Calgary after-school programs to be ‘refreshed’, help build youths’ futures

Calgary after-school programs to be ‘refreshed’, help build youths’ futures

City officials are looking to “re-evaluate and refresh” their decade-old after-school programs to ensure teens are engaged in safe, healthy activities in the critical hours after class ends and before parents get home.

The City of Calgary’s AfterSchool Evaluation and Strategic Plan is seeking a consultant to develop the next Calgary AfterSchool Strategy on behalf of the 20-plus partners who deliver free programming to kids aged 11 to 18 years between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays.

“These can be the hours, before parents come home from work, when kids can sometimes make choices they shouldn’t be making,” said Jaspreet Sandhu, team lead, social programs with the City of Calgary.

“They need to be building healthy relationships, through healthy activities and making good choices.

“Research has shown us that these are critical hours in a youth’s day — where they need to be pursuing their interests in a healthy environment, whether that’s sports or the arts, or something else that’s fun.”

The city has recently reviewed several new studies around youth programming, Sandhu explained, indicating a number of important findings including:

  • Youth can have up to 67 hours of discretionary time a week, and an increasing body of knowledge demonstrates there are positive links between quality child and youth programs during middle childhood and adolescence and positive development;
  • Children who consistently participate in out of school programming are more likely to become physically and emotionally healthy adults who are involved in a variety of caring relationships;
  • Children benefit most from a range of high-quality programs that include recreation, play, arts, civic engagement, and learning — a mix most often found it high-quality out-of-school programs.

But while the benefits remain unchanged, Sandhu explained kids’ lives have evolved tremendously in the last 10 years, from school schedules, varied dismissal times, burgeoning communities and changing interests, particularly around technology.

For that reason, she said, the city is looking to rehaul the programming to adjust to these changes.

“There are always new trends emerging in terms of what kids want to do after school,” Sandhu said.

City of Calgary AfterSchool framework is a collaboration of 20 programs, committed to providing free after-school care through a number of partner agencies including the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary, Big Brothers and Big Sisters Society of Calgary, Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth and Two Wheel View.

Activities range from unstructured outdoor games, sports, arts and crafts, and community leadership or mentoring.

Rick McFerrin, executive director of Two Wheel View, agreed after-school programming is critical in the lives of youth, particularly those who may be vulnerable, at-risk, and having challenges at home.

“All youths at one time or another can be at risk of making poor choices,” he said.

“We are a strength-based program, where we focus on the positive. We teach kids resiliency, problem-solving skills, and social skills. All of that gives them the confidence they need as they become adults.”

McFerrin agreed youths’ needs are always evolving, and a refresh of the city’s AfterSchool Strategy is a good thing.

But he added that Two Wheel View often changes its programming on the fly to immediately respond to youths’ needs.

Earn-A-Bike, for instance, has expanded from an eight-week program to year-round because of its popularity with so many youths.

The program teaches kids how to dismantle, build and repair bikes, with graduates ending the program with their own bike, lock and helmet.

“They kept coming back and asking if they could do more,” McFerrin said. “So we knew we needed to make it last longer.”

Sandhu expects the city’s refresh initiative will take several months.


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