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Opinion | I’m a Michigan senior, and after-school programs changed my life

Across Michigan, students are working to recover from the learning interruptions they experienced during COVID-19. For many, it is hard to make up all that lost ground and begin to think about the future again.

Hajirah Nadeem
Hajirah Nadeem is a senior at Central Academy in Ann Arbor. (Courtesy photo)

But for others, like me, after-school and summer programming have come to the rescue. 

Having spent years learning through programs provided after the school day ends, I can personally attest to the remarkable things I’ve been able to pick up. From participating in robotics to interning at my local library, I’ve been part of many amazing opportunities to grow in unique ways.

But the most important things I have learned have been about myself.

Next year, I’ll start as a freshman in the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan. I know that’s the right path for me because I’ve explored it in after-school programming. I have an interest and ability in this area, which I would never have known if it weren’t for my participation in innovative science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) programs like FIRST, NCWIT, Girls Who Code, and Kode With Klossy.

Without these hands-on opportunities, I would not have been as certain about what I wanted to do career-wise, and being unsure would have been a struggle. After all, I've seen how competitive college admissions can be. Scholarships are often based on subject areas and careers, and if those are unknown to you, getting into a school and paying for it well are going to be that much harder.

Even more than that, however, I would not have known about who I am as a person. I have been able to participate in other programs, like martial arts, that have given me the ability to connect with my inner self in different ways. The journey to becoming a second-degree black belt has enabled me to recognize the strength I have and subvert my personal expectations about what I am capable of.

After-school opportunities allow students to develop skills like project management or even discover a passion for community service, qualities that will take them far no matter what career path they choose. After-school programs have taught me that there is always more to give back. I want to use my time to serve humanity and shape our local community. They have allowed me to see my education as so much more meaningful than the obtaining of a degree and break the stereotypes about what a woman of color can achieve. They have helped me find my purpose.

Unfortunately, I am relatively unique. Today, there are three-quarters of a million Michigan students who can’t access after-school programming. For many, there simply aren’t opportunities in their communities. For others, affordability is an issue. 

Either way, there’s something that we as a state can do about it. 

That is why I am adding my voice to those asking Michigan lawmakers to allocate specific funding for after-school programs. 

I believe all students like me should be able to participate in an after-school opportunity if they want one. It shouldn’t be about family income or geographic location – it should be easy and affordable to find the right program no matter what you’re after.

Unfortunately, I know young people who can’t access the opportunities they want and deserve. When the state has millions of dollars in resources, it seems unfair that we can’t invest it in our youth. After all, that’s where it can have the greatest impact.

That’s not to say that after-school providers haven’t been innovative in finding resources on their own. But it shouldn’t be hit or miss. It should be structured fairly to all Michigan students, no matter where they live or what they bring to the table.

I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve been given because of the after-school leaders who have supported me. My life is so much richer as a result. 

But this isn’t just about me. It’s about doing what’s right for all the children and youth living in Michigan. On their behalf, I ask our state’s leaders for action. Let’s make after-school learning available to everyone.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan. Bridge does not endorse any individual guest commentary submission. If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Ron French. Click here for details and submission guidelines.

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