Local View Column: Afterschool programs essential in helping children learn, grow

Melissa Fanning.jpg

If you were to walk by a school in the afternoon as the bell rang, it might be natural to think that the learning day is done. School buses fill up and pull away. Students walk toward home with their friends, for a brief moment their thoughts turning away from their books or math homework.

But we know that learning is never truly over, and high-quality afterschool programs are a critical part of education — one kids don’t get anywhere else. These programs get youth excited about learning, help them develop critical skills, and ensure they stay on track for a bright and successful future. Studies show kids in afterschool programs attend school more, get better grades, and are more likely to graduate.

High-quality afterschool programs let youth explore, express themselves, connect, and have fun. Programs can inspire interest in growing fields like STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) and help kids build skills like teamwork, communication, and critical thinking. These are skills they’ll use every day and skills that will help them land their first jobs.

But afterschool programs don’t just work for students; they are lifelines for parents, too. When parents have afterschool choices, they don’t have to coordinate rides or juggle daily schedule changes. They can work a full day or attend school without having to worry about what their children are doing when school lets out. They know their children are with caring adults and are having fun; they’re learning, and they’re trying new things. Parents know their kids are getting physical activity and a healthy snack and aren’t sitting in front of a screen. Their kids are even getting help with their homework. Most importantly, parents know their children are safe and protected from risky behaviors both online and offline.

Afterschool helps children learn and grow and is a huge support to parents. Every child deserves a program like KEY Zone and Eagle’s Nest. Unfortunately, too many families are unable to take advantage of the benefits that afterschool programs provide. According to student surveys conducted by the Duluth public schools, more than half of fifth-graders (53%) are home alone after school.


In our community, there are many families which can’t afford quality afterschool programming and do not have access to the activities that many others take for granted.

The Duluth Area Family YMCA is dedicated to youth development and to providing access for all. Through scholarship assistance, all of our programs are open to everyone in the community, regardless of ability to pay. When you support the Duluth Area Family YMCA, you are making a big difference and investing in the future of all children in our great community

Parents’ and leaders’ most important job is ensuring they give all youth opportunities to achieve their full potential and build successful futures. Afterschool programs are one of the best ways to do that. Youth benefit from these programs. Parents rely on them. And communities across Minnesota need more of them. We cannot let any of these groups down.

Melissa Fanning is executive director of the Duluth Area Family YMCA Community Services Branch. She can be contacted at (218) 722-4745, extension 107, or at to learn more about the Duluth Area Family YMCA’s afterschool programs.

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