It’s 5 p.m.,In schools across the country students improve skills with an after school program as part of their normal day.
In School 54 in Buffalo NY, a kindergarten teacher prompts her students to think of the biggest and fastest animals they know before reading a story during a Language Arts lesson.
Next door, a math teacher helps young pupils with counting, asking them to identify the group of objects that represents a particular number.
Most of School 54’s students left hours ago, but these 200 stay later and get extra help with the skills they need to be successful in the classroom.
And soon, through a partnership with Say Yes Buffalo and the YMCA, they will spend part of the time in soccer, Zumba and art classes, activities to which they might not otherwise have access.
School 54, at 2358 Main St., is one of eight that will soon expand its after-school offerings through the partnership with Say Yes. Fifteen other city schools – mostly those that have struggled to meet the state’s academic standards – offer similar programs through other partnerships with community organizations.
Many educators and experts say after school programs are essential to improving performance in high-needs districts such as Buffalo, and the push to expand the offerings underscores a state and national effort to get students to spend more time in class.
Yet despite research showing that such programs lead to academic gains, progress in the effort to make programs like the one at School 54 the norm in the district has been slow. Programs have varied across the district, with options sometimes changing from year to year. Most have been limited in the amount of time and number of students they serve.
Even after Say Yes came forward with an ambitious plan to offer after-school programs in 28 schools, five days a week for two hours a day starting last October, questions about how the programs would be paid for stalled their implementation.
Leaders of Say Yes and the school district have figured out how to pay for the programs, which will start next week, for the remainder of the school year, but their next hurdle is ahead: an estimated $14 million to continue them next year.
At stake is the education of thousands of Buffalo schoolchildren who could benefit from the extra time learning.
“We need to get the right people at the table and get the right information so our parents in this district are not left in the dark,” said Diane L. Rowe, chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Buffalo, one of the after-school partners.
“I know this is what’s good for our students. If the money isn’t there, we need to have an honest conversation as a community about what else we can be doing for them.”
The After School Corporation, or TASC, which for two decades has worked with the New York City schools to develop after-school programs, released a report showing that by the time they reach sixth grade, middle-class children typically have spent 6,000 more hours learning than children born in poverty. About half of that difference is attributed to poor kids lacking access to extracurricular activities.
Some urban school districts, including Buffalo, also have shorter school days than in the suburbs.