21st Century Learning Centers: Essential to Creating Healthier Communities

Kids at a Healthy Out-of-School Time site taking a physical activity break

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation is a proud partner of 21st Century Community Learning Centers across the country. As we support over 2,600 out-of-school time (OST) sites in creating healthier places for kids to grow, learn, and play, we’ve seen firsthand how essential these programs are to working families across America. The role of OST in ensuring every child has a fair shot at living his/her best life is critical, but they cannot do it alone. Afterschool initiatives, community centers, summer camps, faith-based organizations and the like require funding, staff capacity and quality professional development to continue their vital role in children’s health and development.

You’ve probably seen recent news regarding potential budget cuts for 21st Century Community Learning Centers — the only federal funding source dedicated to afterschool programs. Funding from this program flows to local programs across the country, supporting 1.7 million kids in high-need schools.

21st Century Community Learning Centers mean a lot to us because 20 percent of sites we coach receive support from 21st Century. These sites are essential partners in the healthy afterschool movement and provide us with critical lessons-learned that inform the technical assistance we provide our partners like the National Recreation and Park Association and Boys and Girls Clubs of America.

21st Century goes beyond helping inform policy and practice. Let’s dig into the data, shall we?

· 72 percent of students enrolled in programs sponsored by 21st Century are students of color, and most go to ‘Title I’ schools, where at least 40 percent of students qualify for free- or reduced-price lunch.

· One in two students attending 21st Century-funded sites measurably improve their math and language arts grades, two in three students improve their class participation, and three in five improve their classroom behavior.

· The help these programs provide isn’t limited to the students who participate; eight in ten parents with kids enrolled in these programs say they help them keep their jobs.

It’s simple. 21st Century Community Learning Centers are essential for family and student success.

Kids who attend sites funded by 21st Century more likely to succeed in school (and ultimately graduate) than those who don’t, kids in these programs can also establish lifelong healthy eating and physical activity habits. To see first-hand examples of how we work with 21st Century Community Learning Centers-supported sites, click here.

Given all of the benefits to children — and their families — demand for OST programs is on the rise. The number of children attending afterschool programs increased from 6.5 million in 2004 to over 10 million today. Still, less than one in three families who want to enroll their children in afterschool programs are able to do so do to lack of access.

Kids hold up their healthy snacks at St. Gabriel Afterschool, an Alliance for a Healthier Generation Healthy Out-of-School Time site

It’s clear — millions of kids and their families rely on 21st Century Community Learning Centers and millions more would participate if barriers were reduced. It’s time to double down — on our support of 21st Century — not back down.

The time is now to lift up the stories of how high quality afterschool programs funded by 21st Century are positively impacting communities. We must find every opportunity to celebrate 21st Century Community Learning Centers and other high quality afterschool programs.

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