MICHIGAN CITY — Since 1998, the past three presidential administrations have supported funding for 21st Century Learning Centers which funds the Safe Harbor after school program in Michigan City.
Safe Harbor is a before and after school program that promotes student development through academic enrichment, mentoring and career planning opportunities, giving students skills for the workforce, while also giving them a safe place to go after school.
If 21st Century Learning Centers funding is cut, this could also affect other local after school programs such as those offered by the Boys and Girls Club and the Lubeznik Center for the Arts.
However, according to Safe Harbor Development Manager Abby May, under the current 2018 fiscal year budget, funding for 21st Century Learning Centers may be cut altogether, leaving students vulnerable to crime, education loss and denying them enrichment opportunities.
“21st Century Learning Center is like the trunk of the tree; everything we do is because of 21st Century funding,” May said. “This administration is suggesting not just to cut back funding but to eliminate funding all together. We’ve always received funding from both parties so this isn’t just a Republican or Democrat thing; it’s a human thing.”
Due to potential budget cuts, May and Safe Harbor Program Coordinator Sherri Silcox have been working hard to advocate the importance of after school programs. May said this is important now more than ever because of the reasoning the Trump Administration has given for cutting funding.
“One of the bases that the administration has put out as to why it is acceptable to cut this funding is that there is no evidence that after school programming is effective and that’s not true,” May said. “It is effective and the proposed fiscal year budget for 2018 is a reminder that we should be constantly advocating for after school programming and bring awareness to how important after school learning is.”
Some programs that Safe Harbor offers for all schools in the area is a high school robotics team, programs that could interest students in a potential career field and their Hours 4 Ours program which pairs volunteer mentors in the community with students during lunch hours or after school. Every site also offers homework assistance, enrichment programs, recreational activities, healthy snacks through food services and access to college and career preparatory.
May also stressed that Safe Harbor is not a daycare but rather a program that encourages students to be better.
“We are not after school care, we are an after school enrichment program,” she said. “We provide access to programs that make life better for students who participate.”
If the program does become defunded, May said in addition to students losing programs that could benefit them, they would also be put at a higher risk for crime. She said the three to six hours after school is let out has the highest crime rate for juveniles across the county.
“We have a partnership with local law enforcement to make sure our community provides a safe place for students within those three to six hours,” she said.
Silcox agreed with May and also pointed out that if the program becomes defunded, it will not only be a loss for students.
“What our research shows is that this program is provided because the longer they stay after school, the better they do in school but it is also provided because some parents can’t afford full time child care. If they (the children) have nowhere to go, they have to go home and that can be scary for parents because they don’t know what their child is doing or if they’re home at all,” Silcox said.
Both May and Silcox said they have had one-on-one conversations with some of the parents about the possibility of the program becoming defunded. They said that during their discussion with parents, the first thing that parents were concerned about was their work schedule.
“We hear a lot of, 'I wouldn’t be able to work, I would have to cut down on hours, one of us would have to stay home,' and for some it’s not an option because they can’t afford less,” May said.
Silcox added that in addition to the safe environment for their children after school, parents also enjoy the fact that students can continue their education outside of the classroom.
“Parents appreciate that their kids can learn here. They think it’s nice that there’s someone here that is skilled in helping their children with their homework which allows more quality time at home,” she said.
While Safe Harbor and other 21st Century Learning Programs may face hard times in the future, May says that they are still grateful to Michigan City.
“We’re so proud to be a part of Michigan City and we feel that Michigan City and its students are worth investing in,” May said.