Summit revolves around after-school programs

Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and leaders in business, education, technology and philanthropy gathered at Town and Gown Tuesday morning for the National After-School Summit to discuss the importance of after-school programs which are in danger of funding cuts.

Congress is debating on cutting more than $1 billion dollars in federal funding for after-school programs.

The summit was sponsored by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute, Price School of Public Policy and  Afterschool All-Stars and Afterschool Alliance, a group of after school advocacy programs.

Schwarzenegger organized a similar event in 2003 when after-school funding was at risk.

Schwarzenegger said the Summit was created to keep after school programs alive and kids safe.

“We are here today to tell Washington as one voice, ‘Don’t terminate after-school programs,’” Schwarzenegger said. “After-school programs protect our single greatest resource, our kids. I have been passionate about after-school programs for the last 25 years and I think the reason is because I have seen first hand how kids go home from the schools after three o’clock and drift around on the streets and get into trouble.”

Schwarzenegger said that after-school programs provide many benefits, such as statistically higher graduation rates, a lesser chance of students committing crimes and more assistance with homework and fitness through sports and mentorship.

“It’s not just adult supervision, they are getting enriched in the arts, fitness through sports, homework assistance, tutoring and most importantly there are mentors there that really care for them,” Schwarzenegger said.

Christopher Steinhauser, superintendent of Long Beach Unified School District, said that after-school programs have helped schools within his district by improving attendance and decreasing overall suspension rates.

“The attendance is up, suspensions are down, crime in our city has hit a 41-year low and the most important thing: our kids are going to college,” Steinhauser said. “My kids are on the way to college and succeeding. More importantly than that, our young peoples parents are more involved than ever.”

Bonnie Reiss, global director of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute, described the event as a “rally,” stressing it was a useful platform to showcase the importance of after school programs.

“Today is an opportunity to put a big spotlight on the value of after-school programs,” Reiss said. “It’s a simple truth, they work. After-school programs is the single best and most cost effective investment. They can be made in helping our kids succeed in school and life.”

Reiss explained that the programs were created to serve kids with backgrounds from low income, working families who are typically underrepresented minorities.

“We are here to be the champions of the 10 million kids in these programs and the 20 million others that don’t yet have a program,” Reiss said. “We are their voice and today is about sending that message.”

Dr. Rod Paige, U.S. Secretary of Education from 2001-2005, said after-school can be an unsafe time for students who don’t have proper support.

“Think about it carefully,” Paige said. “Think about what goes on between three and six in the afternoon for tons and tons of kids. One of the best ways we can spend our time is making sure kids come ‘home’ after school and they have some meaningful activity and some shelter.”

Schwarzenegger said after-school programs should not suffer because of America’s debt.

“When Congress talk about money and how they have to cut after school programs to make ends meet, I mean think about how ludicrous that sounds,” Schwarzenegger said.  “Do you think that it was after-school programs that dropped this country blind that we now have [tens of trillions of dollars in] debt? We have now $18 billion [in] debt in the past 6 years. They think after-school programs did that? Are they crazy? It’s mismanagement.”

Frank Fowler, Syracuse Police Department chief of police, said that a greater investment in after school programs could ultimately prove to be beneficial to the nation in the long run.

“We can no longer take for granted . . . that all of our young people have the same resources,” Fowler said. “Whatever we put inside of them is exactly what we are going to get out of them later on. We can no longer take this for granted. We have to invest in our young people . . .  and because it’s an investment, guess what? We’ll reap the benefits later. ”