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Posted October 3, 2014

Capturing a pivotal year for After School Matters

The stats are mind-blowing. Nearly 14,000 high school students were enrolled in one or more of the 1,045 After School Matters programs in 2013 — all voluntarily! (In fact, 33,285 applied, but not all could be accommodated.) More than 70% of After School Matters youth participants reside in Chicago’s 39 lowest-income communities (out of 77 total communities). Another little-known fact: 86% of After School Matters teens receive free or reduced-price lunches.

It’s hard to overestimate the value of giving teenagers both a safe haven and a constructive place for socialization and self-improvement — especially for kids growing up in neighborhoods plagued by gangs, drugs, and violence. And that is what After School Matters has been doing since 2000. (As most older Chicagoans know, After School Matters has its roots in the Gallery37 project, founded in 1991 by then-Chicago First Lady Maggie Daley and former Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lois Weisberg.) After School Matters is now the largest provider of after-school and summer programs for high school students in the nation. 97% of After School Matters teens belong to a minority and 86% live at or below the federal poverty level.

And what about impact? Can all these after-school activities — music, dance, art, STEM programs — really alter a student’s path in life?

As we discovered while working on the After School Matters 2013 Annual Report, the answer is a resounding “yes.” The overall teen attendance rate across all After School Matters programs (87.6%) was well above the national standard (75%) for out-of-school time programs. Whereas 25% of students nationwide drop out of high school, 88% of After School Matters high school seniors in 2013 completed their studies and graduated.

And if those numbers aren’t enough — or you missed the Annual Report — you simply couldn’t ignore the scale and drama of the After School Matters 2014 Gala at Navy Pier Grand Ballroom last week, which featured performances and exhibits 300 After School Matters youth and raised $4.5M in donations from 1,000 guests and supporters.

The Gala was unforgettable, but we should also point out that working on the Annual Report these past few months was also a pleasure thanks to Michael Crowley and Caitlin Nagel, our co-pilots at After School Matters.