DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) - As students head back to class, local child advocates are encouraging parents to put a plan in place to make sure they are safe and engaged once the school day ends.
"There's over 100,000 children in Dallas County between the ages of 5 and 14 that are by themselves every afternoon, which is just shocking," says Christina Hanger, CEO of Dallas Afterschool.
If that's hard to imagine, just picture this: "That would more than fill AT&T Stadium," adds Hanger.
"People work!" says Hanger. "After school care is so important for parents to be able to be productive, and not have to worry about their kids."
Dallas Afterschool works to make sure working parents are aware of quality aftercare options nearby. There's an aftercare finder that allows parents to search options by zip code.
"I always play with my friends," explains 6-year-old Ja'Kayla when asked what she likes about the after school program at the Frazier Network Center in South Dallas. "I play tic-tac-toe and I read my books with them."
Hanger says good after school care puts parents at ease, but it is also great for the students.
"Get homework done, get a snack, be with their friends, do fun activities. It doesn't look like school, it's not babysitting, it's the activities that help them connect with their passions and be able to thrive."
She says their research also shows that children kept engaged in those after school hours also perform better in school-- making the programs valuable tools for leveling the academic playing field.
"In fact, there's a national stat that says for middle class kids, by the time they're age 11, they've had 6,000 more hours of educational experiences than a low income child, and two thirds of that is after school and summer."
Working mom Ashley Walker loved the program so much that she joined the staff, now overseeing programs and encouraging other parents to take advantage of the after hours support.
"It puts you at ease when you know your baby or your child is somewhere positive and somewhere safe and doing something good."
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