When the Montgomery County budget was approved earlier this month, it made the county's dwindling concern for the maintenance of teen programs clear - after just one year of extreme budget shortfall, the county cut its recreation department's budget by 57 percent, effectively ending one of the county's valuable Teen Club programs. Montgomery County's Teen Clubs are known for offering organized trips and activities for teenagers in many middle and high schools, similar to other constructive teen programs.
With schools also losing funding due to the economic crisis, teacher-sponsored after school programs and activities are getting slashed as well. Teachers are being asked to take on additional classes to compensate for budget shortfalls, and consequently, many have dropped sponsorship of certain activities, leaving some students unengaged and at a loss after school. Teen programs outside of the school system, spanning from theater workshops to recreational sports, have become more important than ever as places for teens to go to now that the same strict budget is bringing about the end of school-sponsored clubs.
Countless teen program advocates and leaders have recounted stories of how the clubs help keep youth occupied in positive activities and off the streets. Students can participate in programs with their peers, developing positive relationships in safe environments. A well-known example of a working teen program is our very own Blair Sports Academy (BSA), sponsored by the county recreation department too. The recreation department has also opened Sports Academies at five other local high schools. The Sports Academies take the goal of greater security a step further, with police officers on-site to address teen concerns about community safety or gang violence. The officers maintain high visibility in uniform, on campus and in plain sight in BSA areas throughout program hours. The presence of such officers, in conjunction with the program, allows for teens to unhesitatingly communicate their concerns, and officers can work to resolve issues in a constructive and secure manner. Such goals and their effective implementation are highly commendable, and results like these are simply more evidence of the effectiveness of teen programs like BSA.
At the recent Safe Silver Spring Summit, where local leaders and community members met to discuss issues of safety, workshop attendees brought up the importance of teen programs, including members of Latino advocacy group CASA de Maryland. As discussed at the Summit, there is a pressing need for more recreational centers where local youth can spend time playing sports and doing creative arts. Teen clubs should work to meet additional goals, besides funding, as well. Programs need to expand and reach out to a greater population of underserved adolescents by accommodating teens and children of different ages and varying backgrounds. Even programs that are currently offered at local community centers are often exciting and worthwhile but just not advertised enough and attract small audiences of teens. After all, BSA's popularity is a product of the program's extensive advertising and constant presence throughout the school.
The rising local concerns about community safety and the economy have served as a key example of the critical nature of maintaining teen programs. The threat to teen programs like BSA seems all too possible with budget cuts attacking all corners of the county - the cut to more than half of the recreation department's funding is a dire concern. Both councilmembers and community members alike must work together to keep the county's teen programs afloat, even through rough economic times, and help tie teens in the community together.