In an 'out-of-school-time desert,' organizers connect kids to opportunities

Lisa Hall never did any extracurriculars while in school. She wants to change that for her two young children.

“I think it exposes them to new things and I hope they find out they’re passionate about something,” said Hall, who lives in Southwest Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia mom used to send her kids to classes at the YMCA. There, she found the swimming lessons and dance classes she wanted.  With two kids though, the costs quickly became untenable.  "If I wanted to choose dance, it might be anywhere from $20 to $50 per month, per kid. That can add up," she said.

Affordable, high-quality options were hard to find. On Saturday, that changed for her.

"Normally, [ after-school programs] are super expensive and far so when I found [one that] was super close, I was super excited," Hall said as she stood in a noisy room at the  Francis Myers Recreation Center in Southwest Philadelphia. 

She had come to the Kingsessing rec center for an After School Activities Fair co-hosted by The After School Activities Partnership, a nonprofit that facilitates free and low-cost afterschool and summer clubs around the city, and Billy Penn, a local news website. The fair was produced with support from Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice that WHYY is also a part of.

Sara Morningstar, the Director of Programs at ASAP, said the organization chose Francis Myers because of the dearth of afterschool options in the area.

City officials consider Southwest Philadelphia to be an “out-of-school-time desert” because there are few high-quality organized afterschool programming options there compared to other sections of the city.

But children who live in these areas "should have the same access to chess teams or debate teams,” Morningstar said. “They should have the same access to those opportunities. School days are so structured and after-school programs let kids do what they want to do.”

In the 2016-2017 school year, ASAP served more than 5,000 kids in 351 total programs. The organization’s groups primarily focus on chess, debate, scrabble, and drama. Chess is their most popular activity with 2,000 kids. About 100 of them go to state competitions every year.

ASAP has a directory, in print and online, that showcases all their programs organized by zip code.

After a decade of volunteering with ASAP, John Green goes by “Johnny Scrabble.” Green spent 24 years in prison and it was there he said he discovered his love for the game. Through ASAP, he teaches young people to play Scrabble and trains them to compete across the state and nationally.

“I want kids to know, and use me as an example, it doesn’t matter where you’re from,” Green said. “It’s about where you’re going.”

WHYY is one of 21 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly

About the author

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen is a student at Temple University. She’s been an intern for WHYY News, WURD Radio and The PLS Reporter. She’s an NPR Next Generation alumna and also a contributor for Praise 107.9’s “Your Voice” with Solomon Jones.

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