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Commentary: Rewarding to see Kenney embrace out-of-school time programs

IN EDUCATION circles, they call it Out of School Time - programs to benefit children from 3-6 p.m. each weekday.

IN EDUCATION circles, they call it Out of School Time - programs to benefit children from 3-6 p.m. each weekday.

But in recently announcing his intention to create a comprehensive new Out of School Time strategy, Mayor Kenney sees OST for what it really is - an unparalleled opportunity to assist children throughout the city to achieve better results in the classroom and in life.

The mayor's OST initiative will focus public resources where they really matter - on making the most of this valuable time to provide kids with a chance to explore exciting new ideas that teach them about life's possibilities even as it helps them develop stronger reading, math and science skills. Good OST programs help children dare to achieve, so that daring to achieve becomes a lifetime habit.

And make no mistake, it's a habit that children from every Philadelphia neighborhood can acquire.

First things first: As a city, we have an obligation to children and taxpayers alike to make OST more than just after-school day care designed to keep children "safe."

OST offers us 15 hours a week, and many more during the summer months, to help children achieve and explore! Schools, the City and OST providers such as EducationWorks should together create a coordinated approach that makes the most of these precious hours. And we should all demand measurable results: outcomes that help children achieve in school, so that they have the foundation they need to attend college or get the training they need for career readiness after high school.

EducationWorks is Philadelphia's largest provider of OST programs, so we understand the incredible value that a coordinated OST program offers for children. First and foremost, let's focus on programs that get kids excited about learning while helping improve basic learning skills. How about a class in videography that simultaneously engages children in math drills by requiring them to manage the budget for a video shoot? Or a drama program that helps them not just read better, but learn to love to read? At EducationWorks, we are having success with a pilot program in which children play video games that simultaneously identify deficits in reading comprehension and then provide other games that help them improve their reading skills.

In other words, good OST programs must support the hard work that teachers and principals do every day during school hours by complementing this work during after-school hours. The city calls it "intentionality" - literally, programs purposefully designed to let children have fun while sharpening the skills they need for success in school and in life.

With younger children, good OST should support literacy efforts like the city's new "Read by Fourth" initiative aimed at boosting reading skills in young children. In middle-school years, it means providing opportunities for children to explore high-quality enrichment opportunities (art, drama, science-focused projects) that build academic skills while also allowing children to have fun - and even to fail without fear - as they learn what they like and what motivates them.

In our view, the mayor's plan clearly values OST as part of a bigger plan to create a lifetime of opportunity that begins with quality pre-kindergarten, continuous support for literacy, math and science education and, later, for advanced workforce development that will help our children's career readiness. And in the process, we are also building Philadelphia's future leaders in the arts, government and business.

When we talk about moving Philadelphia forward, everyone agrees that quality education is the highest priority for our children's future. But quality education requires that learning continue out of school, too, and that's the driving force behind the mayor's initiative.

Our children deserve nothing less.

Miles Wilson is President and CEO of EducationWorks, the city's largest provider of OST programs.