Aug 13

How does afterschool contribute to military readiness?

U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue

In 2016, the Council for a Strong America released America Unprepared, showing data that more than 70 percent of young adults in the United States would not qualify for military service due to obesity and other health issues, poor academic performance, drug abuse, or involvement in crime. As a solution to this lack of “citizen-readiness,” the council suggested support for voluntary home-visiting programs, high quality early education, science-based nutrition standards for school foods, and the reinstitution of physical education programs.

We have one more suggestion: quality afterschool programs. Many afterschool programs are already tackling the issues of health and wellness, academic achievement, and child safety.

Fighting fit

60 percent of young adults are overweight or obese. For the military, this translates to 31 percent of all young adults who apply to serve being disqualified from service. Furthermore, lifetime obesity is determined during school-age years. While obesity remains a large problem in the United States, the percentage of schools that require students to take physical education has declined to only 77 percent.

Programs like Girls on the Run are working to get their students up and running (literally). The Girls on the Run curriculum teaches girls important life skills through running to motivate and inspire girls to live healthier and more active lives. A 2014 evaluation indicated that 90 percent of participants from reporting programs were able to complete a 5K race at the end of the Girls on the Run season.

When looking at students that participate in afterschool programs nationwide, 76 percent of parents say that their child gets at least 30 minutes of physical activity during a typical day in their afterschool program, and 27 percent report that their child gets at least an hour of physical activity. In short, afterschool is keeping kids active.

Making the grade

Without regard to an applicants’ level of education, many military applicants fail to score high enough on the Armed Forces Qualification Test (AFQT) to enlist in the military. A report from the Education Trust (2010) showed that almost a quarter (23 percent) of test-takers failed to achieve the qualifying score.

So, why are so many young adults failing the AFQT? According the America Unprepared, the academic preparedness necessary to graduate high school and pass the Qualification Test starts even before pre-k. Nearly two-thirds of American children are not reading proficient by the 4th grade, and nearly 20 percent do not complete high school in four years. Furthermore, nearly 70 percent of the high school achievement gap between students from low and high income families is present at kindergarten entry.

Luckily, afterschool programs have a history of supporting students academically and closing the achievement gap. Studies have shown that close to 1 in 2 students who regularly attend a 21st Century Community Learning Center program improved their math and language arts grades, nearly 2 in 3 students improved their homework completion and class participation, and close to 3 in 5 students improved their behavior in class.

In addition to Community Learning Centers, programs like the YMCA High School Youth Institute serve low-income and urban communities to help their students improve their academic performance. An evaluation of the YMCA High School Youth Institute showed that participating students made greater gains in their GPAs and their English language arts and math standardized test scores than their non-participating peers.

Safe and supervised

More than 15 million students are alone and unsupervised between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. This block of time is when students experiment with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, and when juvenile crime peaks. With the military’s stringent requirements for enlistment, a criminal record can be an immediate disqualifier from service.

Afterschool programs keep kids safe and busy in those crucial afternoon hours. According to our national parent survey, 73 percent of parents agree that afterschool programs reduce the likelihood that youth will engage in risky behaviors.

A prime example is Chicago’s Afterschool Matters program, which uses a nationally recognized apprenticeship model to keep their students engaged, employed, and excited for their futures. In 2011, Afterschool Matters reported that participants engaged in risky behaviors, such as using or selling drugs and taking part in gang activity, at a much lower rate than their non-participating peers.

Afterschool has the proven power to help students stay healthy, academically engaged, and out of trouble. Ensuring that kids are equipped to meet the high standards for military service creates generation that’s ready for any path in life, whether as a civilian or a soldier.