The number of Arizona children in after-school programs jumped 4 percent from 2004 to 2009, even amid job losses and an economic downturn.
About 16 percent of schoolage children are in after-school programs in the state, according to the annual State-by-State Progress Reports and Consumer Guides released last week by the national Afterschool Alliance. The data is the most recent available and was calculated from parent surveys.
At the same time, there's been an 8 percent decrease in the number of children caring for themselves - latchkey kids - according to the survey, from 30 percent in 2004 to 22 percent in 2009.
Around the East Valley, many school districts have been increasing program options, making more "enrichment" type classes - such as karate, chess, dance, cheer and tumbling - available.
Gilbert Unified School District saw an increase in the number of students enrolled this year, said Kristin Stoltzmann, program supervisor for VIK Club. About 2,400 students are enrolled this year from the 38,500-student district, compared to the 2,100 at the end of last school year. Fewer students are attending daily, she said, with more parents opting for part-time options as parents work flexible schedules to try and save money.
Participation in Mesa Unified School District's Kids Corner - the after-and-before school care program - is down 8.3 percent in the last five years, according to the district. But district enrollment overall is down 12.5 percent.
Mesa district also started its own enrichment program two years ago, offering art, drama, dance and more at 54 sites this year.
John Huckelberry, community education specialist for the 64,000-student district, said there's been a lot of interest. Last year, 1,800 students were enrolled in the first quarter. This year, that number jumped to 2,400.
"There's the ability to take a class that's more affordable than going ... for dance and cheer, to a studio," he said. "Our lower income elementary schools never had access to chess, cheer, or drawing classes. They would never see them if they weren't there right in front of them."
Mesa Unified also took over the district's junior high athletics program after the city had to make budget cuts. This year, 866 athletes are participating in boys' wrestling and basketball and girls' soccer. Last year, there were 733 children in those sports, Huckelberry said.
Chandler Unified School District's Frank Narducci said that district has added additional sports programs this year because students are "gravitating" toward those. The district also added SAT/ACT prep classes. Chandler is working with 50 vendors to provide classes at all 40 sites.
This year, 2,400 students are enrolled in Kids' Express, the before-and-after school program for the 39,500-student district. That's a jump of about 320 students from last year. Another 1,900 are taking classes through Club CUSD, the district's enrichment program. That's more than a 50 percent jump from last year, Narducci said, though more classes are also available.
"I think parents are trusting the site where the kids go to school all day," he said of the number of children in the program. "The staff members are seen as part of the school staff. ... Our track record has been an increase every year since we redeveloped the program five years ago."
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Michelle Reese, East Valley Tribune