Editorial: Recreation Worcester expansion good policy, but leaves questions

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On Thursday, Jan. 21, City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. announced the city’s plans to expand Recreation Worcester, its popular youth initiative, into a yearlong after-school program.

Beginning Monday, Feb. 1, and running through May 26, students in grades 3-12 who attend any school in Worcester can attend programs at six schools, Worcester East Middle, Goddard Elementary, Claremont/Woodland Academy, Chandler Elementary, Quinsigamond Elementary and Elm Park Community School.

In addition to offering academic support, activities available to the students include visual arts, music and physical recreation.

Worcester East Middle is among the schools participating in the expanded Recreation Worcester program.

Giselle Rivera-Flores / For Worcester Sun

Worcester East Middle is among the schools participating in the expanded Recreation Worcester program.

“Recreation Worcester’s expansion into a year round program will allow us to build on the success of the summer, to keep providing our young people with a safe and engaging environment to nurture their academic and extracurricular pursuits under the care of positive adult role models,” Augustus said in a press release.

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Each site will have an administrator and two recreational leaders overseen by the city’s Youth Opportunities Office. In addition, volunteers from such community partners as Worcester State University, North High School, the Boys & Girls Club, Worcester Youth Center, Safe Routes to Schools and the Worcester Soccer House will be available.

“This partnership between the Worcester Public Schools and the City of Worcester solidifies our commitment to the safety and well being of the children in our community. This program is available to all children in our community and it embraces the notion that healthy neighborhoods create opportunities for children to remain engaged and active after school hours. Our children deserve it!!” interim Superintendent Marco C. Rodrigues, said.

Marco Rodrigues

Courtesy of Worcester Public Schools

Worcester Public Schools interim superintendent Marco Rodrigues

On its face, this program is a milestone achievement, an investment in the city’s youth long overdue. Reaching agreement with the numerous stakeholders is a lesson in collaboration that merits acknowledgement.

Engaging children after school and keeping them mentally and physically active is intuitively a civic good. Placing these programs in city schools is an efficient use of public buildings.

At their best, after school programs can increase academic achievement, and reduce absenteeism and dropout rates. At their worst, they can be feel-good programs that fail to produce meaningful results.

Ensuring Worcester’s program is the former rather than the latter comes down to execution. To that end, there are many things to consider:

Recruitment — How do you ensure that children attend these programs? More importantly, how do you ensure that the children who can be most helped by these programs attend?

Measurement — How will success be measured? Is it attendance in programs or will there be an attempt made to correlate attendance in the program with school attendance and academic performance? John Hill, Communications Specialist for the City of Worcester, says the city is working with Boston After School & Beyond, which, he says, has been able to implement such tools.

Location — The program will begin at six schools but a lack of transportation may limit attendance. The $100,000 cost for this current expansion is being paid for by private donations, Hill said.  Continuing this year-round and expanding locations requires continued private support.

Timing — Programs for students in grades 3-7 begin shortly after the school day ends. However, programs for students in grades 8-12 do not begin until at least 5 p.m. It remains to be seen if these students will return to school after they have left for the day. Moreover, the schedule is at odds with data showing students are most at risk in the hours immediately after school ends.

The expansion of Recreation Worcester is a great first step. We hope it fulfills its promise and can be expanded to include more schools, more children and more accountability, in the coming years.

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