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A City Education: Why Afterschool Programs Are Key to Student Success

Afterschool programs provide a safe space for students to complete their homework, participate in enriching clubs, and learn about their community.

In our A City Education series, City Year corps members share their experiences working as tutors and mentors in schools in hopes of closing the opportunity gap and ending the dropout crisis.

The hours after school can be very dangerous for students who do not have a structured space to go. Many students have parents who are still at work during afterschool time, and these students have free time to spend however they choose. In the South Bronx, this free time may lead to dangerous activities for my students. A major part of my service with City Year takes place from 2:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., when I provide my students with a safe space in which to complete their homework, participate in enriching clubs, and learn about their community.

The first hour of after school is dedicated to homework help. We give the students the opportunity to finish all their homework, and provide support to those who need help doing so. I work with the fifth graders, and every day a number of students protest when we announce that the homework help hour is beginning. By their age, many of them would rather play video games or basketball outside with friends instead of finishing their homework but I know how valuable it is for their education to fully, and correctly, complete all their work.

Once the students settle their complaints and everyone takes out homework, we have our students work silently and independently for ten minutes. We realized in the early stages of our after school program that, as soon as homework help began, almost every student would shoot their hand up in the air to ask for help, before trying to work on the assignments themselves. My City Year team and I did not want the students to become dependent on extra help for their work; therefore, we now begin each session with independent work time. After the 10 minutes are up, students are free to ask us questions, or work quietly with their neighbors.

Just the other day, I saw one of my students struggling to understand how to complete his math work. He sat quietly and stared at the paper in front of him, all of the questions unanswered. I sat down next to him and asked if he'd like some help. He said he had no idea how to solve any of the questions, so he didn't see how I could help him. I told him we could work together, and go step by step through each question. He shrugged and agreed; he still seemed very unsure that he could understand the work. I sat with him while he worked through each question, and I helped him check his work. I saw a wave of relief wash over his face as he filled in each answer. When the worksheet was complete the student smiled, happy that his homework was done, and more confident in his ability to solve the problems put before him.

We at City Year believe that providing our students with structured homework help is crucial to their success in school. Many of our students come from homes with non-English speaking parents, and many students lack confidence in their abilities to complete their work. Therefore, our students benefit from the structure and the support we provide. After homework help our students have one hour of enrichment, during which we run clubs such as drama and dance. After enrichment, we end after school with service learning, where we help our students better understand their community and ways they can make it better.

Finding an afterschool program can be a very important tool for keeping your child safe and engaged in their schoolwork. When finding a program, checking with your student’s school is a great place to start your search. If your student’s school does not provide options in the afterschool time, the Afterschool Alliance offers a handful of tips and resources for finding an afterschool program; from contacting local community organizations or childcare centers, to ways to advocate for a program to get started in your community.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my service has been seeing the satisfaction on the face of a student who has finished all of his or her homework. After School programs are an opportunity to provide students with the support they need to complete all their work and stay on track in school.

Photo courtesy of City Year New York

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