As an alumna of the Champions Club of P.S. 122 in Queens, New York, I can fully vouch for the benefits of after school programs. In my informed opinion, the dynamic between kids is just…different in an after-school setting vs. a school setting. Groups are smaller, boys and girls are mixed together without the padding of cliques, and everyone’s forced to interact with one another in a team-building setting. At an age when girls had cooties and boys were gross, I actually gained some solid male friends through my after-school network.
The best programs not only provide kids with supplementary help with homework (and a quiet environment in which to work, no distractions, only trained tutors), they’re also a comfortable setting in which kids can participate in a wide breadth of group activities. Psychologists and social scientists maintain that successful organizations take a developmental approach, since “the whole child is what matters'” and youth-oriented programs should “apply more holistic models of youth development,” incorporating both academics and enrichment activities. Sure, you can shuttle your kiddos off to various dance, acting, and music classes, but having all these activities under the umbrella of a single program provides everyone’s routine with some consistency, fosters stronger relationships between your children and their peers and supervisors, and prevents you from ever getting your pick-up spots twisted.
What makes a good program? According to a report by Columbia University psychologists, the ideal organization is structured, supportive, and challenging.
Its focus is to:
1. Help kids build strong, nourishing relationships with adults (outside the home).
2. Build on children’s strengths and encourage exploration.
3. Provide a setting that fosters healthy, positive relationships between peers.
4. Present kids with challenges they can rise to.
5. Offer them a variety of creative, enriching activities.
6. Act as a forum for the development of leadership and decision-making skills.
7. Nurture older kids’ sense of autonomy while at the same time lending them some guidance.
8. Provide all of these opportunities over a long-term period.a