Op-ed: South Salt Lake is proving the value of after-school programs

March 21, 2015
Author: Cherie Wood

Most people support improving our nation's educational system and encouraging young people to achieve their dreams, but many do not see the amount of work that goes on beyond the average school day to prepare school children for the future. On March 24, leaders from across the country will gather to pledge their support and raise public awareness of the importance on after-school programs and their benefits to school-age children and their communities.

The National After-School Summit, hosted by former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige, will bring together mayors, leaders from the private sector and education experts to discuss the benefits of after-school programs and how it is important that we support their preservation and expansion.

We see youth as the drivers of our community's future, so we remain committed to supporting their academic and social development through strong after-school programs. Through support services, instructional programs and expanded learning opportunities, we have designed our program to benefit children and their support structure, be it their family, neighbors, church, or youth group, to offer them a leg up on their future success.

In South Salt Lake, we've worked hard to create outstanding after-school programs to support our children and families. Working in partnership with United Way of Salt Lake, Promise South Salt Lake is recognized as a state and national model of excellence. We are proud of the work we have achieved and the impact our program has made on the lives of thousands of students.

Promise South Salt Lake after-school programs are located in 10 neighborhood centers around the city and provide highly specialized community and after-school programming with an academic and delinquency-prevention focus. Our program receives over 96 percent of its funding from donations and grants, making the most of partnerships and outreach that we can.

We work with city departments and nonprofit organizations, such as the South Salt Lake Police and Urban Livability Departments, Granite School District, Utah After-school Network, Utah Food Bank, AmeriCorps VISTA and more to make sure that our efforts are maximized and that these after-school programs benefit children and their families. In 2013, we served 780 youth for at least four days a week with after-school programs and nearly 2,500 youth and families in total ­— a tremendous amount for our city.

Our programming is highly organized and researched, using continuously gathered data and feedback to build better programs for our students. Many of the activities that we have seen success with include high intensity, literacy-focused after-school programs, structured recreation and service opportunities, reciprocal cultural opportunities within our varied community, and a broad range of enriching experiences that utilize a cradle to career continuum that improves educational and developmental youth outcomes. While children and youth are the majority of our participants, the entire community benefits from the programs.

The benefits that these programs provide cannot be understated. We have seen positive outcomes in our community, and are excited to be able to share our successes and best practices with other leaders from across the country. We have seen that after-school programs are a way to further bind our community together and highlight that we are, together, responsible for the well-being of all of our children and families.

Cherie Wood is mayor of South Salt Lake.