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Published in Print: June 2, 1999, as Report: After-School Programs Not All They Could Be

Report: After-School Programs Not All They Could Be

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As national leaders and state lawmakers continue to push for ways to help children stay out of trouble when they're out of school, a new study shows how hard it can be to improve the supply and quality of after-school programs.

And while schools are an important partner in that effort, the study found that one of the keys to building a system of programs to serve children outside class is to tap into community institutions, such as museums, parks, and public-housing agencies.

For More Information

Free copies of the executive summary of "Making the Most of Out-of-School Time" are available from Ann Justiniano, DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, 2 Park Ave., 23rd Floor, New York, NY 10016.

Presented last week at a Capitol Hill briefing organized by Sens. James M. Jeffords, R-Vt., and Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., the report focuses on the progress of a program called Making the Most of Out-of-School Time. MOST is an effort to create model before- and after-school programs and to improve the skills of those who work in them.

Since 1993, the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, a foundation based in New York City, has spent close to $10 million on MOST in three cities: Boston, Chicago, and Seattle. The programs serve 5- to 14-year-olds in poor communities.

The money has been used for a variety of purposes, including purchases of materials, facilities improvements, staff training, subsidies for low-income children, new programs, and the expansion of existing ones.

The demand for before- and after-school programs continues to increase, but the U.S. General Accounting Office predicts that by 2002, the supply will only be large enough to meet one-quarter of the need in many urban areas.

While such programs are often viewed by policymakers as a way to prevent violence, drug abuse, teen pregnancy, gang affiliation, and other social ills, the report emphasizes other benefits, including the promotion of "normal development" for low-income children.

"Poor (and working-class) children, just as their more advantaged peers," the report says, "should be exposed to opportunities, guided by knowledgeable adults, to discover things they are or would like to be good at, to become skillful at those things, to learn about the world outside their neighborhood, and so forth."

The local agencies that received grants did a good job of raising matching funds and increasing awareness about the needs of particular groups of children, such as middle school students and children with special needs, said the evaluation of the initiative, which was conducted by the Chapin Hall Center for Children, a research center at the University of Chicago.

But the evaluators also found that even though the MOST committees and working groups have worked hard to bring providers and other groups together to discuss the issues and set goals, they haven't been as effective as they could be, the report says.

'Day to Day'

Tom Brock, an evaluation officer with the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund, noted that one lesson from the report was that program leaders need to set long-term goals and find agreement between various providers.

"Many programs just tend to operate day to day and haphazardly," he said.

The report concludes that MOST's mission is too broad and that resources have been spread too thin. In large cities, it says, the money should perhaps be targeted to individual neighborhoods instead of toward an entire citywide plan.

And even though thousands of additional children were served because of the MOST initiative, the evaluators concluded that the fund's money might be better used to improve the quality of programs instead of trying to increase the supply.

"No private foundation can take on the task of the affordability question," said Michelle Seligson, the executive director of the National Institute on Out of School Time, a research and advocacy group based at Wellesley College in Wellesley, Mass.

The report presented last week is an interim one. Chapin Hall will complete a final evaluation this summer. The fund's support of MOST will continue through 2001.

Vol. 18, Issue 38, Page 3

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