By Joseph Olchefske

The New York Times recently published a fascinating and troubling article regarding the role of organized afterschool activities in the lives of students from differing socioeconomic groups.  The article, entitled “Class Differences in Child-Rearing Are on the Rise,” highlighted the increased access that middle and upper income students have to afterschool activities when compared to their lower income peers. Upper income students go to dance classes and robotics classes and lacrosse camps and chess clubs and many others activities; lower income students, in contrast, cannot afford to participate in many of these activities and so are deprived of the wonderful learning opportunities that come from them.

This “activity gap” is a serious issue for our country since research clearly points to the developmental advantages that students receive by participating in high quality enrichment activities. By participating in these programs, upper income students gain skills and competencies that give them clear advantages as they progress from their K-12 schools to college and ultimately into the workforce. Due to their lower participation in these activities, lower income students face greater challenges as they progress through their academic careers.  Ultimately, the activity gap is a serious problem that America must address to ensure that all students – regardless of family income – have access to enrichment activities so that they can maximize their potential in our highly skilled 21st century world.

We at Flex Academies are deeply concerned about the “activity gap” and are taking several steps to help address it. As a major provider of afterschool programming, Flex strives to find ways to address the activity gap so that students from all socioeconomic groups have access to high quality afterschool enrichment programs. Our efforts to address the activity gap include:

  • Lower price ranges for our classes – Flex designs our programs at every Flex school to include classes at a wide range of price levels so that students from all income levels can find a Flex activity that their family can afford.  While not every family can afford to have their child participate in a $225 robotics program, we know many more families can afford to participate in a $125 chess or flag football program.  By offering a variety of classes at a range of price points, Flex makes our classes accessible to a broad range of students in every Flex school.
  • Scholarships for students in Flex programs – From our very beginning, Flex has provided free scholarships to students who are interested in participating in Flex programs but do not have the family resources to do so.  Flex’s policy is to provide every Flex school with one scholarship seat in every Flex activity for each Flex session.  Schools identify deserving low income students and provide them with seats in a Flex activity on a no-cost basis. Our Flex schools greatly appreciate this scholarship commitment and we know the recipient families (and their kids!) enjoy participating in the fun Flex classes.
  • Participation in philanthropically funded programs – A number of foundations and philanthropic organizations have become increasingly concerned about the activity gap and so have begun to commit their resources to address it.  For example, the Nationals Youth Baseball Academy, a youth development program for underserved youth in Washington D.C. supported by the Major League Baseball’s Washington Nationals, recently selected Flex to manage an enrichment program for its students.  Through the Nats Academy program, Flex is providing exciting enrichment activities like entrepreneurship, drawing, Lego engineering and dance to over 100 students from low income backgrounds.  Flex is very proud of its role at the Nats Academy and believes there will be similar philanthropically funded programs developed in other Flex communities.
  • Participation in publicly supported programs – School districts and municipal governments have also begun to be concerned with the activity gap and are finding ways of supporting low income students to participate in afterschool activities.  For example, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland recently received a major grant to support a group of Central American refugee students at Wheaton High School. MCPS selected Flex Academies to manage the enrichment activities portion of the grant program.  The Wheaton program will be launching in Spring 2016 and will provide over 60 students with two days a week of fun, exciting enrichment activities. The success of the MCPS/Wheaton program will invariably attract other school districts to create similar grant-funded enrichment programs.

Flex Academies is very proud of the steps we have taken to address the activity gap.  We know Flex cannot solve this problem on our own, but we also know that as a corporate leader in afterschool programs, it is our responsibility to commit our efforts and resources to contribute to an ultimate solution.

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