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Officials: after school programs help students

Community educators are asking parents to consider afterschool programs as an option to keep children out of dangerous situations.

Statistics show that in 60 percent of American families with school-age children both parents work outside of the home, leaving many scrambling for childcare between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Of that 60 percent, one quarter of all school-age kids care for themselves after school, which has left many educators fearing for their student’s safety.

Franklin County Community Education coordinator Dr. Susan Hargett believes the afterschool program option could knock down those numbers and diminish fears for parents and teachers.

“We have programs established in nine schools throughout the county ranging from pre-K to eighth grade to help out those families who worry about their children being at home alone,” Hargett said.

“Many kids at the junior high level tend to think of experimentation when unsupervised and a lot of them end up in some kind of trouble because of it. After school programs are safe, supervised and contributes to the enrichment of each student who signs up.”

Franklin County District Court Judge and head of the Franklin County Children’s Policy Council Paula McDowell said she has always supported the after school programs and the work they provide for children.

“There are statistics that show ‘Latchkey’ children who are not supervised between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. get into more trouble,” McDowell said. “We are very lucky to have programs such as after school programs to help children avoid dangerous situations.”

A latchkey child refers to a child who returns from school to an empty home because his or her parent or parents are away at work, or a child who is often left at home with little or no parental supervision.

Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing agreed that after school programs aid children to stay away from criminal activity and avoid the court system whether they are victims or instigators.

Hargett said she remembers a case in which a young girl testified in front of the government and it sent chills down her spine.

“The junior high girl told government officials that there is a predator at home right now with their children and that predator is on the Internet targeting their child,” Hargett said. “Many people believe our centers are just for those who tend to get behind on their school work, but the truth is the program is there to enrich children’s lives and to keep kids safe from such things as child predators and kidnappings.”

Hargett said each center offers free snacks for the students as school ends, an academic enrichment session where children are able to complete their daily homework assignments with tutors available and end with recreational time giving children the chance to communicate and make good relationships with one another through festive activities.

Hargett said enrollment is slow at first, but as parents become aware of the program, attendance seems to pick up.

“Numbers tend to increase right around the time the first report cards are distributed,” she said. “But I encourage anyone who is worried about their children being home by themselves to come at least seek some information about their local after school program then decide. The question I always ask to everyone is ‘Is it the right thing to do for kids?’ if the answer is yes, even though it might seem difficult at times, the right decision should always be a top priority.”

Hargett said around 300 to 400 students countywide were involved in their summer program and she looks to see the after school programs to reach that number as she is working on many different organizational partnerships inside county lines.

The after school centers are funded through the 21st century grant program.

After school program hours are Monday-Friday from 3 p.m. until 6 p.m. with part-time attendance options available.