While it’s clear that after-school program opportunities are additionally beneficial, it is forgotten that a student not being involved in after-school activities could actually hinder their development. Even though the problem of student involvement in extracurriculars isn’t unique to urban communities, it has been shown that students in these communities are affected most and could benefit the most from greater accessibility to these programs. Both scholarly and practitioner sources advocate for this issue, with practitioner sources (for more general audiences) outlining the short term benefits of extracurriculars and scholarly sources (research-based, for more scholarly audiences) detailing how these programs benefit urban youth in specific.
After-school programs make students’ lives more rewarding while they are still in school, as they expose kids to activities previously inaccessible. These programs may be the only opportunity for at-risk students to have quality academic support, recreation, or other enrichment (National Dropout Prevention Center, 2020). With after-school programs, students are more likely to find an interest that incentivizes engagement in school and community because the programs provide an extra source of support they might not have otherwise. Further, the social skills that develop naturally with extracurricular involvement bolster students’ success in school, as school is often dependent on social skills like communication and teamwork. According to the TEL HI Neighborhood Center (2017), the three major benefits of getting students involved in extracurriculars are discovering a sense of belonging, developing and enhancing self-confidence and social skills, and receiving support with academics. These programs are crucial not only to make them more well-rounded and motivated young people, but also to teach social skills and provide extra support, which is key for urban students. The nature of being an urban student emphasizes the need for support more so than other environments, with factors from income to family presence.
Urban students statistically often have parents who are unavailable to engage with their kids all the time. This results in a lack of focus academically and increased involvement in the streets. For example, when studying the relationship of extracurriculars and their effects on youth substance abuse, the results are logical: adolescents considered at-risk for high school dropout with the lowest rates of participation in organized activities also had the greatest levels of substance use (Eismen, Lee, Hsieh, Stoddard, & Zimmerman, 2018). While this is certainly compelling, this issue is about more than keeping youth busy— it’s also linked to the positive adult relationships resulting from these programs. The expansion of peer connections through these after-school programs has proven to be significant in preventing negative outcomes (Anderson, Bohnert, & Governale, 2018). These programs provide additional guiding figures in students’ lives that are particularly necessary in urban communities, as the parents of these students often work full-time and cannot afford the financial or time burden of extracurriculars. In addition, the issue of after-school program involvement is connected to the issue of income gap in urban cities. A study showed that despite increased funding and availability of extracurriculars in low income areas, participation continued to stay low relative to their higher income counterparts (Anderson et al., 2018). This confirms that one of the biggest reasons that urban youth don’t get involved in after-school programs is they cannot financially afford it.
The problem of lack in youth community involvement is one that urban students would benefit most from a solution for. The programs would not only change the students’ futures, but also reshape their communities as a whole, altering the stereotype of an urban youth and improving the safety of their cities with decreased street violence and other negative consequences. Truly, solving the problem of accessibility to after-school programs would be the catalyst to solving bigger issues in cities, transforming them via a new, engaged generation of students.