After the last bell rings, one in five Maine kids goes from the structured environment of the school room to an empty house. The gap between the close of the school day and the end of the average parent’s work day can be wide one, especially for at-risk youth. Bored, unsupervised kids can get a little too creative in their choice of pursuits.
About 29 percent of all juvenile crime in Maine occurs between the hours of 2 to 6 p.m. on school days, according to a new report from Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, a national, nonpartisan group comprised of more than 5,000 police chiefs, sheriffs and prosecutors.
Quality after-school programming is much more than babysitting for kids who are too old for a babysitter. The report explores how afterschool programs can reduce crime and increase student academic performance. A kid kept busy catching up on homework or playing a game with peers won’t be using those hours to graffiti park benches or experiment with illegal substances. There are opportunities for mentorship, exercise and exploring the arts. And for a kid who may not have much to eat at home, an afterschool program may provide a hearty, nutritious snack.
An analysis of 68 different 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a federally funded afterschool and summer learning program for students in high-poverty, low-performing schools, found that participants scored better on standardized tests, earned better grades and had better attendance. The Chicago-based Becoming a Man program, which pairs male guidance counselor “coaches” with boys to teach life skills and high-stakes problem-solving, was found to reduce arrests of participating youths by 35 percent and increase the likelihood of graduation by 19 percent.
Making it to graduation is a critical milestone for at-risk teens. Of inmates in U.S. prisons, 6 out of 10 lack a high school diploma. Research also associates afterschool programming with a reduced risk for drug and alcohol use.
Afterschool programs can save money in the long run, according to the Fight Crime report, which highlights research indicating that every dollar spent on afterschool programs can save at least $3. Kids who complete their educations have better earning potential and may rely less or not at all on assistance programs as adults. And reduced crime means reduced law enforcement and corrections costs. Not to mention the value of better fulfilling human potential.
Hancock County isn’t exactly a hotbed of juvenile crime, but it does exist, as do other critical issues such as bullying and substance abuse. Expanding access to afterschool programming can help. And for teens, an afterschool job can turn those afternoon hours into a money-making learning experience. That’s a win-win.