President’s Corner

Make Every Minute Count

by Donald L. Kussmaul

In this era of No Child Left Behind, public schools have shifted their focus from providing access to a high-quality education to demanding a high level of achievement from all students. While every school administrator in America supports the goals of NCLB, this shift requires a comprehensive approach to developing the whole child.

 

The heart of leaving no child behind is embodied in AASA’s focus on three things:

• Getting children ready for school through comprehensive nutrition and health programs, early childhood education and ongoing support for families;

• Getting schools ready for children by redesigning and transforming our schools’ organization, teaching and learning practices and leadership strategies to meet the needs of each student who comes to us; and

• Getting children ready for democracy by preparing young people for active, responsible roles in society.

This is a tall order, yet it is partially filled after the regular school day ends—in quality after-school programs.

After-school programs play a unique role in fostering student success in home, school and community by offering young people time for enrichment, relationship building and support, creative learning and remediation.

Research shows that participation in after-school programs is associated with improved school attendance, more positive attitudes toward academics, higher aspirations for college, more effective work and study habits, better interpersonal skills, reduced dropout rates, more healthful lifestyle decisions and improved grades.

After-school programs serve parents by assuring their children have a safe haven and quality time with caring adults. Some school districts have even opened their doors to adult community members after school hours—for General Equivalency Diploma classes, English as a second language programs, computer training and sports activities. In essence, these programs create connections between students’ worlds.

AASA has long recognized the benefits of and advocated for quality after-school programs. In the early 1990s, the association worked closely with several school districts to develop after-school programs that combined youth development and academic assistance. The programs brought in educators and community members to help staff the programs, building a bridge between school and community and solidifying the partnerships essential to effective schools.

But in spite of the benefits, after-school programs present some significant implementation challenges for educators. Yes, it’s about dollars, but it’s also about coordinating and staffing the program, engaging students, developing quality offerings, transporting students home and achieving and measuring outcomes required by a patchwork of funders.

Overcoming these challenges to better serve the diverse needs of children and their families requires collaboration among parents, schools and community institutions and agencies. Forming alliances can fortify efforts to provide programs that are responsive to the social and educational needs of the community’s children.

Three years ago, with a grant from the C. S. Mott Foundation, AASA called on its members to identify common barriers to after-school programs and to share strategies they used to address them. A special issue of School Governance & Leadership will be available later this year that reports on our findings.

Our obligation to our nation’s children does not end when the final bell rings at the end of the day. Strong after-school programs play a vital role in developing students’ academic, social and emotional skills and getting the community involved in the lives of our youth.

Donald Kussmaul is president of AASA