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Rural communities struggle to provide after-school programs

When school lets out, many children in rural communities must take a long bus ride home, miles from their nearest neighbor. They don’t play basketball with their friends, do art or science projects with the local community group or get help with their homework. Most go home to families with limited resources, struggling to make ends meet.

For many of these children, an after-school program is their only opportunity to get help with homework, take part in extracurricular activities and socialize outside of school. But school officials in rural districts say there is a shortage of programs in their communities because they struggle to provide transportation, find qualified staff and enroll enough students to generate adequate funding. And unlike more populated areas, there often are no other organizations to turn to for help.

“There’re no local foundations, community-based organizations with expertise or funds for youth services from parcel taxes,” said Jason Riggs, the region lead for the California Department of Education in Mendocino and four other Northern California counties for the state After School Education & Safety Program and the federal 21st Century Community Learning Center program. There are also fewer businesses that can donate, he said.

Research has shown that expanded learning programs after school and in the summer have helped close both achievement and opportunity gaps between low-income children and their middle-class peers. After-school programs are also often places where children practice social skills. In rural areas, they may be the only chance children have to develop friendships outside of the structured school day.

Read the full story on EdSource.