When the School Bell Rings

  • September 29th, 2003

After School Alabama Helps Rural Students

by Suzanne Dowling

Extended-day programs in the state's rural schools are being studied by After School Alabama.
Extended-day programs in the state’s rural schools are being studied by After School Alabama.

Every day, at least eight million children and youth are left alone and unsupervised once the afternoon school bell rings. As more and more children grow up in homes with two working parents or a single working parent, today’s families can benefit from the safe, structured learning opportunities that after-school programs provide.

And, while most experts agree that after-school programs keep kids safe, improve academic achievement and help relieve the stresses on today’s working families, these programs are not plentiful, especially in rural areas like Alabama’s Black Belt.

So what are parents and communities to do? Enter After School Alabama.

After School Alabama (ASA), launched by UA’s Program for Rural Services and Research (PRSR) under the direction of the Alabama governor’s office, researched existing after-school programs and worked to create design models for implementing high-quality new ones.

“After-school programs are a critical component to help children grow and lead healthy and productive lives. It is not only important in providing children a safe and structured environment to keep them off the streets and out of trouble, but more importantly, it provides an opportunity to build on their learning outside of the classroom,” said Jon Chalmers, director of the PRSR at UA.

Phase I of the ASA project researched some 600 after-school programs across the state. Findings revealed that demands for such programs far exceed supply, especially in rural areas.

“The responses received through the [after-school] research surveys showed a great inequity in services when comparing more affluent, urban communities and small, rural communities. Although much is being done throughout Alabama in extra-school settings to provide support beyond the classroom, much more is needed,” Chalmers said.

Addie Wilder, PRSR program manager, stated that the value of the research findings is two-fold. “We are publishing the findings on the ASA website (http://prsr.ua.edu/afterschool) to provide parents, other caregivers and public and private agencies easily accessible information on existing educational support programs,” Wilder said. “In addition, to address the inequities revealed through the research, we used the findings to help us in Phase II of the ASA project.”

According to Chalmers, this information, added to that of Phase II, is being distributed to agencies and child advocacy groups, policy makers and others engaged in providing extra educational support for school children through documentation, workshops and statewide educational conferences.

Phase II of ASA was completed in 2003. “It involved three initiatives: documentation, local workshops and ASA educational conferences, and expansion of the ASA Web page,” Chalmers explained. The ASA guidebook (Documentation—ASA Guidebook) provides step-by-step instructions for planning, organizing, maintaining, managing and evaluating an after-school program. The guidebook was prepared in consultation with parents, after-school program directors, agencies and other supporters to ensure inclusion of comprehensive, useful information.

For example, it provides information on performing needs assessments, planning and organizing a program, working with a professional staff, program management, recruiting students, professional development, integrating a continuous evaluation plan, finding financial resources and other vital information.

The guidebook will be distributed through local workshops, and at training sessions and conferences.

Additionally, the PRSR staff has worked with area schools and community-based organizations to organize and hold local workshops and training sessions for potential program directors and supporters. Also, PRSR staff participated in statewide educational conferences, making presentations on the program.

Check out these websites:

Looking for a community-based program in Hale County? Or a faith-based program in Lamar County? Or a college-based program in Fayette? The program’s website (afterschool.state.al.us) is a one-stop place.

The ASA Web page (prsr.ua.edu/afterschool) also provides information on the ASA program and gives program providers and supporters the opportunity to publicize and share their work. In addition, it includes a search engine so that visitors can search via categories, including information on the locations of and services provided by various after- and before-school programs.

The University of Alabama, part of The University of Alabama System, is the state’s flagship university. UA shapes a better world through its teaching, research and service. With a global reputation for excellence, UA provides an inclusive, forward-thinking environment and nearly 200 degree programs on a beautiful, student-centered campus. A leader in cutting-edge research, UA advances discovery, creative inquiry and knowledge through more than 30 research centers. As the state’s largest higher education institution, UA drives economic growth in Alabama and beyond.