Betzabed Ramirez, July 2022
Time when kids are not in school is crucial. It’s important that youth spend their time in a positive way when they are not in school. How is that time spent in the South Valley? As an intern for the New Mexico Out-of-School Time Network, I was able to interview five youths in my community, the South Valley, about how they spend their out of school time and how important it is.
The first question asked was: Do you currently participate in an after school program?
All of them answered no.
“No, there isn’t any at our school”, said Maria Martinez.
“I went to an afterschool program from kinder to fifth grade, but not currently”, said Alejandra Gamon.
Their answers didn’t really surprise me because I know that after school programs are not widely known here in the South Valley.
The second question I asked was: Do you find it easy to find after school programs near you?
“Depends, because when I was in school I had the teachers to help, but now since I graduated, there are less people I can go to”, said Gloria Garza.
“Not really, I have younger cousins and a lot of the time we have to take care of them. There's really not that much access to it where I live”, said Yvone Martinez.
“It was pretty easy at my school because they would tell every parent that there was an afterschool program, but other than that, the only ones I've ever heard of was Los Padillas and that was it '', said Alejandra Gamon.
“Maybe in elementary school, but not in middle school or high school”, said Maria Martinez.
After these conversations, it seems like finding an afterschool program is easier in elementary school, but not in middle or high school, which needs to be just as easy to find.
The third question I asked was: Do you think it's important to have after school programs accessible for everyone?
“It is important because it creates a space where children create those connections with other kids. They get to network with kids outside of the people they go to school with or the people they acquaint themselves with and it really enhances their social and communicating skills”, said Yvone.
“I think it is, because a lot of their parents work late so it's better for the parents knowing that their kids are somewhere safe”, said Maria.
“Yes, it's very important. It's especially important now because there aren't that many kids outside and they're mostly interacting through social media”, said Alejandra.
In my interviews, everyone said that after school programs are important and it’s even more important to make them accessible for everyone.
The fourth question I asked was: What catches your attention when it comes to an after school program?
“The people who participate or lead. If it's someone that I don't find reliable to the source of material they're teaching or helping out then I don't want to take it”, said Andres Salas.
“What the program is about and how involved it is”, said Gloria.
“That the teachers actually care about the students and that they are kind”, said Alejandra.
“If it's free! Making after school programs affordable or low to no cost is something that's really big. Giving out access to free programs, free activities, free out of school and after school programs is something that's so big”, said Yvone.
“I think maybe the diversity of kids that are in the program and also making sure it's fun for the kids”, said Maria. “A low cost, fun, and interactive program is what catches people's attention and gravitates people to a certain program which is the goal.”
The last question I asked was: If you were in charge of starting a new afterschool program that is meaningful to you, what would it look like?
“My program would be open to all of the students' ideas and if they want something changed or they don't like something then they could also voice their opinions and be heard. The adults would make sure the students are safe and they should also be trained to deal with many different situations so that if something happens they know what to do”, said Gloria.
“I would start a club for Latinx teens to express their interests with someone without judgment. I feel we as a community are too judgemental, especially of teens and young adults. It would be a safe environment where teens can just be themselves; they don't necessarily have to teach something”, Andres said.
“How can we offer access to technology because everything’s running off of technology nowadays. So it would be like that, how can we offer access to technology through education”, said Yvone.
“Make sure to have games and make sure each kid participates so they don't feel left out. Learning new stuff that they don't learn in school”, said Maria.
Youth voice provides a perspective that is not always heard. In the South Valley, after school programs are not easily accessible for everyone, or there aren't enough to go around. Some of the youth in the South Valley don’t know of any programs near them which is a problem. Access to quality out-of-school programs is important for youth and it’s something that is not yet accomplished in the South Valley. I’ve had the opportunity of working as a youth intern at New Mexico Out of School Time Network where they are working to increase access to after school programs. While working with them I have learned and seen the work that goes into a non-profit organization that is doing amazing work for our community.