4-H is making a difference in rural afterschool programs

4-H provides afterschool opportunities in rural communities.

Its 3 p.m. in your hometown—do you know where kids go and what they do after school? Over the holidays? On snow days? Afterschool in rural America is even more challenging. Afterschool and out-of-school time issues are unique in rural communities. A March 2016 report released by the Afterschool Alliance highlighted barriers, challenges and opportunities to expand rural afterschool programs.

Historically, rural families are woven in with extended family networks based in the historical agricultural contexts. However, today’s rural families are frequently juggling irregular work schedules and longer commute times. To meet the needs of Michigan families, here are two examples of rural afterschool 4-H programs.

Suttons Bay Kids Club was established in the early 1990s to support Leelanau County rural and commuting families. Initially, it was created as a collaboration between Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development and Sutton Bay Schools, and has been recognized nationally as a Program of Distinction. A school counselor said, “Some of the kids live in less than ideal situations. The Kids Club offers enrichment opportunities for some of our students.” The program model has been expanded to other Leelanau County school districts.

MSU Extension’s Tech Wizards is an example of an afterschool mentoring program where the emphasis is on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs. Located in 11 Michigan counties, many of which are rural, program attendance and engagement is high. Over 95 percent of the interest is in technology. Participation in community service also increases the likelihood of post-high school education in STEM careers. Nationally, the 4-H Tech Wizards program has been highlighted in articles on the impact of afterschool STEM programs.

These two examples are addressing barriers that can impact rural programs. These barriers included affordability, availability, accessibility and knowledge of afterschool programs. Recommendations for improving and expanding rural afterschool and summer learning programs include providing families with up-to-date information, featuring programs and stories about exemplary rural programs, increasing STEM programming and increasing investment in afterschool programs that many times are also providing meals for participants.

For additional information on Michigan specific networks, check out the Michigan After-School Partnership, which offers resources and opportunities to address the quality and quantity of afterschool programs across Michigan. The Michigan Department of Education provides leadership to 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which focus on afterschool programs in at-risk communities. Michigan 4-H also provides excellent volunteer trainings, curriculum resources and professional expertise that support afterschool programs.

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