Op-ed | NYC should double down on after-school care investments

Afterschool activity – art class
Photo via Getty Images

The past 20 months have demonstrated, more than ever before, that after-school programs for our children are not a luxury, but a necessity. And the time has come for our city to commit itself to providing quality, free after-school programs to all children and families who seek it, in the schools they attend.

During the pandemic, community-based organizations like New York Edge – the city’s largest provider of free school-based after-school and summer programs – answered the call to reassure, to engage, to understand. While the world was experiencing so much uncertainty, we quickly pivoted to provide New York City students with the programs they know and love, and the familiar, comforting faces of their educators. We continued to serve as an essential resource for thousands of families across the five boroughs, as their children navigated continuous transitions between remote and in-person learning, and as parents and caregivers returned to work.

Teachers, school staff, and after-school program specialists were – and still are – unsung heroes. And now, as we work harder than ever to recover from the pandemic and guide our students through a new academic year, we call upon the city, state and federal government to come together to provide needed funding.

For far too long, there has been a lack of recognition that after-school programs are an integral part of the school day. These programs provide youth with opportunities to experience enriching initiatives like robotics, chess club, step club, fencing, art, health and wellness, and more in a safe environment where they can engage with their peers and socialize.

When students have access to constructive activities after school hours that are customized to integrate the school day curriculum, they are more likely to experience increased self-esteem, maintain a positive mental well-being, and grow both academically and personally. Year after year we proudly watch our students advance to the next grade, and we celebrate our high school seniors as they graduate and go on to pursue their dreams at top colleges and universities.

This is why it’s absolutely vital that we continue to develop an integrated approach between schools and after-school programs in order to reach more youth and remove barriers to academic success

We know this model works, as seen through the city’s Summer Rising program, where classroom teachers worked side-by-side with after-school providers like New York Edge to offer a combination of academia and enrichment over the summer. This approach was a success, and it can – and should – be replicated during the traditional school year.

Our city should support the integration of after-school programs in all public schools across the five boroughs, and devote funding to historically low-funded programs that are critical to the personal and professional development of students, like our college and career readiness initiatives. These programs provide high schoolers with the confidence, skills and tools needed to prepare for undergraduate school and success in the workforce, by helping them navigate the college application process, connecting them with industry leaders as part of mentoring sessions, and encouraging them to explore various career paths – ultimately building our city’s future leaders.

The time is now to meet the needs of families and invest in these programs so local students can have access to opportunities that will help to expand their horizons and propel them toward successful futures. The next generation deserves the chance to achieve their utmost potential – so why not be a champion for them?

Rachael Gazdick is CEO of New York Edge, NYC’s largest provider of school-based after-school and summer programs, serving thousands of public school students.