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What Parents Want in Afterschool Programs

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Fort Rucker/Flicker

A new report says convenience trumps quality for parents when it comes to picking an afterschool program.

Afterschool programs are a popular choice for the hours following school when children would otherwise be alone. The kids get something to do, and the parents are able to avoid expensive babysitters or otherwise be at rest for just a little longer.

Anneliese Dickman, of the Milwaukee-based Public Policy Forum, set out to find what the city’s parents want most in their children’s after school programs. The Public Policy Forum has been looking at afterschool programming for about a year now, and recently took a survey at eight Milwaukee after school programs to find out what’s important and concerning to parents.

The truth, according to Dickman, is “quality really was not the thing that was the most important factor in deciding to enroll in a program.

"They were really looking at convenience factors – location, scheduling, transportation, those sorts of things," she says. "Safety was also really important – they wanted their children to be in a safe place after school, and off the streets.”

When asked about quality, though, parents expressed their opinions on those in charge of the programs--if they were trained enough or how good a job they were doing--and with the schedule of activities given to their children.

Among the programs offered around the city are those that engage the children in personal interests, or in experiences that they may not be able to get in school. Then there are the kinds of after school programs that, “double down on what’s learned in school and really trying to get those kids to work on those skills," Dickman says.

While there was not a wealth of data collected, what was taken from the surveys was that parents were most interested in having kids get help with their homework before they get home. Once the family gets back from a long day of work or school, they don’t find there to be time for homework. They have dinner and sleep to attend to, and spending time figuring out long division or the types of igneous rock, just doesn’t leave time for an evening routine.

Dickman says while these opportunities are available to younger kids, the concern among parents is that they are really only successful in meeting the needs of kids under thirteen, and older kids need options, too. Older kids don’t need the supervision that younger students do, but they need age appropriate activities, “activities to peak their interest -- that draw them in -- and those seem to be missing a little bit.”