Back to School and Battling the Budget with I.S. 318

As the 2010-2011 school year came to a close, administrators, parents and students lamented news that budget cuts threatened to slam the door on 15,000 opportunities for students to take part in afterschool activities. In addition to students already enrolled in those programs, the NY Daily News estimates that another 12,000 new students will also be denied afterschool programming. Amidst widespread fears about the often prohibitive cost of childcare, a lack of constructive activities for the city’s students, and the loss of motivating factors for many students to attend school, parents, teachers and administrators began scrambling for ways to save valued programs.

Now, with school back in session and students again feeling the impact of those budget cuts, the battle to save afterschool programming continues. Amongst those on the frontlines is the Campaign for Educational Equity, lead by educational experts at Columbia University’s Teachers College. The NY Times reports the group’s members are advocating an “additional $4,750 annually for every poor student, or millions more every year” to pay for support services, including extended learning programs. Within this framework, those funds would be put toward creating a more comprehensive safety net for students who suffer most in underserved schools and communities. The budget increase would subsidize a number of costs – prenatal care for mothers, early childcare, as well as afterschool and summer programming – in an effort to counter the numerous negative effects a lack of resources often has on a child’s education.

Studies such as those collected by Education Next find that funding for programming such as afterschool may directly correlate to higher test scores and college acceptance rates for students. One example of this research was conducted by Margo Gardner, a scientist at Columbia University’s National Center for Children and Families (NSCF). Gardner found that college attendance was 97 percent higher among students involved for at least two years in afterschool programs and activities. The study also determined that afterschool programs are linked to a 31 percent increase in students actually exercising their right to vote when they became eligible. Another study by Angela Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, showed a correlation between collegiate extracurricular involvement and first-year career success rates. Students who were more heavily involved in afterschool-like programs at the college level were less likely to leave their jobs mid-year, speaking to the long-term value of extracurricular activities. These findings suggest that creating a comprehensive safety net for students like that proposed by the Campaign for Educational Equality – one that emphasizes school-sponsored programming – may yield a generation of students who are more likely to pursue higher education and be civically engaged.

Despite schools’ ongoing struggle to preserve the funds that remain for their most basic necessities, hope for afterschool continues through the advocacy of educators, parents and creative minds who are passionate about afterschool programs that matter. Whether political, financial or academic, support for these crucial programs must come from those who recognize the powerful effect that afterschool has on student success and motivation. Elizabeth Vicary, chess instructor at Brooklyn Castle’s I.S. 318, speaks to the need for such advocacy on the I.S. 318 chess team website. With 87 percent of her students living below the poverty line Vicary wants supporters to know the multitude, and financially feasible, ways that donating to the I.S. 318 chess program can benefit her students. She outlines the possibilities as such:

  • $40 sponsors a student to play in a weekend Marshall Chess Club tournament.
  • $133 pays for a student to go to Amateur Team East – the equivalent of 36 hours of serious chess training.
  • $160 pays for a student to play in the State Championship in Saratoga Springs.
  • $500 pays for National Master James Black to play in the Liberty Bell Open.
  • $650 pays for a student to play in Junior High Nationals in San Diego.
  • $5,000 pays for six students (and two teacher coach/chaperones) to compete in the National High School Championship in Nashville, Tennessee. (Last year, I.S. 318 finished in second place by half a point. The school still has their three highest rated players – they are now in 8th grade – and hopes to make history by being the first junior high school to win the section.)

The long-lasting benefits associated with afterschool programming for students in underserved communities, and the value of supporting afterschool programs such as I.S. 318’s renowned chess team, is clear. It fosters personal growth, civic engagement, and a unique form of potential in schools that are struggling to support the futures of their communities.