Multi-state conference explores ideas for after-school programs

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– More than 750 educators from several different states are in downtown Indianapolis, exploring ideas on how to get more young people involved in more after-school programs.

“Mission: Possible” is the theme for the 2013 21st Century Community Learning Centers Multi-State Conference, happening Monday and Tuesday at the downtown Hyatt Regency.

The two-day conference is a sharing of ideas between the Indiana Afterschool Network and State Education Departments in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia and Tennessee.

“In Tennessee, one of our after school programs focuses on skateboarding,” said Laura Nichols, with the Tennessee Department of Education. “And the facility actually has an indoor skate park, so the kids have to come and do their homework and all the other academic components to be able to use the skate park.”

Skateboarding is just one avenue being explored and shared in the ongoing effort to keep young people focused on education, while steering them away from crime and violence.

According to the Indiana Afterschool Alliance, only 10 percent of Indiana K-12 students participate in after-school programs. At the same time, more than 330,000 of those students are alone at home during afternoon hours.

“The highest crime time hours for kids are actually after school,” said Debbie Zipes, president of the Indiana Afterschool Network. “When they’re home and their parents are still working.”

Keeping students away from crime is a constant struggle for educators in urban districts. Leslie Wesley, with the South Bend Schools Corporation, said her district is focusing more effort on getting parents involved by inviting them to share school facilities with their children. Programs include continuing education and job searching programs for parents.

“We can offer GED programs, you could offer career building programs, resume building during the day,” Wesley said. “So while your kids are at school, you can offer those same programs to parents during the school day.”

Wesley also stressed the importance of reaching students at an early age.

“If I had a blank check, I would want to have graduation coaches,” she said. “From Pre-K all the way up through 12th grade.”

Of course, nobody has a blank check, and the federal grant dollars for many after school programs are not guaranteed as lawmakers in Washington debate budget cuts.

“So one of the messages that we want to get out is that if people really care about supporting kids in the hours beyond the school day, that we want to make sure that we keep this funding stream,” Zipes said.

Dozens of workshops and presentations will continue downtown through Tuesday.

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