Here in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are finally getting longer. But for children, the brightness of those afternoon hours largely depends on how much of the "village" is helping to raise them.
In some bleak scenarios, school is an uninspiring prelude to an afternoon of hanging out on the street or huddling in a locked apartment, keeping one eye on the TV and the other on a baby sibling while parents are at work.
There are bright spots, though - thousands of after-school programs around the country that help satisfy young people's appetite for learning (and sometimes literally feed them, too).
Today's story on page 17 profiles a man who has dedicated himself to enriching the afterschool hours for Boston students. John Werner was among the "heroes" recognized recently in regional awards from the Afterschool Alliance. Fellow winners included a 15-year-old who works at a Denver program five nights a week and the director of a girls' club in Georgia that offers everything from pregnancy prevention to arts and crafts.
Hoping to expand the reach of such efforts, the Afterschool Alliance is sponsoring public-service announcements with the theme, "What is a Hero?"
The message: that after-school time can be crucial in helping children develop inherent talents. (For information on boosting after-school programs in your area, call 800-USA-LEARN or go to www.afterschoolalliance.org.)
Although schools need to do better, individuals can help nurture children, too, whether as volunteers or caring neighbors. After school is one good time to heed President George W. Bush's call to be "citizens, not spectators."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society