones.