After School Matters is practically a household name in Chicago. It's the city's premier afterschool program, founded 20 years ago by former first lady Maggie Daley. It offers needy high school students apprenticeships—20,000 of them this year alone. The teens learn skills in the arts, academics, or sports— but they also get paid. They’re starting work this month under drastically slashed stipends.
Sixteen-year-old Destiny Velez is beaming. The teenager is standing next to her painting, which has a bold red “sold” sign near it.
VELEZ: I met the people who bought it—they loved it. I felt so happy and proud that someone would actually buy it.
Chicago’s civic and business elite are here at this After School Matters fundraiser. They sip wine and look at the teen art, produced under the direction of professional artists.
VELEZ: They taught me how to bring in color and make things pop, so I did orange, you know, it’s bright and catches your eye.
Apprentice chefs serve hors d’oeuvres. Apprentice musicians and dancers perform.
Senior Mina Landon moves across the stage in synchronized dips and dives with other kids she calls her “coworkers.” Mina earned $870 dancing this summer with After School Matters. She says she learned much more than hip-hop.
LANDON: You get paid a decent amount of money. It’s very satisfying, but also you have to come, sign in, check in, check out, take it like a job. Like don’t come late or you dock your pay. If you really want to get a job, this can also start you off.
It’s an intentional mix of work experience and talent development. Kids fix computers, write songs. After School Matters is the biggest program of its kind in the country; it’s been replicated in Boston and New York, just to name two cities.
But beginning this month, the group is tinkering big time with its model. Chicago teens are getting a 75 percent pay cut. Students who last spring made almost $400 will now make $100. That’s for 10 weeks. After School Matters cites the “challenging economic climate.”
MALDONADO (talking to a student): …It’s changed. The money part—the monetary part has changed. I need you to understand that.
After School Matters instructors like artist Jeff Maldonado have had to break the news to teenagers this fall. In the Hancock High School library, it’s the first thing Maldonado tells kids as he interviews them for his printmaking class.
MALDONADO: So it’s really not about the money. It’s like, if you’re interested in becoming a better artist, that’s what we’re looking for.
In the roughed up Englewood neighborhood, Cynthia Rashid has been conducting interviews too, at Beloved Community Family Services. She teaches kids graphic design and journalism on the second floor of a church building.
RAHSID: Even in the interview the other day we talked about the stipend—the look on their faces was just--psssshhhhh.
Rashid hasn’t had to recruit a single kid in the last four years. They come to her—usually many more than she can take. Now, parents say the $100 stipend won’t even cover the cost of getting to the church.
RAHSID: Normally we have teens who call back and say, ‘I want this job.’ Now, we’re calling them three and four times.
And Rashid is concerned about holding on to the kids she does accept without the carrot of a big paycheck.
Northwestern University professor Bart Hirsch just finished an evaluation of After School Matters. He says nationally, participation in after school programs by high school students tends to be weak; most programs are targeted toward younger children. In Chicago, kids clamor for a spot within the program.
When Hirsch began his study in 2009, students earned the equivalent of $5 an hour. Now, they’re getting $1.10. That could come back to bite the city. Hirsch found kids in After School Matters were less likely to be involved in “problem behaviors” than kids in other after school programs.
HIRSCH: The fact that they were paid some money might make them less likely to have to engage in those types of activities such as selling drugs or being involved in a gang because they got the money from After School Matters.
At Beloved Community, director Delphine Rankin says students often spend their stipends on basic needs.
RANKIN: I’ve seen, the day or two days after we issue the stipends to our participants, you actually see some of the kids come in with the right attire for the season. Until you’ve been in this community and you see what some of the families are facing, you don’t realize the significance.
Overall, After School Matters stipends sent nearly $7 million to Chicago families last year. That amount is being cut by 40 percent. That’s gotten almost no public attention.
After School Matters board member Avis LaVelle says the board wrestled with its decision to cut stipends. Both Chicago Public Schools and the state of Illinois reduced funding to the nonprofit this year.
LAVELLE: We feel like there are a number of young people who will still come and participate in the program. They would have come for free, because they enjoy it that much. We wanted to be able to provide as many opportunities as possible and be very realistic about our financial capability.
But overall, WBEZ has found After School Matters’ budget is up over last year’s. The current $25.5 million dollar budget is average for the last seven years.
While the overall budget pie is the same, the slice of that pie going to teen stipends is a lot thinner.
LaVelle says the nonprofit is closing down certain “drop-in” and “club” programs it ran in past years and is moving participants into more costly apprenticeships. LaVelle says the board decided to cut stipends instead of reducing the number of students it serves. A spokeswoman from After School Matters’ PR firm said in late September that recruitment levels were similar to last year’s. After School Matters says youth have told them in surveys that money is not the most important part of this for teens.
Back in the Hancock High School library, many kids say they’re happy to be paid any money to do something they love.
But some say they’ll now feel pressure to find an outside job on top of this. And that’s not easy with a teen unemployment rate over 27 percent. It’s 47 percent among black teens.
Seventeen-year-old Jovani Garcia got used to helping his family after working in After School Matters this summer—
JOVANI: It was like around $900, so I gave them $500, and I kept the rest.
LUTTON: Do you know what they spent the money on?
JOVANI: I think on the house, mortgage thing. Yeah.
Alums from Hancock’s After School Matters programs have gotten college scholarships.
Whether kids can see those longer term payoffs—and whether they can live without a paycheck now— will help define the future of Chicago’s premier afterschool program.
Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly identified After School Matters as the recent recipient of a $1 million dollar Bank of America grant. That grant did not go to After School Matters.
|Fiscal Year||Operating budget (in millions)||Amount spent on stipends to teens (in millions)||% of budget going to teen stipends||Amount spent on administration||Amount spent on fundraising||% of budget going to administration and fundraising|
Source: After School Matters
2011 figures are unaudited. 2012 figures are budgeted amounts.
*WBEZ requested these figures; ASM has not provided them.
WBEZ asked to see ASM's full FY12 budget; the nonprofit declined that request.
ASM's fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30.