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Scott G Winterton, Deseret News
Ethan Garcia smiles as he and other members of Sistema Strings from American Preparatory Academy perform for an after-school program summit in South Salt Lake on Friday, April 21, 2017.

SOUTH SALT LAKE — A group of young violinists kicked off a summit on after-school programs Friday with a fine rendition of the national anthem.

Appropriately, the American Preparatory Academy students learned to play the difficult instrument in an after-school program.

The Utah Afterschool Network and Salt Lake Afterschool Regional Network brought about 100 educators, business leaders and local politicians together at the Columbus Community Center to talk about the need for investing in after-school programs in Salt Lake County.

"It’s really a low-cost way for kids to be able to stay engaged during those critical after-school hours, but also learn to be better citizens," said Kelly Riding, Utah Afterschool Network executive director.

The meeting comes as President Donald Trump threatens to eliminate the $1.4 billion 21st Century Community Learning Center program in which about 9,800 Utah children participate. The Canyons School District, for one, received $1.7 million from the program the past five years, Superintendent Jim Briscoe said.

Nearly 72 percent of Utah students who participated in 21st Century improved their math grades, and 77 percent did better in English/language arts, Riding said.

Overall, about 57,000 students in the state, including more than 32,000 in Salt Lake County, take part in a variety of after-school activities in arts, sciences, music and recreation. Those children do better in class, attend school more often, and are more connected to their school and community, Riding said.

After-school programs also give working parents peace of mind knowing their children are in a safe place from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., the hours when juvenile crime peaks, she said.

Nearly 100,000 children in the state go unsupervised after school for at least seven hours a week, Riding said.

South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood attributes a 64 percent drop in youth crime in the city to keeping kids engaged after school.

The city supports after-school programs through its Promise South Salt Lake initiative, which includes an effort to see every child go to college. About 97 percent of the funds come through grants and donations, while the city kicks in 3 percent, she said.

"We know in Salt Lake County the value that after-school (programs) bring to our community," said Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams, noting that the county spends $650,000 a year on the programs. "After-school is a proven game changer for the kids involved."

"Doppler" Donna Kraus runs Mad Science of Greater Salt Lake, programs for kids stretching from Weber County to Utah County. She said it fills a niche for students who aren't interested in sports and provides a hands-on science experience.

"It gives them a chance to explore where they belong. It’s hard enough being a kid. You need to find out where you belong," Kraus said.

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The Hser Ner Moo Community Center in South Salt Lake rose out of tragedy nine years ago. It's named after the 7-year-old girl who was murdered in the South Parc Townhomes in 2008.

"Her memory is an active part of what we do," said Susie Estrada, program coordinator. "We don't have rules. We have values."

The center — two adjoining renovated apartments in the complex— has about 100 refugee children enrolled in math, science, technology and language programs.

"We’re really trying to help them get to the next step so they can reach their highest potential," Estrada said.