A recently released report, “The Growing Importance of Afterschool in Rural Communities,” finds that just 13 percent of rural students in the U.S. participate in an afterschool program. While this number is up from 2009, it’s still considerably below the 18 percent nationwide rate.
According to America After 3PM, a household survey commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit public awareness and advocacy organization, for every rural child in an afterschool program, the parents of three more say their child would be enrolled if a program were available. That amounts to 3.1 million children. Unmet demand is especially high among Hispanic, African-American and low-income rural families.
“Many rural communities nationwide are characterized by strong social ties,” says Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance. “But poverty, food insecurity and low education levels persist in rural communities. Indeed, in 2014, one in four rural children was living in poverty. Quality afterschool programs are a valuable gateway to a successful future, and it should be a high priority for leaders to meet the need in rural America.”
The new report, underwritten by John Deere, finds that:
• One in five rural students is unsupervised after school.
• More than four in five rural parents support public funding for afterschool programs.
• Rural enrollment in summer learning programs is on the rise, yet there’s significant unmet demand.
• Both participation and unmet demand in afterschool programs are lower among children in white and higher-income rural families than African-American and Hispanic families.
• An overwhelming majority of rural parents report they are satisfied with their child’s afterschool program overall.
• An appreciably higher percentage of urban parents report their child’s afterschool program offers STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) learning opportunities than rural parents.
• Nearly three in four rural parents agree that afterschool programs should provide nutritious foods and 61 percent say they do so; 73 percent of rural parents agree that afterschool programs keep kids physically active.
In an accompanying online survey, rural afterschool program providers reported that the top challenge they face is raising funds to sustain their afterschool programs.
“The Growing Importance of Afterschool in Rural Communities” report offers these recommendations for increasing access in rural communities:
• Make information about programs more readily available to parents.
• Increase national attention to the essential role afterschool programs play.
• Provide rural communities opportunities to share promising practices and resources through conferences and an online hub.
• Increase STEM programming.
• Increase investment.
“As we identify ways to address the challenge of feeding the world now and in the future, it’s clear we’ll need to utilize all our human resources, including future leaders growing up in America’s rural communities,” says Mara Sovey Downing, John Deere’s director of global brand management and citizenship. “It’s time to strengthen the afterschool and summer learning opportunities parents value and children need.”