What happens in a child’s life after he leaves school each day is at least as important as what happens while he’s in the classroom.

Unfortunately, after the closing bell rings on campus each afternoon, too many Louisiana schoolchildren are unsupervised until a guardian returns home. These children either stay home alone, without adult guidance — or worse, they walk the street, where trouble looms.

That’s why expanding the availability of after-school care for these youngsters must be a part of any serious program of educational reform.

That’s why we applaud the efforts of local groups, such as the YWCA of Greater Baton Rouge’s Center for Family Empowerment and the Louisiana Center for Afterschool Learning, in advancing access to after-school programs for area children.

With corporate and government grants, the Louisiana Center for Afterschool Learning is trying to lay the groundwork among schools, nonprofit organizations and other public agencies to expand after-school programs across Louisiana. Many families that need after-school care the most cannot afford it.

In a time of great fiscal stress for public school systems, state and local government and nonprofit organizations, advocates of after-school care clearly have their work cut out for them in expanding access. The cause is clearly an important one. With better care options, children can greatly improve their chances to succeed in school and become productive citizens. That should be an especially urgent consideration in Louisiana, where low rates of high school and college graduation and high rates of poverty have gone hand in hand for generations.

A 2009 survey sponsored by the JC Penney Afterschool Fund concluded 23 percent of Louisiana’s schoolchildren in grades K-12 are responsible for taking care of themselves after school. That challenge can be more manageable for older children, of course, but the lack of supervision is undesirable — and even dangerous — for young children.

The survey concluded 52 percent of Louisiana’s children who are not in after-school programs would be more likely to participate if such programs were available in their area.

Nearly 30,000 parents and guardians across Louisiana were questioned for the survey, which is the most recent survey of its kind concerning after-school programs in Louisiana.

We don’t expect quick progress in expanding access to after-school care for Louisiana’s youngsters, but the YWCA’s Center for Family Empowerment has taken an important first step in making parents aware of the after-school options that already are available.

On Thursday, CFE and a host of community partners will host a Louisiana Lights On Afterschool Expo & Rally from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Baker Municipal Center, 3325 Groom Road, Baker. The event, which is free and open to the public, will include free food and a talent show for local youngsters, as well as workshops and a battle of the bands competition featuring local school bands.

On Saturday, CFE will host a smaller outreach effort from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Walgreen’s Pharmacy, 11297 Florida Blvd. Visitors to the store will be able to learn about existing after-school care programs and how they can use them.

For more information about the events, call the Center for Family Empowerment at (225) 338-0028.

We commend the CFE, the Louisiana Center for Afterschool Learning and its partners for promoting greater access to after-school programs for Louisiana’s youngsters. We hope their efforts bear fruit.