The Value of After-school Programs

Javonna Grimes

Javonna Grimes, from Northeast Minneapolis, is one of seven newly graduated high school students nationwide serving as a youth ambassador for the Afterschool Alliance. She wrote an essay for the ambassadorship about her experience with the Minneapolis Beacons program, which offers educational, recreational, and leadership development to 4,000 K-12 students at 12 locations.

“I wasn’t really interested in sports and hated school because I felt like no adults were really listening to us. I started going to Beacons my sophomore year of high school and it changed me,” Grimes says. She was encouraged to start a Black Student Union in the program. “We put on showcases. We created a logo and made hoodies for each BSU member. We were able to decompress and talking about daily struggles. We were able to express ourselves.”

Grimes helped Beacons launch culture clubs for Somali and Latinx students. “I have definitely found my passion,” says Grimes. “It is working with young kids. Although the pandemic brings on new social distancing rules, we still have made the program fun. It warms my heart that it is a safe place for youth to come and just be kids.”

Kari Denissen Cunnien

Says Kari Denissen Cunnien, executive director of Ignite Afterschool, “”There’s an opportunity gap in access to after-school programs. Research shows that families in the highest income bracket spend five times more on after-school programs than families in the lowest income bracket, and are much more likely to have children participating in after-school activities. That matters because we know that when young people participate in quality after-school programs they do better in school and develop key skills that support their development and success outside of school. By not funding these opportunities for all youth, we are deepening the inequities that already exist.”

Supply and Demand

Says Denissen Cunnien: “The federal 21st Century Community Learning Center program is the main source of public funding for after-school programs in Minnesota.  This helps bridge that opportunity gap by ensuring that young people who attend schools that are at least 40 percent free and reduced price lunch have access to free, high-quality after-school and summer enrichment.  There is much more demand for this funding than the state receives from the federal government. You also can see an astounding difference in test scores between young people who regularly participate in these programs and those who do not.”

Minnesota used to invest state money into After-school Community Learning Grants to help address these gaps.  Denissen Cunnien notes, however, that “there has been no appropriation to that state grant program since 2007.”

Rep. Fue Lee has authored a bill to ensure this grant program receives funding. It has been introduced during the last few legislative sessions, and will be introduced again in the 2021 session. Ignite supports this “Afterschool Community Learning Grant” bill, and the House File 4 COVID-19 education relief bill, which includes funding for after-school.

The Governor’s budget calls for $57 million of federal COVID-19 relief funds to go to school districts for comprehensive summer programs this summer, to address pandemic-related learning loss. It calls for school districts to partner with community based organizations to combine math/reading with enrichment opportunities.  

Denissen Cunnien says, “Students and families need after-school programs now more than ever, since the pandemic has changed school schedules, disrupted our economy, and put additional stress on children and young people. Publicly funded after-school programs have been a lifeline for low-income children. We are calling on lawmakers, businesses and others in Minnesota to help us make after-school programs more available to young people and families.”

According to the Afterschool Alliance, 10.2 million children are enrolled in after-school programs in a normal school year, and 19.4 million are waiting for openings because of funding limitations. The 21st Century Community Learning Grants support after-school and summer learning scholarships for about 1.7 million students.

In Minnesota, a study released in December 2020 indicated that the unmet demand — of parents who would use after-school programs if available — has increased in the past six years, with low-income families citing cost as a barrier. Based on data and 549 in-depth interviews in Minnesota, completed before the pandemic struck, the report indicated only 14 percent of Minnesota students were enrolled in after-school programs.

Reducing Juvenile Crime

The national “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids” program includes 5,000 members of law enforcement who know the data — post-school hours, when parents are at work, are the prime time for juvenile crime. High-quality after-school programs are a solution, but it tends to have inadequate funding. The pandemic has reduced access.

Among juvenile homicides registered from 2009-2014, 87 percent of the total were Black Americans. Black arrest rates from 2004-2012 have averaged at least ten times the amount of White arrest rates.

The national public health model to reducing violence among youth focusing on prevention, with police as allies, rather than only reacting after the fact. It involves treating violence like a disease and collaborating with agencies and community-based groups to identify and disrupt the social, behavioral, and environmental factors that fuel violence.

Brooklyn Park funded the Youth Violence Prevention Initiative — a partnership between the city’s police and parks departments, in areas with the highest juvenile crime. From 2008 to 2012, participation in after-school programs grew 62 percent and the juvenile crime rate dropped 39 percent.

Preparing a Stronger Future

In 2019, Hispanic Advocacy and Community Empowerment through Research (HACER) produced an extensive report about the Stand Up Participate program in 2015-16, a three-year program focused on at-risk youth in North Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park, and Brooklyn Center. According to the HACER report:

  • Minnesota demographics: The population of color in Minnesota is expected to be 1.5 million by 2035, and to make up at least 40 percent of the overall population by 2040, according to Minnesota Compass. Minnesota has the second-largest Hmong population in the United States, which ranks 4th among all states. St. Paul has the largest population of Asian Americans, while Minneapolis houses most of the Black and Hispanic communities. These minority groups are often concentrated in specific areas, and few white people live within them.
  • Youth: Minority youth outnumber their elders, unlike what is seen among white populations. Almost 30 percent of enrolled Minnesotan students are non-white, with 8 percent English Language Learners. Minnesota’s households, schools, and labor market will quickly be made up of people of color.

Stand Up Participate (SUP) program was created by Asian Media Access, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit organization, alongside ten partners , with grants from the Office of Minority Health (OMH) and a youth violence prevention initiative. Its programs were focused on reducing youth violence and violent crimes perpetrated against youth of color.

SUP partnerships

HACER’s report identified challenges: Enrollment dropped between first and second year and girls participated in larger numbers than boys.


  • “Youth participants improved astonishingly in leadership and responsibility.”
  • “Nearly all kids/teens showed that they got along well with peers with mutual respect and assistance; 99 percent of respondents had good relationship with adults in this program, who cared about them and could be talked with.”
  • “Youth participants got more confident in learning new things and competing with others at large.”
  • “Many girls were not as confident as boys before joining this program, considering themselves to be weak in problem-solving, making new friends, making good impression on others, and being preserving when learning new things. However, at the end of this program year confidence levels of female students increased while male students did not reflect the same results (7 out 9 teens with negative responses were boys).”

For Further Study

1 reply
  1. marilyn j morrissette
    marilyn j morrissette says:

    I’m one of the MN. elders

    I’m dismayed to learn that MN. has such an educational gap along income and racial lines. I’m encouraged to read of the efforts being made by so many groups to change that. That the Federal Reserve has to call attention to the disparity is astonishing. Early childhood education is a must for starters! Thank you to MWP for the excellent reportage. Keep up the good work…..and a big congratulations for the two awards!

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