After school teens: Where they go, what they do

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After school teens: Where they go, what they do

AT A GLANCE:

According to the Afterschool Alliance’s annual national survey of America schools, the number of school children, including high school students, participating in after-school activities continues to rise but so does the demand, say school parents and officials.

In communities across the United States, 11.3 million children are without supervision between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m. That number is down from 15.1 million in 2009 and 14.3 million in 2004, but 1 in 5 children still do not have someone to care for them after school.

The Washington, D.C.-based Alliance reported the most recent data from 2014 showed 431,489 of Ohio’s school‐age children (23 percent) are alone and unsupervised during the hours after school.

Nationwide, both the percentage and the total number of children in the United States participating in an afterschool program are on the rise. In 2014, 10.2 million children (18 percent) participated in an afterschool program, an increase from 2009 (8.4 million; 15 percent) and 2004 (6.5 million; 11 percent).

Nationwide nearly one in four families (23 percent) currently has a child enrolled in an after school program.

Source: Afterschool Alliance

COMMITMENT TO LOCAL COVERAGE

Staff writer Michael D. Clark spent weeks hanging out and talking with Butler and Warren county teens to learn about their favorite after-school spots and why they go there. The Journal-News is committed to writing stories about the people, places and events that make this region unique.

Some of Southwest Ohio’s largest high schools can be found in Butler and Warren counties, but the end of each class day sees thousands of teens scatter from them to a wide variety of teen hangouts.

While many high school students work part-time jobs after school, or head home, many don’t.

Instead they congregate in official and unofficial teen hangouts to socialize, study and sometimes just sit and wait for a few hours for parents to come pick them up.

From the recently opened, $350 million Liberty Center “living room” area designed to attract area teens to a local library to a community recreation center, area teens move in nomadic patterns that may be unknown to many residents.

Where they go is often a matter of what’s close and what’s welcoming.

Almost everyone agrees though, engaged teens make for better teens.

In communities across the United States, 11.3 million children are without supervision between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m, according to the national Afterschool Alliance group that tracks such data.

The Washington, D.C.-based Alliance reported the most recent data from 2014 showed 431,489 of Ohio’s school‐age children (23 percent) are alone and unsupervised during the hours after school.

In recent years, non-sports after-school clubs have exploded in number in part to meet the demand of ever-evolving student interests and the needs of working school parents who need their children to stay occupied until they get off of work.

But not all high school students are joiners of after-school clubs.

Lakota West High School junior Sam Scherer joins dozens of classmates after school at the MidPointe Library across West Chester Road from the West Chester Township school.

Sam reclines in one of the many cushioned chairs dotting the expansive library and says the facility “gives me a place to focus and get my school work done.”

“I come to the library almost every day after school. Having a place for students to go is important,” says the 17 year old.

University of Cincinnati Professor Keith King agrees, saying teens’ developmental progress is greatly helped by keeping them engaged, socially active and busy.

National studies agree says King, who is also director of health promotion and education at UC’s College of Education. Teens need to be involved in positive activities after school.

“The number one factor the data shows for troubled teens is a lack of family and school connectiveness,” says King. “And the number one thing communities can do to prevent kids from getting into trouble with crime, drugs, sex is getting them connected into positive activities.”

But groups of teens can occasionally be problematic.

Veteran Lakota West Principal Elgin Card says that’s why he makes it point to walk over to MidPointe unannounced after school to make sure he is seen by his students and they are behaving properly.

“I make sure they see me and that they know I see them,” says Card.

“It’s a beautiful library and it not only gives our kids a place to go but also a place to do their school work,” says Card.

TEEN HANGOUTS VARY WIDELY

Lakota East High School in Liberty Township has no library within walking distance but since 2009 teens can stride a few hundred yards to the Edge Teen Center on Wyandot Lane. There they can relax on couches, study their homework at tables, belly up to a non-alcoholic beverage bar, shoot pool or work on their video game skills in a separate area designed for gamers to compete as teams or individuals.

Or, as many teens do, kill some time socializing with friends while waiting for their parents to come give them a ride home.

Attendance varies, but at minimum the club averages about 100 students each school day after the final class bell.

Lakota school parent Bonnie Nugent appreciates the club and how it helps her keep her work schedule.

“And I like that this place is a safe place for them to go and that it has adult monitoring,” says Nugent of the Edge’s adult staffers.

“It’s time they can spend with their friends before coming home,” she says.

Another short walk from Lakota East is a local Smoothie King that sees a couple of dozen students pull up seats and straws each afternoon. Some businesses near schools frown on teens gathering in their restaurants or stores but co-owner Susan Smith isn’t one of them.

“Teens often wait here for their parents to come pick them up and we’re okay with that. The kids are very respectful and it’s been all positive. The kids being here makes our place a bright, happy place to be,” says Smith of the laughing din of young customers.

Two of them sit outside and both wonder where else they would go as they wait for their parents to pick them up.

“It’s nicer than sitting at the high school waiting for our ride,” says sophomore Alexa Bencic.

At Ohio’s largest high school – Mason in Warren County – teens don’t even have to walk outside to get to one that Deerfield Township community’s most popular youth “hangouts.”

The school’s 3,300 students have an option unlike any other in the region because of the adjoined Mason Community Center, which features expansive exercise areas, pools, activity rooms, a mini-bistro and plenty of tables and chairs for students to relax or study.

“It’s a fun study place,” says Mason sophomore Hosanna An, “and I really like the food here.”

Fellow sophomore Saba Setegn has covered one of the eateries tables with text books.

“I usually come here after school because it’s a good place to get your work done. And you can eat while you do that or work out or just hang out with your friends,” says Setegn.

Some area schools have unofficial hangouts at nearby restaurants.

Hamilton High School has a McDonald’s restaurant across the street and the Fitton Family YMCA nearby but little else to offer when it comes to teens congregating.

That’s okay, says Hamilton Principal John Wilhelm, who notes the school’s more than two dozen, non-sports after-school clubs keep many of the school’s 1,850 students engaged rather than just fed.

The clubs, which range from an Anime club of fans of the internationally popular animation to community service groups, keep students involved, says Wilhelm.

“We want them to be engaged and anything that can draw students into the building helps with that,” says Wilhelm.

Developers of the $350 million Liberty Center hoped to attract teens to its massive new mall by offering what they described as a “living room” area complete with a giant, gas fireplace, numerous couches and a self-playing piano.

“Liberty Center is a multi-use center that brings together the community’s recreational, social and civic passions,” says Liberty Center General Manager Kevin Cedik.

“The Living Room at Liberty Center in the Foundry Building is literally that. A space for you and your family to relax, use our free Wi-Fi, listen to our play piano or enjoy live performance on occasion,” says Cedik.

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