Dale Austermuhl’s daughter was struggling academically when she started the after school program at her Fairbanks elementary in the second grade. Dale did his best to help, but there’s only so much a single dad working full time on a swing shift can do.
“Taking care of her all by myself while working – that’s difficult even for two parents. It’s challenging to handle this alone. You need a community,” Dale says.
Fast-forward four years, and Dale’s daughter is still enrolled in the program – and bringing home straight As. Perhaps more importantly, though, is the positive changes and growth he has seen in his daughter.
“It’s helping my child become more confident with herself,” he says. “With the support of the program, she’s growing into a responsible, sincere, beautiful person. That’s what I’ve seen as a parent.”
And, of course, you can’t put a price tag on the peace of mind the program offers to parents. “Knowing she is safe and that people are there making sure homework is done and helping her learn new things – I’m not sure what we would do without it,” Dale says.
The program Dale’s daughter is enrolled in is a 21st Century Community Learning Center. These grant-funded after school programs strive to improve student academics by providing a safe environment for students to explore interests, develop confidence, and celebrate success, while promoting positive connections between schools, families and the community.
“The program is not just about homework – it’s also activities like knitting, cooking and gardening,” Dale explains. “After school programs offer a safe environment where the kids are learning and becoming confident with themselves. The people involved in the afterschool program are helping make sure these kids become successful adults. Positive influences create a better person.”
Dale praises the program teachers and coordinators, as well as elected officials and organizations like Alaska Children’s Trust that support program funding.
“These programs need to be funded,” he says. “These children are our future. They will be taking care of us in the future. I’m very passionate about this.”
“This afterschool program has had a phenomenal impact on our family. It’s indescribable.”
Originally published on Alaska Children's Trust.