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Making out-of-school programs a priority would help everyone, not just kids

Alana Humphrey
OPINION: What happens during the hours between school and home can have a dramatic impact on a child’s future. By providing access to positive, productive programs and caring adult mentors after school and during summer, we can help change the future for our youth, our community and our country. Pictured: Children playing at a playground in the village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island. August 29, 2012 Loren Holmes photo

America’s kids are in crisis. Consider these alarming facts about the state of our country: the U.S. ranks 22nd in high school completion among 28 countries; three out of 10 kids are obese or overweight; and one in five youth lives in poverty. The consequences of these staggering statistics are felt not just by our next generation, but also across our nation.

The issues facing kids today also impact our nation’s economy, costing as much as $209 billion in lost taxes and higher government expenditures over the lifetimes of those who fail to graduate. Nationally, health care costs to treat health issues related to childhood obesity are $14.1 billion annually. Additionally, states spend an average of $7.1 million a day locking youth up in juvenile justice facilities.

How do we reverse the most negative trends facing young people today? One way is by recognizing the importance of out-of-school time. The out-of-school environment -- after school and summer -- plays an essential, yet often overlooked role in transforming kids’ lives and America’s future.

What happens during the hours between school and home can have a dramatic impact on a child’s future, especially in the areas of education, health and character development. By providing access to positive, productive programs and caring adult mentors after school and during summer, we can help change the future for our youth, our community and our country.

For example, Boys & Girls Clubs – Alaska, through our athletics, licensed childcare and in 32 clubhouses across the state are addressing local issues around our members’ commitment to education, healthy lifestyles, and character and leadership development. We have also collaborated on issues surrounding suicide prevention, drug and alcohol prevention, and have joined a team of partners with United Way to ensure our city’s student population reaches a 90 percent graduation rate by the year 2020.

Despite the transformational impact of out-of-school programs, every day 15 million kids nationwide leave school with no place to go, putting them at risk of being unsupervised, unguided and unsafe during these critical after-school hours. Furthermore, during the summer, an alarming 43 million kids in America lack access to expanded learning opportunities, increasing their risk of learning loss and falling behind before the next school year begins.

If the next generation and our nation are to succeed, it is imperative we redefine the opportunity equation for all kids by elevating the critical role that out-of-school time plays in a child’s future success. Through the Great Futures Campaign, the Campaign for America’s Kids, Boys & Girls Clubs -- Alaska is asking our community to make out-of-school programs a priority and empower the next generation to achieve a great future. We are advocating on behalf of kids and convening public, private and nonprofit partners around our goal of ensuring every child and teen has access to a safe, engaging and productive environment during the out-of-school time.

Together, we can provide access to life-changing programs after school and during the summer that enable kids to be successful in school and in adulthood, to be healthy and active, and to develop the strong character skills needed to become America’s future leaders. Together, we can transform lives as well as the future of our community and our country.

Alana Humphrey is the chief executive officer of Boys & Girls Clubs of Alaska.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.