South Salt Lake • Mayor Ben McAdams kicked off a campaign Monday to lend more Salt Lake County assistance to after-school programs and early-education opportunities in hopes of enhancing the community by doing more for its disadvantaged children.
McAdams introduced Roderic Land, his assistant director of human services and a former clinical assistant professor of education, culture and society at the University of Utah, as the county's liaison to the education community, government agencies and nonprofit groups involved in after-school youth programs.
"There's no better way to improve our community than to help educate our children," McAdams said at an "Education Summit" he assembled at Granite School District offices. Granite and Canyons were among the school districts present, along with groups such as the United Way, Head Start, Boys and Girls Clubs, English Skills Learning Center and county agencies from youth services to the library.
McAdams said he did not intend to intrude upon traditional school-district roles but to work to expand offerings. These involve programs for children before they enter elementary school as well as after-school programs that could boost the academic skills of students, particularly those in low-income schools.
The potential benefits are well documented, he said.
McAdams cited academic research showing that quality preschool training can shrink the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers. More of these students end up in colleges and twice as many obtain high-skill jobs while fewer use drugs or are involved in crime, he noted.
"Doing the right thing is also doing the financially responsible thing," McAdams said, predicting Salt Lake County's return on its $350,000 investment could be 20-to-1. "It would be foolish not to pursue this."
The need for after-school programs is acute, said Rich Landward, Canyons School District's student-support specialist.
He noted that Canyons District operates four after-school programs at elementary schools in Midvale from 3-6 p.m. each weekday, a time period when the city's crime rate increases because kids are not involved in academic, sports or arts programs. "So they're unsupervised, getting into trouble," Landward said. "You have to provide something for these kids because if you don't, they'll fail."
Canyons District had 900 kids in after-school programs last year turning away 150 to 200 at each school. Funding changes will reduce the number next year to 750, increasing the number of kids needing help, he said.
Land broke the dozens of participants into groups to develop a list of ways Salt Lake County could help address problems. One point of consensus was the need to collect good data that supports "evidence-based practices" so systemwide solutions can be implemented uniformly.