You Can’t Measure Hope: The Immeasurable Impacts of After School Programs

Most of the country has been reeling this week with the possible impacts of the proposed 2018 budget.  One of the scariest ideas floating around out there? The concept that there is “no evidence” that after school programs actually work.

First, let me say this.  I understand that we want to make sure that our hard earned tax dollars are applied to programs that are effective.  My concern is how we judge the concept of effectiveness, A number of studies over the last decade have been published regarding the effectiveness of after school programs.  By and large, these studies looked to provide evidence of two basic proofs of effectiveness- increased academic scores, and improved attendance.  In both instances, the proof of effectiveness is “statistically” minimal.  This is what allows naysayers to prove that “after school programs” don’t work.

Well, seems logical that if the programs don’t work, we shouldn’t fund them, right?  Well, let’s slow down a quick second and identify a couple of important concepts.

First, statistically speaking, it’s easy to refer to a 2 or 3 percentage point improvement has being minimal.  But when you apply that 3% to the school age population of 80 million, that means almost 2.4 million children that saw improved grades and attendance because of after school programs.  

But more important to evaluate are some of the impacts we ignore when gauging the effectiveness of these programs.  Before we look at some immeasurable impacts, let’s take a quick look at some of the daunting odds facing American children today:

  • 1 out of 2 children will experience at least one Adverse Childhood Experience (CDC) that will impact their long term health and school performance.
  • 1 out of 5 children will experience 4 or more adverse childhood experiences and be at a much higher risk of repeating at least one grade, or dropping out of school all together.
  • 20% of school age children face food scarcity, meaning that they don’t know when they will get their next meal.
  • 22% of school age children live below the poverty level
  • 40% of school age children live in overcrowded housing or don’t have their own bed.
  • The rate of suicide deaths for children 10 to 14 has doubled since 2007
These are just some of the heavy, looming factors outlined by All of these areas have a direct impact on children’s ability to perform well in school, or even attend school.  And all of these areas are positively impacted for children with access to after school programs.
Regardless of their DIRECT academic effectiveness, after school programs provide children with at least one immeasurable impact – HOPE.  This is because these programs provide children with a safe place, and access to mentors that truly care about helping children succeed.  The impact of this hope in a better future can’t be measured by our traditional methods.  There is no statistic to measure hope, or what could have happened if these programs were not available.
Just ask Valerie Maholmes, of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “There is no more important predictor of success than hope”, Maholmes said, describing it as the ability to envision a more positive future, even when all evidence points to the contrary. “Hope begets resilience because it is the magical force that enables children to adapt and heal emotionally from their adverse childhood experiences.”
So, before we decide that after school programs don’t deserve our hard earned tax dollars, let’s spend more time determining what success looks like in the first place.


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