TOPEKA  -- An amendment to House Bill 2108, which is under discussion, would authorize school districts to "provide peer-reviewed, evidence-based instruction and support services" to at-risk students at the primary and secondary levels.

The amendment to HB 2108 would authorize school districts to “provide peer-reviewed, evidence-based instruction and support services to such students inside and outside the school setting.”

In other words, the amendment would allow for funding to extend to out of school extracurricular programs like the Boys and Girls Club, an organization that is aimed toward providing a safe space with food and activities for at-risk students to stay after school.

The changes to this bill, which would go into effect July 1, include adding nonprofit organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and Jobs for America’s Graduates-Kansas (JAG-K), a similar organization, to the yearly budget.

Chuck Knapp, president and CEO of JAG-K in Topeka, mentioned during the Feb. 13 meeting that a major issue facing his organization was that although schools provide free lunches to students from lower-income homes, nearly 30 percent of students who are considered at-risk do not qualify for free lunches. According to Knapp, there are plenty of students who are at risk for reasons other than financial issues.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita) agreed with Knapp, stating oftentimes wealthy or simply ‘’not impoverished’’ students struggle with other obstacles besides financial ones, including difficulties in academics. Landwehr believed that the clarification of the meaning of “at-risk” was an important addition to the bill.  

Dawn McWilliams, CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Topeka highlighted the importance of extracurricular programs in the lives of all students, but especially those who are at-risk.

According to McWilliams, one in three young people are unlikely to graduate on time, but 97 percent of teenagers who regularly attend the Boys and Girls Club say they expect to graduate high school.

“Club teens are proven more likely to abstain from alcohol and marijuana than their peers,” McWilliams said.

She also said that over half of Boys and Girls Club alumni said that they believed participating in the Club during their school years saved their lives.

There are several programs within the Boys and Girls Club targeting specific academic, social and health goals. These include the AfterSchool KidzLit reading program, Positive Action, which is a drug-prevention program, and SMART Girls, a program dedicated to enhancing young girls’ self-esteem.

Because so many positive changes have been observed as a result of students participating in after school activities where they can meet positive role models, learn how to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and have a safe place to go after school, proponents of this amendment believe that increasing funding to programs like the Boys and Girls Club is in the best interest of protecting Kansan students.

Marissa Ventrelli is a University of Kansas junior from Chicago majoring in journalism.

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