Afterschool Programs: A Solution to the Double Bind?

Last week, I began assisting with SMART Girls, a program at the Durham chapter of the Boys & Girls Club, during which middle-school aged girls discuss issues related to female identity.  I will also be assisting with their health and wellness initiatives by leading group fitness classes for club members.  The Boys & Girls Club is a nation-wide, non-profit afterschool organization, providing an environment for students to study and receive homework assistance, interact with their peers through different programs, and participate in recreational activities.

Recently, I attended a lecture at the Sanford School of Public Policy presented by education specialist at the University of California, Irvine Dr. Deborah Vandell. Through data gathered from multiple 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a national, federally funded afterschool organization primarily serving students who attend low-performing schools, Vandell found that long-term benefits included fewer school suspensions, higher grades, and healthier habits amongst participants across grade levels. She also explained that the benefits of afterschool programs extend beyond student achievement, such as making communities safer as students are less likely to engage in criminal activities, if they are in a supervised setting.

The recent Trump administration proposal to cut over a billion dollars in funding from afterschool programs illustrates the lack of support provided for American families to raise and care for their children.  In her book, How All Politics Became Reproductive Politics, feminist critic Laura Briggs claims that although the second-wave feminist movement championed many more career options and financial freedoms for middle and upper-class women, it ignored the gaping issue as to whom would be responsible for the necessary work of caring for children.  Indeed, as Briggs notes, affluent white women soon hired low-income women and primarily women of color as caregivers.  Although almost all women experience this “double-bind”, the expectation to both work for wages in the office and without pay in the home, low-income women are unable to afford child-care or extra-curricular afterschool activities for their children.

As Briggs contends, our current apparatus regarding work is destined for failure.  With a typical work week exceeding more than forty hours, grossly inadequate resources for child-care for low-income families, and no mandatory, paid parental leave policy, one is left to wonder: are children expected to magically raise themselves? Despite being one of the most vital investments, programs related to developing a productive human capital are often the first to be slashed. While still a far cry from a perfect solution, afterschool programs, such as the Boys & Girls Club, help students succeed in the classroom, provide low-income households with critical support, and strengthen communities as a whole.