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Professional Development

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The Growing Importance of Afterschool in Rural Communities

Rural communities are diverse areas united by common strengths and struggles. With the support of John Deere, an America After 3PM report, The Growing Importance of Afterschool in Rural Communities, delved into the state of afterschool in rural areas. This special report specifically looked at how the areas' oft-underserved children spend their afterschool hours and how afterschool programs are helping them thrive.

The poverty rate within rural communities is higher than the national average—16.5 percent of rural community members live below the poverty line, compared to 14.8 percent nationally. Persistent poverty is also prevalent. Sadly, children living in rural communities feel the affects of poverty more than their elder counterparts.

The need for afterschool programs in rural communities is real. Seventy-two percent of rural parents agree that afterschool programs help working parents keep their jobs. These programs provide beneficial support to children dealing with substantial life issues. Afterschool and summer learning programs support academic growth, help children identify new areas of interest, teach them about different cultures and communities, provide mentors, activate a greater interest for learning, and help kids stay active and healthy.

Prevalence of Afterschool Programs

While the number of programs within rural communities is growing, rural participation remains below the national average, despite the high demand for these programs. The study found that "more than half of rural Hispanic children (45 percent) who are not in a program would be enrolled in a program if a program were available to them." Parents in rural communities see afterschool programs as academic, social and overall health resources that benefit the entire family unit.

Most parents whose children have access to an afterschool program within their rural community are pleased with the program's quality. However, the study found there is room for growth, particularly in the area of technology. "Only 21 percent of rural parents report that technology and engineering learning opportunities are offered, 9 percentage points below the national average."

The Unique Nature of these Programs

The study revealed distinctions between rural afterschool programs and their urban or suburban counterparts. Programs within rural communities are more likely to engage with their students' families, provide transportation and offer healthy snacks. Rural afterschool program providers use a variety of approaches to increase parental involvement. Some programs offer classes specifically for parents, such as adult literacy classes. Family nights, holiday parties, fun runs/walks and events showcasing student work are other effective ways to increase parental involvement.

Afterschool Participation Barriers

While this America After 3PM report found increased rural afterschool participation, it also found that there are still 3.1 million children who cannot attend such programs, despite their desire. Common barriers include affordability, availability, accessibility and lack of knowledge of program existence. Between 2009 and 2014, the average weekly cost for rural afterschool programs roughly doubled. Additionally, 46 percent of the parents who said they are interested in these programs do not send their children because they lack a safe way to get their child to and from the program.


The study's creators looked into what could be done to ensure that the children living in rural communities are able to participate in quality afterschool programs.

  • Ensure Information about afterschool programs is more readily available in rural communities.
  • Raise national attention around the important role rural afterschool programs play in their communities.
  • Provide opportunities to support and enhance the sharing of promising practices and resources.
  • Increase STEM programming in rural afterschool programs.
  • Increase investment in afterschool programs serving rural communities.

As an afterschool community, there is so much we can do to ensure that the children of these communities reach their full potential.

Click here to review the America After 3PM report The Growing Importance of Afterschool in Rural Communities in its entirety.

Written by Lisa Stickler, staff writer for AfterSchool Today magazine.

Photo courtesy of the Afterschool Alliance.