On June 11, 2017 Kate Pett and Brian Randall of the Asheville City Schools Foundation and In Real Life program, wrote an article for the Asheville Citizen-Times. In it, they share important information about the dramatic decrease in juvenile crime complaints in our community and the powerful impact that local programs are having on this story. Three parts of this story stand out:
- In 2007, something really wasn’t working in Asheville. Criminal complaints about young teens in Buncombe County rose sharply, and even though fewer than one-quarter of the county’s young teens lived in Asheville, more than half the complaints came from our city.
- Criminal complaints against juveniles in our community have dropped dramatically. In 2015–16, there were 140 criminal complaints against juveniles, ages 11–14, as compared to 597 complaints in 2008–09.
- Despite what we see on the ground, the White House recently released a budget cutting support for federally funded afterschool programs. The justification from the administration was that afterschool programming doesn’t work. We couldn’t disagree more strongly.
The most vulnerable time for students, especially middle school youth, are the late afternoon hours between 3-7 when they've been let out of school and have no where to go. Quality afterschool programming works. We commend Asheville City Schools Foundation and In Real Life for the role they've played in this work and the impact they've had on the lives of youth in our community.
United Way of Asheville and Buncombe County and our partners who make up the Asheville Buncombe Middle Grades Network are proud to be a part of this story as well. We ask that our leaders and supporters continue to build upon the momentum already underway.
Juvenile Crime Drop Shows Progress
Kate Pett and Brian Randall, Guest Columnists
Sometimes when something is working, it’s easy to forget when it didn’t. In 2007, something really wasn’t working in Asheville. Criminal complaints about young teens in Buncombe County rose sharply, and even though fewer than one-quarter of the county’s young teens lived in Asheville, more than half the complaints came from our city. Under the leadership of Mayor Bellamy, the Asheville City Schools Foundation (ACSF) led a broad coalition of educators, program providers, and concerned parents to assess what was going on with our youth. What did we learn? Based on in-depth interviews with a cross-section of our youth, we learned that barriers to participation in afterschool programming were steep, and there were roughly 500 middle school students without adequate access to high-quality afterschool programming.
Fast forward to today and what has changed? Criminal complaints against juveniles in our community have dropped dramatically. In 2015–16, there were 140 criminal complaints against juveniles, ages 11–14, as compared to 597 complaints in 2008–09. This dramatic decrease is something we should all celebrate.
It’s a credit to our community-wide effort to reach youth in middle school. The Asheville City School Foundation launched the In Real Life (IRL) afterschool program in the fall of 2009. IRL networks more than 40 providers so that students can do something different each day of the week. Since inception, more than 1,500 students have been served by IRL after school. Our partners include LEAF Schools and Streets, FEAST, Asheville Parks and Recreation, MAHEC, UNC Asheville, Asheville Art Museum, Asheville on Bikes, and so many more. More than 200 students attend each year and the results demonstrate that regular participation in IRL improves social-emotional learning, improves academic skills, and supports positive behaviors. The United Way’s Middle School Success Initiative has drawn further attention to this cause, and United Way support has been critical in supporting IRL and other programs that serve middle school youth. The City of Asheville has made a sizable investment in supporting engaging programming for young teens and in IRL.
Despite what we see on the ground, the White House recently released a budget cutting support for federally funded afterschool programs. The justification from the administration was that afterschool programming doesn’t work. We couldn’t disagree more strongly.
Today’s popular culture confronts young teens with exposure to violence, hostility and hyper-sexuality. Due to increases in screen time, social exclusion is common and time spent outdoors has greatly diminished. In youth, trauma and chronic stress inhibit self-regulation and mental skills critical to success in school. Focusing on character education is widely regarded as a good idea but has proved very challenging to implement in high-stakes school-day testing environments. In essence, there is no time and it is not easy.
In Real Life (IRL), and other afterschool programs, provide the perfect opportunity to increase a children’s awareness of their own social and emotional skills and learning . Our program is designed to create safe and engaging hands-on experiences full of fun and love. In IRL, we can provide explicit opportunities which help students recognize and improve their abilities to manage emotions, build relationships, solve interpersonal problems, and make effective and ethical decisions. IRL trains a diverse population of more than 60 adults to integrate and facilitate social-emotional learning. Community service providers work on skills such as: teamwork, empathy, problem-solving, responsibility, initiative, grit and emotion management. Simply put we help students develop strengths of heart, mind and will.
Afterschool programming works; this year more than 200 young teens participated in 98 clubs, classes, and program opportunities offered through the IRL network. But there is more work to be done. There are still too many students who spend afternoons unsupervised in the virtual company of screens. Our community should support a culture that expects that all young teens will be in safe, healthy, supportive places after school. We need to inform parents and families about the value of the after school hours. Right now, we are building a fall catalogue of amazing opportunities for youth in IRL, and we need more community partners to make it happen. In addition to many youth-serving agencies, our programs are provided by UNC Asheville faculty and students, business leaders like Thermofisher, health providers like MAHEC, and caring individuals who leads clubs in chess, coding, photography, and so much more. Please contact us at the email below if you would like to be involved.
Let’s keep working together, Asheville, because this effort is working. Just seven years ago, nearly 600 children, ages 11-14, had their lives forever changed in an encounter with the criminal justice system. Today far fewer children have such experiences in our community, and that fact alone is a compelling reason for us to invest and support the critical work of after school programming.