According to the report “Helping Youth Succeed Through Out-Of-School Time Programs” published by the American Youth Policy Forum, out-of-school time (OST) is a term that “encompasses both traditional programs operating during afternoon hours and more comprehensive efforts that respond to the needs of children, youth, and parents during evenings, weekends, summers, and holidays by offering activities that help youth grow, learn, and develop.” Quality OST programs are designed to both provide youth with a safe, nurturing, supervised environment and offer them meaningful enrichment and learning opportunities.
Many OST programs focus on providing students with the extra time and attention they need to improve in the core academic areas of reading, writing, and mathematics. Other OST programs aim to expose youth to skills and opportunities they do not receive during the regular school hours such as financial literacy, college preparation, leadership skills development, character development, and community service. Unfortunately as more and more schools face budgetary shortfalls they are electing to cut “enrichment” programs such as physical education, foreign language, art, music, and theater. Many OST programs are now trying to fill these gaps as well.
Much research has focused on the increased risk youth face during the out-of-school hours. Particular attention has been paid to the after school hours of 3 to 6 pm which are well-documented to be the peak hours during the school year that youth commit crime, become victims of crime, smoke, drink, or use drugs and engage in sexual activity. Research confirms that quality OST programs can serve as powerful youth violence, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, and dropout prevention strategies. Between the cost of incarcerating juveniles, the cost of providing assistance programs to teen parents, and the decreased earning and tax potential of dropouts, cities and states could save millions of dollars by investing in quality OST programs.
Aside from preventing negative and detrimental youth behaviors OST programs have been shown to increase positive youth outcomes. Frequent attendance of OST programs is associated with increased academic achievement, increased school attendance, increased self-esteem, increased social skills, improved work habits, and better student behavior. The American Youth Policy Forum also holds that “OST programs can increase educational equity by providing socio-economically disadvantaged youth with experiences that their more affluent peers access through other sources.” Considering that OST programs both decrease negative youth behaviors and increase positive youth behaviors strong arguments should be made at the local, state, and national level to support OST programs.
Locally, activity related to OST programs has primarily focused on afterschool programs and to a lesser extent summer programs. In September 2005, Mayor Slay launched the Afterschool for All By 2010 Task Force. The work of that group led to the development of the After School for All Partnership (A.S.A.P.) in 2007 which was charged with creating a coordinated system of afterschool programs and adding additional afterschool slots for children and youth in the St. Louis area. Facilitated by St. Louis for Kids and ARCHS, A.S.A.P. has added 2,560 new afterschool slots in the St. Louis region bringing them closer to their long-term goal of 5,600 additional afterschool slots. In recent years A.S.A.P. has successfully partnered with the St. Louis Mental Health Board and the St. Louis Public Schools to further meet the need for OST programs in the St. Louis area.