More than 300 afterschool program providers, parents, educators, lawmakers and youth advocates came to Capitol Hill ealier this month for the Afterschool Alliance’s Afterschool for All Challenge: Transforming Research into Action. For two days, participants learned about recent developments in afterschool research, shared information about the unmet needs of children and families, heard pledges of support from leaders and lawmakers, discovered how to incorporate best practices into their own programs, and more.
On the second day of the Afterschool for All Challenge, the Afterschool Alliance hosted its eleventh annual “Breakfast of Champions” to celebrate afterschool programs, honor youth and adult champions, and rally advocates to make the case to members of Congress that afterschool programs play a powerful role in supporting children, families and communities. At the Breakfast, Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant said, “Our nation’s afterschool programs, and the kids and families who rely on them, are at risk.” She encouraged afterschool advocates to “make sure our elected officials know what is at stake. If we want kids engaged in learning, and envisioning a brighter future, we need to provide more support for afterschool programs, not less.”
Members of Congress Speak Out
Senators Barbara Boxer (CA) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) and Representatives David Cicilline (RI), Rosa DeLauro (CT) and Dale Kildee (MI) attended the “Breakfast of Champions” and addressed the crowd.
Rep. Cicilline said, “We have so much evidence to show that afterschool makes a huge difference for kids and families,” and he called on his colleagues in Congress to expand federal funding for afterschool programs. “It’s really important that we start thinking about our responsibility to kids, from the time they get up in the morning until they go to bed at night, and afterschool is a big part of that responsibility.”
Calling afterschool programs a “blessing for families in today’s tough economy,” Rep. DeLauro said that afterschool programs have the ability to transform children’s lives for the better.
Sen. Whitehouse emphasized the role afterschool programs play in engaging middle school youth. He said that keeping middle school students engaged in learning is key to their success in high school and called afterschool programs “a big part of this.”
“I’m perplexed why we have to fight for [21st Century Community Learning Centers funding] every single year. And we’re fighting over underfunded legislation,” Sen. Boxer said. She urged the crowd to continue to fight for increased federal funding to support afterschool programs, which she said are “engaging” and “save lives.”
Hollywood and Real-Life Heroes Shine Brightly
Actor Kevin Sorbo, hero of the big and small screens and a familiar face to the audience, traveled to Washington to raise his voice for afterschool programs and emcee the “Breakfast of Champions.” Sorbo is a longtime afterschool champion who has used his celebrity to promote A World Fit for Kids! a Los Angeles-based program, and to support the national afterschool movement. He inspired and engaged the audience throughout the two-hour event.
Sorbo was followed by afterschool’s newest celebrity, “Pobo” Efekoro, a New York high school student featured in Brooklyn Castle, a new documentary. Brooklyn Castle focuses on New York public school I.S. 318, which is home to the most winning middle school chess team in the country. The film follows five teens and addresses the ability of public schools to do great things when they have the resources. Pobo was part of the chess team at I.S. 318 for three years and now coaches younger students.
Pobo spoke eloquently about his experiences participating in afterschool programs and credited them with his success. He also addressed the current budget crisis in New York City that threatens afterschool programs at I.S. 318 and elsewhere (see next article, “NYC Mayor Proposes Devastating Afterschool Cuts”) and warned, “If these cuts are happening in New York, the greatest city on the planet, then it’s safe to say that they may be coming to other cities.”
Youth Ambassadors from the CASE program in Houston, Texas, performed an Afterschool for All Challenge-themed cheer remixed in the style of “We Will Rock You.” And Vanessa Arnold, a young chef from Chicago’s Afterschool Matters program, shared the ways afterschool has shaped her life.
In addition to celebrating Pobo and other youth leaders, the Afterschool Alliance singled out 10 individuals for their tireless and extraordinary support for afterschool programs. The National Afterschool for All Champions are Project Exploration co-founders Paul Sereno and Gabrielle Lyon. Their highly successful program in Chicago provides girls and students of color with opportunities to work with scientists who act as teachers, mentors and role models. Serano spoke passionately about how out-of-school-time opportunities provided a pathway into science when school wasn’t working for him. “I learned by engaging in science,” he said. Lyon said she and Paul started an afterschool program focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) before it was a “hot” issue, because they feel that access to STEM is an issue of social justice.
The 2012 Afterschool State Champions are:
Rep. Dale Kildee received the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s William S. White Achievement Award in recognition of his decades of work in support of afterschool programs. Rep. Kildee said the award held special significance for him: “It is an honor to receive this award named for Bill White, a man I greatly respect and admire. I have always believed in the importance of afterschool enrichment opportunities. That is why I authored the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program and am working hard to ensure it continues as a national education policy priority.” White is CEO of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.
Following the “Breakfast of Champions,” Challenge participants headed off to more than 200 meetings with their representatives, senators and legislative aides to discuss the importance of afterschool programs to children, families and communities. Additionally more than 200 emails were sent to members of Congress by parents and afterschool advocates who could not attend the Challenge in person.
The 2012 Afterschool for All Challenge was generously sponsored by: United States Tennis Association, the NAMM Foundation, Peavey Electronics, Cable in the Classroom, National AfterSchool Association and Arnold and Sandra Grant. Additional funding was provided by Torani and the C.S. Mott Foundation.
This story originally appeared in the Afterschool Advocate (Vol. 13, Issue 5).
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