Afterschool Programs Help Children Learn and Grow

Written by Ebony D. Grace

If you were to walk by a school in the afternoon as the bell rang, it might be natural to think that the learning day is done. School buses are filling up and pulling away. Students are walking toward home with their friends. For a brief moment their thoughts have turned away from the book they’re reading or the math homework they have.

However,  learning is never truly over, and high-quality afterschool programs are a critical part of education, one kids don’t receive anywhere else. These programs motivate youth to become  excited about learning, help them develop critical skills, and follow pathways for bright and successful futures. Studies show that children in afterschool have higher school attendance, obtain better grades, and are more likely to graduate.

Afterschool programs are essential for New Jersey children and families but right now too many youth are missing out on essential enrichment opportunities. In fact, for every child in an afterschool program here in New Jersey, two are waiting to be enrolled. Our state policymakers in Trenton and our representatives in Congress must do all they can to make sure every child who wants to can participate in an afterschool program.

The Afterschool Alliance (2020) found many afterschool programs provide a substantial return-on-investment, with every $1 invested there is at least $3 savings through increasing youth’s earning potential, improving their performance at school, and reducing crime and juvenile delinquency.  Union County Commissioner, Dr. Angela Garretson stated,  “I applaud the data from the Afterschool Alliance. In Roselle, one of the 21 municipalities I represent, we are excited to have an afterschool program with essential benefits for youth, families, and communities.”  Last year, the Roselle Public Schools 21st Century Community Learning Center Summer Program took 177 students and adults into New York City for the treat of a lifetime.  This afterschool program is an extension of the district’s performing arts classes.

Several generous sponsors including the Community Foundation of New Jersey, provided a gift that afforded the students the privilege to see the Broadway production of Aladdin. The students had been preparing for this day by learning about the story of Aladdin, the music, costumes, and theater. For some students, this trip was their first exposure to New York City. For almost all others (including some adults) this trip was their first experience of a Broadway show.  “Roselle Public Schools students need and deserve exposure like this. True learning is about discovery, and excursions such as these allow children to make connections to their prior learning and apply the new knowledge to future challenges,” stated Dr. Allen Potts, Project Director of the Roselle Public Schools 21st Century Community Learning Center.

This story demonstrates how high-quality afterschool programs allow youth to explore, express themselves in new and exciting ways, connect with their peers and community and have fun. Afterschool programs can inspire interest in growing fields like STEM and help children build skills like teamwork, communications, and critical thinking. These are skills they’ll use every day and skills that will help them land their first job.

The impact of afterschool programs do not just work for students, but it is a lifeline for parents too. When parents have choices of these programs they don’t have to coordinate rides or juggle daily schedule changes. They can work a full day without having to worry about what their children are doing when the school day ends.

Parents know their children are with caring adults, they’re having fun, and they’re learning and trying new things. They know their children are getting physical activity, aren’t sitting in front of a screen, and are receiving help with their homework. Most importantly, their child is safe, protected from risky behaviors both online and offline.

Afterschool helps children learn and grow, and is a huge support to parents. Every child deserves a program and experience like those at Roselle Public Schools. Unfortunately, too many families are unable to take advantage of the benefits afterschool provides. We’re leaving those youth behind.

We need leaders at all levels to join us in advocating for quality afterschool programs. . Afterschool is a critical support for our children and families. To show your support for afterschool programs, we invite you to attend a Lights On event this fall. Events throughout NJ are listed on our website at:

As parents and leaders, our most important job is ensuring that we give our children—all children—opportunity to achieve their full potential and build a successful future. Afterschool programs are one of the best ways to do that.

The 2021 Department of Education annual performance report of 21st CCLC found that among regular participants: 

  • 1 in 2 improved their language arts or math grades
  • 7 in 10 improved their homework completion and class participation
  • 3 in 5 improved their behavior in class

In New Jersey, 8,000 children in 175 communities take part in a 21st Century Community Learning Center. 21st CCLC grants are the only dedicated federal funding sources that support local communities’ afterschool and summer programs. Demand for programming in New Jersey is so great that 3 out of every 5 applications were not funded during the most recent competition. In fact, 89% of New Jersey parents favor public funding for afterschool opportunities. Children benefit from quality afterschool programs. Parents rely on them. And communities across New Jersey need more of them. So, Let’s keep the “Lights On Afterschool” in our state!

Ebony D. Grace is the Chief Executive Officer of NJSACC: The Statewide Network for New Jersey’s Afterschool Communities. NJSACC envisions a New Jersey where every child has access to high-quality, inclusive out-of-school time programs that provide equitable and diverse experiences that maximize the full potential for all youth, families and communities.