Cabarrus County exemplifies quality of 4-H school-age care program
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Cabarrus County exemplifies
quality of 4-H school-age
care program


Being part of a 4-H club is a bonus to youngsters participating in the after-school programs.  (Photo by Sheri D. Thomas)

In North Carolina, nearly 80 percent of school-age youth have parents who work or attend school during the day, so many youngsters find themselves at home alone in the afternoons when classes end. Others attend after-school care programs, but the quality of these programs varies greatly across the state.

For 15 years, the 4-H Youth Development Department in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has been instrumental in helping improve the quality of and access to school-age care programs for North Carolina youth. That role has become more critical in recent years as the state began licensing these programs, just as full-day care programs for preschool children are licensed.

With approximately 1.1 million youth in the state ages 5-14, the need for school-age care is enormous. This fiscal year, 4-H will spend about $2 million in grant funds improving the quality and availability of care for school-age children.

When 4-H first became involved in school-age care in 1987, the department provided some grant funds for community trainers to work with school-age care providers. Since that time, funding has covered staff training, as well as other needs, such licensing and space needs.

Providing school-age care is important to the health and safety of communities, as well as youth participants themselves. Teen sexual activity resulting in pregnancies most often occurs during after-school hours, and nearly half of all teen violent crimes are committed between 2 and 8 p.m. Other risky behavior, such as drug and alcohol abuse, increases among youth who spend after-school hours unsupervised.

Goals of the 4-H school-age care program are to improve the quality of such programs, increase availability of those programs and collaborate with other groups that have similar goals.

The state’s 4-H program, complete with educational curriculum, has provided the model for many school-age care programs. Cabarrus County is one place where the 4-H club model provides a range of activities for children in school-age care.

More than 1,600 elementary school children in Cabarrus County participate in 4-H school-age care programs at 25 sites – 14 schools and 11 day-care centers. All the children are members of a 4-H club, based at their after-school care site.

Beverly Bollenbecker, 4-H Afterschool coordinator for Cabarrus, trains after-school teachers to be 4-H club leaders. The clubs hold meetings during after-school hours and participate in some 4-H projects. They also join in the county’s 4-H Talent Show and celebrate National 4-H Week.

Like all 4-H’ers, children in the after-school program learn new things, like how to eat with chopsticks. They study nutrition through 4-H curricula, such as “Fun, Food and Reading.” And they practice service to their community through activities like creating cards for nursing home residents.

Some of these children have gone on to participate in traditional 4-H clubs in Cabarrus County, which has a perennially strong 4-H program.

Being part of a 4-H club is a bonus to the kids participating in the after-school programs, but parents like the opportunity, as well, because it allows the children to participate in a club without added night meetings, Bollenbecker said. “Parents have been very pleased with that.”

Under the state’s star-rating system for care centers, a rating of 4 or 5 is considered the best. In Cabarrus County, about 80 percent of the local programs have been reviewed under the star-rating program, and many have achieved these top scores.

Rosa Andrews, Extension associate in the 4-H Youth Development Department, attributes Cabarrus’ strong program to several factors. Having a full-time 4-H person dedicated to school-age care is a real plus, she said. And Bollenbecker has a very good partnership with the school system.

“The 4-H school-age care program is a constant resource for the Cabarrus schools,” Andrews said. “They team and work very well together.”

Providing a structured environment for youth after school is important. Ensuring that environment is filled with fun and learning activities is what the 4-H club model is all about.

—Natalie Hampton

 


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