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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Jaden Warner, Nevaeh Calliway, Antonia Perez and Alesha Aumua deploy parachutes as part of STEM enrichment as the Utah Afterschool Network hosts Afterschool Day at the Capitol rotunda in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019.

SALT LAKE CITY — After-school programs lead to better academic success, learning skills, health and social relationships, according to the State of Afterschool Report released at the Capitol on Wednesday.

The Utah Education Policy Center at the University of Utah, the Department of Workforce services, and the Utah Afterschool Network partnered to research after-school programs in the state for the report.

"After-school programs keep kids safe during the critical hours between 3 and 6 (p.m.). They engage kids in learning and they help working families," said Kelly Riding, executive director of the Utah Afterschool Network.

Jeniya McCullar, the 2018 Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year, told the audience the organization was able to give stability in his life. The Boys & Girls Club was able to introduce him to men, women and people of color who were doing positive things in the community. He plans to be the first person in his family to graduate from college.

Cori Groth, associate director at the Utah Education Policy Center, said now that the report provides evidence of the benefits of after-school programs, the organization hopes to work with the programs to improve quality and increase state-level commitments to support them.

Groth said that as the study looked at whether the money invested in after-school programs makes a difference, three years of participation showed a clear academic benefit.

"There was a correlation between participation and their increase in SAGE scores, and it grew even more the more years that they participated," Groth said.

Riding said the benefits go further than academic improvements. The report found the programs help kids become successful adults as they get ready for college and careers.

"We also see that after-school programs are a solution to helping fill the talent gap we have in Utah, so they're preparing this future workforce of kids," Riding said.

The report shows 71 percent of Utah parents said after-school programs help them keep their jobs, and 69 percent agreed they help children gain workforce skills.

Tami Pyfer, the governor's education adviser, said she sometimes gets a little discouraged about how much information students are expected to learn in a typical school day, and she wishes there was time to explore some subjects in-depth. After-school programs can provide this.

"Opportunities abound in public eduction … but opportunities abound exponentially in after-school programs," Pyfer said.

Tino Nyawelo, an associate professor at University of Utah, also directs the REFUGES program, which stands for Refugees Exploring the Foundations of Undergraduate Education in Science. This after-school program is meant for non-native Utahns placed in Utah schools and helps to prepare them for college.

According to Nyawelo, in addition to the daily help with homework, the REFUGES program works with kids on Saturdays to prepare them for college entrance exams and to help them apply for colleges and scholarships. He said most of the students they work with attend the University of Utah with scholarships.

Nick Nahas participated in the program during his senior year of high school and was able to receive a full-ride scholarship and attend the U. thanks to the help he received through the program.

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"It's a great program, and I'd recommend anybody who is in high school, typically refugees or even like underrepresented areas, to come to our program, because if you want to get into college it's a surefire way," Nahas said.

The report also showed after-school programs reduce the likelihood that youth will engage in drug use and criminal behavior.

Groth said through participating in after-school programs, children gain 70 additional days of learning time.

"Schools cannot do it alone, families cannot do it alone," Groth said.