Opinion: Afterschool programs seen as vital

Every day in Vermont, over 21,000 children are left alone to care for themselves between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. The statewide shortage of high-quality afterschool and summer programs is a significant challenge for many working families.
A 2014 nationwide report ranked Vermont as fourth in the nation for after-school programming. Yet, this report also revealed that there are more than 22,000 Vermont K-12 students who would participate in an afterschool program today, if they had access to one.
As a single mother of two children, the challenge to find and access high-quality afterschool and summer learning programs has been a significant financial and stressful challenge. At times, this has resulted in driving my two children to two different programs across county lines, commuting hours before I even stepped into my office, which is only a 15-minute commute from my house.
Regardless of the early morning departures and late evening arrivals, my children benefited greatly from these programs. They were engaged in thoughtful, rich learning environments, exploring their growing curiosity of our natural environment in a safe and fun way, while maintaining valuable peer friendships.
Increasing funding and access to enriching afterschool and summer experiences is a necessity. Vermont has a valued statewide afterschool network, we need to make sure that they are fully utilized and sustainable in all communities. More expanded learning programs would help support working families, reduce the achievement gap, and increase opportunities for children and youth to be successful and find their passion.
Tierney O’Meara

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