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Opinion / Uncategorized

After-school Programs: “It’s probably time for an upgrade.”

after-school programs

OK, so let me tell you about last weekend.

The refrigerator that my wife, Jan, and I inherited from the previous owners of our home is over ten years old. It’s a good model and it’s served us very well, but during the last year we’ve had to repair it three times. On the most recent occasion, the technician gave us the gloomy prognosis – “It’s probably time for an upgrade.” The news was unwelcome but inevitable. So, we found a good deal on a new one and made arrangements for delivery.

Last Saturday, we had our next door neighbors over for dinner and I casually mentioned that we would be replacing our fridge (fanning the flames of our subtle, yet persistent, game of one-upmanship). My neighbor then took great pleasure in informing me that the previous owners had been forced to deliver that refrigerator via crane through a kitchen window. I snatched my tape measure and made some quick calculations. It was true. The only passageway in our 1935 home wide enough to accommodate the appliance’s girth was the front door. The refrigerator was a ship in a bottle.

Suddenly, pouring money into the old fridge didn’t seem like such a bad option after all.

It was certainly easier than embarking upon whatever kind of helicopter rescue operation lay in store for us. Jan, however, no longer able to tolerate the constant, rattling hum of the behemoth’s decrepit motor, was determined to find an alternative solution. On Sunday, she called her father, who is a jack of all masculine trades, and within an hour he was at our front door with his reciprocating saw, ready to release the Kenmore from its cage.

He made short work of the door jamb, giving us an additional four inches of clearance and covering our entire home in a fine layer of silt. Jan and I thanked him for his masterful craftsmanship and then spent the next several hours cleaning everything we own (except, of course, my beloved flat screen which I had dutifully covered with a sheet). The delivery went swimmingly, and apart from the scarred doorway that still needs mending, we have returned to a state of domestic tranquility.

So, what does this story have to do with after-school, you ask?

Well, it occurs to me that with a little indulgence this anecdote could serve as an allegory for our after-school community. Over the past decade, after-school programs have evolved from child development centers and safe havens for youth to venues for learning activities that complement core day instruction. The focus of after-school programs has shifted from meeting the child care needs of families to meeting the academic needs of students. In fact, in many school districts that receive ASES grants, they are the only extended learning opportunities available.

On a recent conference call with members of a committee to develop a policy platform for the National Afterschool Association, a Midwestern colleague balked at the suggestion that after-school programs should be intentionally designed to improve academic achievement. In her words, “That’s not our job. That’s why they call it after-school.” Now, I must admit to having used that line myself many times in the past.

It has become clear to me, as it has to many others in our field, that in order for after-school programs to remain a relevant part of the conversation related to school innovation and reform, we must define our value within a learning context.

When after-school programs began to proliferate in the late nineties, there were those in the child care community who failed to recognize the movement as a point of evolution, and missed opportunities as a result. As political traction builds for extended learning time, we cannot afford to repeat the same mistake. Instead, we should follow the example of Lucy Friedman, who has embraced the concept and positioned The After School Corporation to be a leader in its practical application.

It is time for us to accept the fact that our traditional after-school model may be in need of an upgrade, and while living through a renovation project is always messy, we must be willing to expand our doorways to accommodate bigger ideas. The lasting results will be well worth the temporary inconvenience.

This morning I had a fresh fruit medley, nicely chilled in my brand new refrigerator.

Author Profile: @steveamick

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