In Buncombe County, parents who don’t want to leave their middle-schoolers home alone after school have precious few options.
The SOS program (which stands for Support Our Students) offers free after-school activities for 82 students five days a week, says Director Laura Williams. The YWCA of Asheville operates the state-funded program, with sites at North Buncombe Middle School and at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Asheville.
Middle-school students can also join a “homework club” if one is available at their school — but those meet only one or two days a week. A handful of other groups (such as the YMCA) offer activities for middle-schoolers but generally not every day, notes Allison Jordan, project and communications coordinator for Children First, an Asheville nonprofit.
“I think that the ideal solution would be a place that middle-school students, particularly the sixth graders, can go every day after school,” she suggests. Preferably, says Jordan, it should be “in a place that doesn’t have transportation challenges.”
Although SOS provides transportation to its Asheville site, the inability to get to an after-school program hamper middle-school students who live farther out in the county. A parent working a typical 9-to-5 job is unlikely to be able to get time off every day to pick up a child at school, take them to an after-school program, and then retrieve them at the end of the afternoon.
But unless more people can be hired, SOS can’t expand to other sites, Williams says. And with the state budget crisis making extra state dollars unlikely, SOS is looking toward grants and fund-raising efforts to raise additional money.
“Without that community support — whether it be tutors, mentors or financial support — after-school programs don’t happen,” Williams explains. “We do have a lot of at-risk families out there. Without a lot of support for them during down times, especially when families are at work, peer pressure is a pretty powerful thing.”
Another hurdle is getting the word out to parents and students that such programs are worthwhile. The SOS program, for example, can actually accommodate 28 more students than are now being served by its two sites, Williams reports.
The program includes snacks, a homework hour and fun activities such as games and field trips.
“It’s not some kind of geeky camp where they have to do homework and sit quietly,” Williams notes.