Investment in After-School Programs
Yvita Bustos, MA Psychology Intern at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
Growing up on the Southside of Chicago in a neighborhood overwhelmed by community violence, a place I always felt safe was at my weekly Girl Scouts meeting. On the day of our meetings, I was always bubbling with anticipation to see my Girl Scout troop leader, my fellow Girl Scouts, and to discover what fun activity lay ahead. Looking back on my experiences, I realize that Girl Scouts meant much more to me than a fun activity or hanging out with friends. I built confidence, character, and a mission to be courageous, strong, considerate and caring. Girl Scouts provided a safe place where I could interact with my peers, learn new skills, and become engaged in my community as a volunteer. Reflecting on these experiences, I recall a well-known proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” When thinking about a child’s social development, there are many spheres of influence at play, ranging from their immediate and extended family to peers, school, the community they live in, and the broader social context. It is well-established that engagement in organized activities and the community fosters youth social development, which is why it is so important for schools and districts to build community partnerships and invest in programs that promote youth development.
Finding ways to support children’s learning, growth, and social development through extracurricular activities, clubs, mentorship programs, and other after school programs is a key strategy to building social support systems and supporting pandemic recovery. Organized activities are important for developing social skills, fostering positive peer interactions, and promoting self-esteem – all of which are protective factors that support school engagement and academic achievement. Additionally, for children with social difficulties, organized activities offer structure and oversight for scaffolding social skills. Finally, volunteering builds community engagement and promotes prosocial behaviors. Now that more than a decade has passed since I was a Girl Scout, I stay invested by attending fundraisers, supporting the yearly cookie sales, catching up with my old members and leader, and even served as an assistant leader. Investing in youth development and after school programs can provide a life-changing experience for the students you serve.