Inequalities Cause Black Kids to Miss Extracurricular Activities' Benefits

A lack of funding and access to quality programs prevents Black children from receiving the educational and developmental benefits of extracurricular and after-school programs.

A multi-ethnic group of children are playing soccer, while running down a grass field, kicking and chasing the ball.

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Extracurricular activities provide a multitude of benefits to participants. The category includes sports and athletics, school clubs, performance and visual arts, community service, and leadership endeavors. Partaking in extracurricular activities can provide kids with benefits such as working in teams to develop social and emotional skills, creating friendships outside of the classroom through shared interests, and improving self-esteem. As the types of activities expand to be more inclusive, children can choose from a wide range of amusements. Those interested in nature and the outdoors can join scout troops or try out for sports. Others may find that theater, dance, or music is a better fit for their extracurricular needs. While there are various options, children of minority races and ethnicities are less likely to participate in extracurricular activities due to inequalities and socioeconomic factors.

Findings have shown that high-quality after-school or extracurricular activities can enhance their participants’ academic outcomes and social-emotional learning. Alongside working with peers, extracurriculars provide students with additional support and mentors who may offer guidance in areas that are not addressed in a school setting. Research also shows that after-school programs that align with evidence-based practices related to promoting social and emotional learning prove effective in developing these elements. However, factors such as the lack of funding and access to quality programs prevent many Black children from receiving the subsequent benefits.

The gap between Black and white students who engage in extracurriculars can be seen in grades as early as kindergarten. A study in Ohio found that white children were 2.6 times more likely than minority children to participate in athletics than nonwhite children. Researchers found income, parental education, and proximity were all components that impact participation rates. For children of low-income households, taking time off work to shuttle children to and from after-school activities may not be an option. More involved activities like travel teams require overnight and weekend treks and fees. They also may not be feasible or cost-efficient for some families. The study also found that students whose mothers had obtained a graduate or professional degree had a participation rate of 97% as opposed to children of mothers with a high school education or less at 47%. This may be partly due to the correlation of higher paying jobs with higher degrees, allowing for a more adequate work-life balance.

A study in Ohio found that white children were 2.6 times more likely than minority children to participate in athletics than nonwhite children. Researchers found income, parental education, and proximity were all components that impact participation rates.

A lack of access to extracurricular activities also affects participation rates among Black students. The After School Alliance’s After 3PM report found that for every Black child in an after-school program, 3 more children were waiting to be accepted into one. It also found that more than half of Black children would be enrolled in an after-school or extracurricular activity if accessible, a demand that is higher at 58% percent than the demand for more available extracurriculars for white children at 46% and children in general nationally at 50%. Black parents were most likely to report the lack of availability of programs in their area, with their top concern being safety-based in needing secure transportation to and from facilities. These hindrances have trended upward in recent years; Black parents’ reports of programs being too costly and unsafe travel concerns rose by 18% and 10% respectively. From 2014 to 2020, Black children’s participation in these sports and activities declined dramatically from an average of 2.4 million to 1.5 million active participants.

Within the Black community, there are also discrepancies between income brackets. Displaying a 25-point difference, approximately 63% of families reported participation in either summer and after-school programs or some activity outside of school as opposed to 88% of Black families in the highest income bracket.

Despite the gap, Black parents view after-school programs and extracurriculars positively overall, noting that these types of programs help keep kids safe in the hours following the end of the school day, promote interest in different topics, and furnish valuable learning and enrichment opportunities. They also find comfort that the programs are operated by other adults who can monitor and protect the children under their care in the absence of the parent. More than 90% support initiatives to increase public funding to ensure these programs and activities are more readily available and easily accessible.

Policies should be pushed and implemented to increase funding, offer a more diverse range of activities to cover broader interests, reduce participation costs and fees, and provide adequate and safe transportation options. Additional funding can also be used to build facilities closer to areas where transportation is of higher concern or largely unavailable. Considerable and swift efforts are needed to ensure Black children benefit from the advantages after-school programs and extracurriculars promote.

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