In the United States, young people spend 80 percent of their waking hours outside of the traditional classroom. On school days, the hours of three to six p.m. in particular are prime times for risk-taking behaviors, and they represent a peak period for juvenile offenses as well. City leaders can mitigate this risk and contribute to positive youth development by providing enriching afterschool learning opportunities that engage young people, boost their academic performance, keep them healthy and safe and help prepare them for college and the workforce.

Impact of Afterschool

Afterschool programs help support working families and can have a positive impact on a variety of social, emotional, health and educational outcomes for young people. Municipal leaders, local businesses, nonprofits and parents recognize that high-quality afterschool programming can contribute to an improved quality of life and a lifelong interest in learning for young people.

> on May 6, 2013 in New York City.      Credit: Getty images

Afterschool Challenges in Small Communities

Fundamentally, the challenges facing large and small cities in building and sustaining high-quality afterschool programming are not that different. However, how these challenges play out and how potential solutions are developed can be quite different. Small and rural communities often lack the resources and infrastructure, such as strong and accessible public transportation systems, that many larger communities enjoy.

Small communities are also often not as connected as their larger counterparts to the philanthropic community — in particular, the national funding community — and as a result do not have a strong financial support network to help sustain programming.

Despite these challenges, small and rural communities can act in creative, resourceful and collaborative ways to ensure their young people have access to high-quality afterschool opportunities.

The Need for Afterschool Programs in Small Communities

The needs of children and families in small and rural communities are considerable. According to the Afterschool Alliance, rural America is home to 2.5 million children living in deep and persistent poverty. Over the past several decades, child poverty rates have been higher in rural than non-rural areas. Growing up in poverty can create obstacles early in life — financial, social and behavioral — that can make it difficult to move up the economic ladder as an adult.

Afterschool programs across the country are helping break the cycle of poverty by engaging young people and exposing them to enriching opportunities that provide new experiences and perspectives. Whether by exploring the local watershed, learning how to weld and work with tools or earning college credit while mentoring younger children, participants benefit from experiences made possible by the collaborative spirit and dedication of community leaders and afterschool providers.

kidsoutside - web                           Credit: Getty images

Small city leaders leverage community assets and provide innovative learning opportunities to help close the opportunity gap and ensure that their young residents are well prepared for adulthood.