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Environmental Education After-School Programs

planting after school

Originally appears in the Fall 2005 issue

When the bell rings at the end of the school day, nearly one-third of the students at Barnes Elementary School in Burlington, Vermont, are happy to stay at school. They file into the cafeteria, excited about what their after-school program might hold for them. As soon as I arrive for each week’s class, I am bombarded with the question, “What are we going to do today?”

Fourteen million American children (about 25 percent) have no supervision after school.1 For these children, many of whom are economically disadvantaged, the lack of supervision can have negative and even dangerous consequences. Children left alone after school report feeling more stress and have lower academic performance. Additionally, most crimes committed against juveniles and by juveniles occur in the after-school hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.2 After-school programs are growing in popularity for students in all grade levels and are proving greatly beneficial to the students and families who participate in them. According to the “America After 3 pm” survey, 11 percent of American children (6.5 million) participate in after-school programs.3 An additional 15 million students report that they would participate if more programs were available. Not only do after-school programs provide a safe environment and low-cost or no-cost daycare, they present an opportunity for personal and academic enrichment. After-school programs increase students’ engagement in learning by providing them with personal attention from adults and opportunities to develop skills and gain a sense of competence. This increased engagement in learning is linked to better behavior and work habits, higher educational aspirations, and a greater sense of belonging to the community.4

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Alison Varty is currently pursuing a doctoral in botany at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The after-school program at Barnes Elementary School was part of the Sustainable Schools Project sponsored by Shelburne Farms of Shelburne, Vermont <www.sustainableschoolsproject.org>.