A Million Rallied to Keep the Lights On Afterschool

On and around October 18, at more than 9,000 events, more than a million people rallied in support of the afterschool programs that keep kids safe, help working families and inspire students to learn. For the 13th year, communities in every part of the country and at U.S. military bases worldwide celebrated Lights On Afterschool with open houses, rallies, community fairs, youth performances, art exhibits, science demonstrations and more.

In Chandler, Ariz., parents joined their children and community members at a “Family Science Explorers Night.” In Carmichael, Calif., afterschool students held an expo featuring exhibits about cultures around the world, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and North and South America. Students and parents in Albion, Ind., interacted with storybook characters while exploring the program’s service learning project on Charger Trail. The Boys & Girls Club of Eden, N.C., held a “Lights On Afterschool Spelling Bee” for community leaders, families and elected officials. These are just a few of the Lights On Afterschool events this year.

For the sixth year in a row, the Empire State Building was illuminated in yellow to commemorate Lights On Afterschool.

Across the country, parents, kids, educators and others took the opportunity to urge lawmakers not to deny or divert crucial federal funds from the afterschool programs that families rely on. For years, the federal investment in afterschool has lagged far behind the need for programs. In 2007, the No Child Left Behind Act authorized $2.5 billion for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative, the chief federal funding stream for afterschool. Yet federal funding stands at less than half that today. Equally concerning for afterschool supporters, Congress is considering legislation that would allow afterschool funds to be redirected to other programs.

Last month, the Afterschool Alliance’s survey, Uncertain Times, revealed that afterschool programs across the country are struggling to keep their doors open. At this year’s Lights On events, communities rallied behind these programs and urged Members of Congress to increase federal afterschool funding and reject efforts to divert funds intended for afterschool programs.

Lawmaker Support
Forty-eight states recognized Lights On Afterschool with proclamations. Prior to Hurricane Sandy, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie showed his support in a letter that said:

“This annual observance brings communities across our state and nation together in recognition of the importance of afterschool programs to our children’s development. Afterschool programs provide the children of working families with a safe and enriching environment in which to complete their homework, participate in extracurricular activities and socialize with their peers.… Nothing is of greater significance than the safety and welfare of our children. I applaud the Afterschool Alliance for organizing Lights On Afterschool Day and inspiring residents to raise awareness of the importance of afterschool programs.”

The U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bipartisan resolution in support of Lights On Afterschool. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said, “Lights On Afterschool highlights the importance of high-quality afterschool programs in the lives of children, their families, and their communities.”

Your #LightsOn2012 Picture Could Be Worth $2,000
Don’t forget to check out the Bright House Networks Lights On Afterschool Photo Contest on Facebook. Hundreds of people submitted pictures of their Lights On open houses, potluck dinners, rallies and youth activities.

Now, entrants are encouraging supporters to vote for their photos. The three entries with the most votes will each win a $1,000 donation to their afterschool programs. A top prize of $2,000 will be awarded for the winning entry from the Bright House Networks service area (Florida; Bakersfield, Calif.; Indianapolis, Ind.; and Birmingham, Ala.). See official rules for more details.

Brooklyn Castle
As part of this year’s Lights On Afterschool celebration, the Afterschool Alliance teamed up with the filmmakers behind Brooklyn Castle, a documentary about an afterschool chess program, to screen the film in select cities.

Brooklyn Castle is the story of an inner-city public school and its afterschool chess team—the most winning junior high school chess team in the country. Despite being credited with the school’s “culture of success,” the chess program faces the threat of cutbacks, just like many afterschool programs across the country. Brooklyn Castle was the Audience Award winner at the 2012 South by Southwest Film Festival, and won the Best New Director Award at the Brooklyn Film Festival. More information about the film is available at http://www.brooklyncastle.com/.

“We’re so excited to be a part of Lights On Afterschool this year,” said filmmaker Katie Dellamaggiore. “It was incredibly moving to work on this film and see the ways that gaining chess skills helped children with so many other aspects of their lives—academic, social and emotional. Afterschool programs are doing more for our kids than we will ever truly know. Now, more than ever, we need to work together to keep the lights on for all our children.”

Brooklyn Castle was screened on October 10 in Washington, D.C., followed by a panel discussion with students from the film and representatives from the Afterschool Alliance. The film was also screened at Lights On Afterschool events in Austin, Dallas, New York City, Philadelphia, and Portland, Ore.

“This film is a testament to the rich and important benefits of quality afterschool programs and the threats these programs face to their funding,” said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant. “We need to stand up for the afterschool programs that are doing so much for our students and our communities.”

For more information on this year’s Lights On Afterschool celebration, click here.

This story originally appeared in the Afterschool Advocate (Vol. 13, Issue 11).

Click here to read the rest of this issue.