For working parents, the gap on the calendar between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. is riddled with challenges. The biggest: Who's watching my kids?
Affordable and safe afterschool options are hard to come by, especially in elementary and middle school, before school-sponsored extracurricular activities likes sports or drama kick in.
But rest easy, Chicago parents: You're doing a pretty good job. A new study finds 27 percent of Chicago's kids are enrolled in an afterschool program; that's 80 percent higher than the national average. The study, conducted by the Afterschool Alliance, also found that 36 percent of Chicago children are participating in summer learning programs, compared to 25 percent nationally.
"It didn't surprise me to see that Chicago has a high enrollment because the infrastructure is so strong," says Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance. "The big point was to shine a light on the incredible programs in Chicago."
Some of the big players in the afterschool programs include After School Matters, which has afterschool clubs, apprenticeships and internships; and Chicago Teen Reach, which focuses on sports, academic enrichment and life skills education.
But nearly a third of kids are being left unsupervised; that's slightly higher than the national average, and concerns Grant. "Chicago is better than most, but we still have a lot of work to do," Grant says, especially when it comes to the high cost of some afterschool care options. Grant recommends free, supervised hangout spots like the library or neighborhood recreation center.
However, Grant says another issue is that "the economy had been so bad and the program had been underfunded for many, many years."
Organizations like JCPenney, which sponsored the America After 3 PM study, are working to raise more money for afterschool programs. Through October 26, JCPenney is promoting its "Round-Up" event, which lets customers round their purchase total up to the nearest dollar and donate the change to local afterschool programs.