Guest blog by Jodi Grant, Executive Director, Afterschool Alliance
As we head into the 22nd year of Lights On Afterschool, the nation’s celebration of afterschool programs, I have mixed feelings. Should we be celebrating? After all, this isn’t the school year we hoped to have. Many of our programs, youth, and families are in crisis.
But, I am an eternal optimist — and there actually a lot of reasons to be hopeful for the future. Here are my top three:
- Afterschool programs and staff showed their true colors, innovating and adapting to remain a safe haven and place of connection and exploration for young people. In the words of several young people we spoke with, during the pandemic, their program “takes the stress away,” “keeps our minds working,” and “gives me hope.”
- See this Issue Brief on how programs supported students during COVID, and innovated to create Community Learning Hubs.
- Watch this video of youth talking about how afterschool supported them during COVID.
2. We’ve seen more clearly than ever before that afterschool programs provide critical supports for students — and they need and deserve every support we can provide. For once, resources are available. New federal relief funds present the biggest opportunity in decades to invest in opportunities for young people after school and in the summer. The American Rescue Plan specifically calls out afterschool and summer learning programs as a strategy to employ to support students’ recovery, and requires state education agencies to set aside funds for programs.
- Learn more about American Rescue Plan funding, and how education agencies are supporting afterschool and summer.
3. Parents, educators, and policy makers are increasingly recognizing that supporting students and learning requires tapping all the resources available to us, including afterschool and summer programs. The latest America After 3PM report found that more parents than ever before want their children in afterschool programs, and parents report the highest level of satisfaction with their afterschool program (94%) since data was collected. Among the benefits for children cited are: building life skills; receiving healthy meals or snacks; engaging in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) or computer science; getting help with homework; taking part in physical activity; interacting with peers and building social skills. A recent Learning Heroes study found that parents especially value afterschool programs since the pandemic, and want their children to have the social and emotional supports they provide.
We are going to make it through this crisis.
This Lights On Afterschool, let’s remind people we are here, and what we do. You could:
- Share your afterschool story with Congress. Post a story about your work, or call out the efforts of a staff person or program is going above and beyond to support young people. Use our Lights On Afterschool graphics and templates and social kit for inspiration.
- Join one of our national virtual events or check out the events happening in your area for Lights On!
- Look around your community for afterschool “forging futures” billboards this month, donated by Clear Channel Outdoor to recognize Lights On Afterschool.
- Take a silly selfie for the Lights On Afterschool lightbulb challenge and post it with #LightsOnAfterschool!
And then… take a deep breath, reflect on the tremendous work of our field, and feel proud.
We appreciate you. Happy Lights On Afterschool!
The Afterschool Alliance works to ensure that all youth have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs by engaging public will to increase public and private investment in afterschool program initiatives at the national, state, and local levels.