by Lt. Governor Duke Aiona
In August, I helped launch a new after-school program at Hilo Intermediate School for students who are left alone and unsupervised once the school bell rings.
It is our Administration’s way of assisting and protecting a growing number of students who are vulnerable to risky behaviors caused by a lack of adequate after-school supervision.
The federally-funded program, created in 2004 as part of the Hawai`i Drug Control Plan, is a quality after-school program that helps make students less likely to smoke, use drugs, or engage in risky sexual behaviors.
At the moment, 18 of the state’s 52 middle schools are in the program. Hilo Intermediate School is the newest. More than 100 Hilo Intermediate students, or 20 percent of total enrollment, have signed up for the program.
Statewide, the program is serving more than 4,000 middle-school students. About 30 percent (1,240) of those students are from Neighbor Island middle schools.
The emphasis this year is on expanding the program to more schools on Neighbor Islands: Hilo, Kona and Kaua`i. The program is aimed primarily at preventing teen pregnancy, which fell from 91 in 2005 to 52 in 2007 among teenagers in the program. That represents a 43 percent decrease in that two-year period.
We see this program as an important ally in a statewide battle against unsafe behaviors among Hawai`i teenagers.
As a former family-court judge, I know that after-school hours are a critical time for our youth. That time can represent either an opportunity to learn and grow, through quality after-school programs, or a time to experiment with unsafe behaviors, such as using drugs, drinking alcohol, or having risky sex.
With more and more children growing up in homes with two working parents or a single working parent, our families can benefit from the safe, structured learning opportunities that after-school programs provide.
These programs keep our children safe, improve academic achievement and help relieve the stresses on our working families. Our research shows that the middle-school years are when students can fall into risky behaviors that could haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Juveniles are at the highest risk of being a victim of violence between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. We need programs that help us prevent risky behaviors caused by a lack of adequate adult supervision. After-school programs offer a healthy and positive alternative, allowing our young people to develop new skills and interact positively with peers.