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Lights On Afterschool Day: Making Communities Aware of Quality After-School Programs

Share School Issues CenterToday, more than 1,000 communities plan to host special events highlighting their after-school programs. This national campaign highlights the need for quality and universal after-school programs. Included: Links to Afterschool Action Kit and grant opportunities.

What do the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the history of Texas have in common?

Both will be in the spotlight as part of a national celebration today, October 12, focusing on the need for quality and accessible after-school programs. More than 1,000 communities plan to host special activities in conjunction with their after-school programs, and parents, grandparents, elected officials, and other community leaders are expected to visit.

Lights On Afterschool is spearheaded by the Afterschool Alliance. The Afterschool Alliance is a nonprofit organization founded two years ago. Its goal is to draw national attention to the need for more funding for innovative after-school programs.

Quality after-school programs are more than places for kids to do homework or wait for parents to finish their workdays. For example, the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a 31-year-old dance company, offers an after-school program. Today, as part of the special celebration, kids in the program will participate in a variety of musical, dramatic, and dance performances.

The Harlem program, along with more than 100 programs throughout New York, is partially funded through the After-School Corporation. Philanthropist George Soros started the nonprofit organization. David Mickenberg, spokesman for the After-School Corporation, said, "This particular after-school program takes a holistic approach and focuses on the arts and musical components." He explained that there is bipartisan support for after-school programs in New York. "We like to emphasize the nonpartisan nature of the support the programs get."


Politicians agree kids need safe, stimulating places to go after school; so do voters. A poll of 800 registered voters was conducted in June for the Mott Foundation and JCPenney. That poll found that nine of ten voters said children and teens should have some kind of organized activity or place to go after school. About 80 percent said they thought federal, state, and local governments should pay for programs.

Although more federal and nonprofit funding has been available for after-school programs during the past few years, more is needed, said Judy Samelson, acting director of the Afterschool Alliance. The Afterschool Alliance spearheaded Lights On Afterschool with funding from the Mott Foundation and JCPenney. The National Community Education Association is co-host.

The Afterschool Alliance offers a free Afterschool Action Kit. For more information about the kit, call 1-800-USA-LEARN. The Afterschool Action Kit was created with support from JCPenney to help schools and communities create local programs.

Since 1997, the federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers grants program has created funding for after-school programs. The program, which currently serves 650,000 children, allocated $450 million during the last fiscal year.

The nation is missing an opportunity by not providing stimulating activities after school, said Samelson. "Frankly, everybody is concerned about the idle time children have after school and what they are doing with it.

"Why would anybody want kids to be home alone for four hours?" Samelson asked. Many latchkey children are told to go home, stay inside, and not to answer the telephone or the door until their parents get home from work. "Nobody wants kids to live in that kind of isolation. Sometimes, we let these things get away from us."


Isolation isn't the only reason after-school programs are needed. Violent juvenile crime triples during the hours right after school, according to Phil Evans, communications director for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids. The nonprofit organization has about 1,000 law enforcement members. Yesterday, Fight Crime released a report highlighting the need for more funding for after-school programs nationwide, America's After-School Choice: The Prime Time for Juvenile Crime, or Youth Enrichment and Achievement.

The report states that the hours between 3 and 6 p.m. are prime time for teenage girls to get pregnant, for juveniles to be victims of or commit serious or violent crime, and for adolescents to be in or cause a car crash.

Good after-school programs work, Evans said. They keep kids safe and out of trouble. They also boost school success and graduation rates.


More than 4 million six- to 12-year-olds whose mothers work outside the home are regularly without adult supervision when not in school, according to the Urban Institute. A report released last month, Child Care Patterns for School-Age Children with employed Mothers, institute states that 1.2 million six- to nine-year-olds regularly spend unsupervised time when not in school. The percentage of kids unsupervised grows as children get older.

The Lights On Afterschool celebration aims to let the nation know how many kids are on their own after school. It also promotes ways of spending after-school hours safely and constructively. The following are examples of after-school events recognizing Lights On Afterschool Day.

  • At a Staten Island program today, parents and community members will attend a pajama party. Guests were asked to come dressed in their pajamas to enjoy milk and cookies and several hours of storytelling.
  • In Seattle, an event focuses on the Middle School After School Activities Program. That program is available at every middle school in the city. It features a variety of activities, including sports, recreation, community service clubs, leadership projects, and visual and performing arts.
  • In Dallas, a special event focuses on Texas history. Students will perform in music and art demonstrations, including flamenco dancing. There will be ethnic cuisine from six eras of Texas and Native American weaving demonstrations.

Diane Weaver Dunne
Education World®
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