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Hours After School Are the Riskiest for Youths

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The most likely hour of the day for a youngster to get in trouble is from 3 to 4 p.m., and it is in the hours immediately after school that most teens are involved in sex, drug use and car crashes, according to a new report that looks at the importance of after-school programs in curtailing such behavior.

The report, to be released today, also found that more than 1 million low-income children in California with working parents could benefit from supervised after-school programs but are not enrolled.

The conclusions are culled from first-ever surveys of law enforcement agencies by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, a statewide nonprofit organization whose members include Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Los Angeles Police Chief Bernard Parks and other state crime fighters.

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“In the hour after the school bell rings, turning millions of children and teens out onto streets with neither constructive activities nor adult supervision, violent juvenile crime suddenly soars and the prime time for juvenile crime begins,” said the report, titled “California’s After-School Choice: Juvenile Crime or Safe Learning Time.”

Surveys of police departments in California’s largest cities found that on school days, the prime time for violent juvenile crime is from 2 to 6 p.m. The surveys also show that more violent teen crimes--homicide, rape, robbery and assault--are committed from 3 to 4 p.m. than any other time on school days. The report did not include statistics about weekends.

Data collected from police agencies in the Los Angeles area from 1999 to 2001 follow this pattern, with the incidence of violent crime involving juvenile suspects numbering 374 cases from 7 to 8 a.m. and peaking at 1,577 cases from 3 to 4 p.m.

But children are also far more likely to become victims of violent crimes and engage in risky behavior immediately after school. And on school days in California, the prime time for 16- and 17-year-olds to be in or cause a serious car crash is from 3 to 6 p.m., according to the report.

“This information is important because there are things we can do to prevent some of these activities,” said Fight Crime state director Maryann O’Sullivan, who urged more government and private investment in after-school programs.

As millions of youngsters head back to the classrooms, the report is a bracing reminder that the after-school reality for many children is an empty house and fending for themselves while Mom and Dad work, or hanging out on the corner with buddies.

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The report offers evidence that quality after-school activities not only cut crime but promote learning. Such programs should have adequately trained and compensated staff who provide assistance with homework, cultural arts, computer technology and recreation.

A study of 12 California communities considered at high risk for crime found that vandalism and theft dropped by two-thirds among kids participating in after-school programs while violent acts and carrying a concealed weapon dropped by more than half. The students also reported fewer school detentions, suspensions and expulsions.

Other research found that youngsters in after-school programs improved reading test scores at three times the rate of the general student population and math test scores at twice the rate.

And a UCLA study of the LA’s BEST after-school program showed students with limited English proficiency were able to achieve fluency at a higher rate than those not in the program. The LA’s BEST program (Better Educated Students for Tomorrow) was founded in 1988 and operates at 78 elementary schools, serving 15,000 kids.

Sonia Gonzalez, site director at Selma Avenue Elementary in Hollywood, said she sees the positive impact every day on the 190 kindergarten through fifth-grade students enrolled in the program there.

The children receive help with homework and can then choose to join a variety of clubs that focus on science, arts and crafts, reading, sports and even cooking.

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“I’ve noticed the change in kids who come from other schools without programs,” Gonzalez said. “It’s not that they’re bad kids, but you can see they’ve never had instructional help or discipline. I grew up here and attended Selma myself and I can see a difference in the neighborhood.”

One of the success stories cited in the report is that of Mauricio Valdovinos, who began attending the LA’s BEST program at Langdon Elementary School in North Hills when he was 7. Instead of getting involved with gangs and violence, he told the report’s authors, he was moved to improve his academic work.

“Being able to get my homework done at LA’s BEST and bring it back to class the next day complete made me feel really good,” said Valdovinos, now 21.

He has returned to his roots at Langdon as a teaching assistant while working toward a teaching credential in elementary school education “because I wanted to come back and do my share.”

California’s After-School Learning and Safe Neighborhoods Partnership Program is the largest state-run after-school program in the nation, serving more than 100,000 students at some 1,000 elementary and middle schools in the state. There are also some federally funded and community-based programs, like the Boys & Girls Clubs and Police Activities Leagues.

Currently, government-funded after-school programs in the state serve an estimated 440,000 kids. But an additional 1.24 million children ages 5 to 14 who need subsidized care while their parents are working go unserved, the report said.

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