Starting when she was a preschooler, 12-year-old Kayla Martinez spent her after-school hours at the MD Anderson YMCA in North Houston. Kayla took part in recreational activities, got homework help, and even enjoyed a healthy snack.
“Every time I come here it makes me happy. It makes me happy, it makes me smile.”
And for working mom Anissa Martinez, having after-school care at the Y is a huge relief.
“Especially in middle school, you know, you worry about the bus routes. Even though they’re getting older you don’t want them home alone. So it was a good thing for me as a mom, for a middle schooler, to be somewhere safe, knowing that they’re going to be cared for, doing their homework.”
And it’s not just the things that can happen at home that worry Martinez. Another concern is bullying, and the fear children sometime face on the streets.
“There are nice kids, but then there are the kids who don’t know who your child is, who may just not know the correct thing, or think he’s someone else, and just take matters into their own hands and start the whole bullying process of fighting, you know, and especially if there’s one against a group. And you don’t want that for your baby.”
Figures from the organization “Afterschool Alliance” show about 15 percent of Texas school kids take part in an after-school program. Here locally, several organizations sponsor after-school activities, including the Texas Education Agency, the Harris County Department of Education, and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department.
Some of the Y’s programs are school-based while others provide transportation to YMCA facilities. The Y’s Ann Herlocher says activities are structured, but fun.
“They do healthy activities, games with their friends, running around the gym, playing dodgeball. They also have a lot of reading help. We focus a lot on reading and making sure kids are prepared for school.”
Herlocher says if those kids were home alone, they would probably be sitting in front of the TV or a video game and wouldn’t be getting any exercise. And they might not be doing their homework.
“We know that they’re getting reading and math homework sent home with them. And you know parents are really busy, and sometimes they rely on us to help them with their child’s homework. It’s reassuring from them to know they’re in a safe, secure environment where they can get the help they need for school.”
But despite efforts here in Houston and other cities to provide after-school care, there are still a lot of kids who are on their own. Census Bureau estimates show about seven million children in the U.S. are regularly left alone at home, usually after school.