Out-of-school-time programs have a long history in this country. They first appeared in the 19th century, and over the years, have evolved and changed to meet different needs, purposes, and concerns. Mostly, however, they have served the important functions of providing a safe haven for academic enrichment, socialization, acculturation, problem remediation, and play. Out-of-school-time programs continue to serve these functions even as they have grown in size and scope. Some are focused on homework help and tutoring, and others are enriched learning experiences or time for nonacademic activities, such as sports or arts and crafts.

During the past 20 years, out-of-school-time programs have experienced tremendous growth, largely attributed to increased federal support as well as the entry of more women into the workforce, which has meant that a greater number of children need supervised care after school. Politicians, educators, and parents increasingly view these programs as a necessary component of public education. The increased funding for the 21st Century Learning Centers, for example, is an indication of the growing importance of such programs: their budget rose from $40 million in 1998 to $1 billion in 2002. In 2007, the House of Representatives voted to increase funding to $1.1 billion.

The number of children participating in out-of-school-time programs also has increased, with school-based or center-based programs being the most common. In 2005, 40 percent of all students in grades K-8 were in at least one weekly nonparental out-of-school arrangement. An advantage of these programs is that they have the potential to provide large-scale enrichment opportunities for all children, including those from nondominant groups and low-income schools. In fact, at the 21st Century Learning Centers, the typical profile of a program participant is an individual who is black, from a single-parent, low-income home, and on public assistance. Because the programs are reaching nondominant groups in need of services, they are well positioned to make a significant difference in their lives.15

The following case study highlights one such program. Project Exploration is a nonprofit science education organization founded to address issues about access to science, particularly for populations historically underrepresented in the field. Project Exploration’s programs run in out-of-school-time settings, are free for participants, and specifically target girls and minority youth from the Chicago public schools.

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