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Introducing our inaugural class of Youth Afterschool Ambassadors

By Charlotte Steinecke

Through our Afterschool Ambassadors program, every year we recruit a cohort of program providers and advocates of special distinction and provide them with training, technical support, and modest funding to complete projects that raise the profile of afterschool in their communities. This year, we're very excited to announce that we're building on the success of that program, with our new Youth Afterschool Ambassador initiative!

Our first five Youth Ambassadors will each design and carry out a project showcasing the value of afterschool programs. In addition, they will write blog posts for Afterschool Snack about the importance of afterschool and travel to Washington, D.C., next year to participate in the annual Afterschool for All Challenge, where they will meet with members of Congress and their staff.

The five Youth Afterschool Ambassadors in this inaugural class come from four states. They are: 

  • Ruben Balderas from Walla Walla Washington’s WaHi FORWARD Afterschool Program  
  • Maya Irvine from Camdenton, Missouri’s Camdenton FIRST LASER Robotics Team  
  • Harli Jo McKinney from Stratford Oklahoma’s C3 Afterschool Program  
  • Kaleb Robertson from Green Bay, Wisconsin’s Boys & Girls Club of Greater Green Bay  
  • Marisol Romero from Toppenish Washington’s 21st Century Community Afterschool and Summer Program at Safe Haven Community Center  

"The Youth Ambassador program is an incredible opportunity for students to share their experiences of afterschool and summer learning programs and the ways that participation in those programs have significantly impacted their lives," says Alexis Steines, director of field outreach at the Afterschool Alliance and manager of the Youth Ambassador program. "I look forward to seeing the creative advocacy projects our inaugural class of Youth Ambassadors is developing!" 



Afterschool Spotlight: Denise Sellers, Director of Haddonfield Child Care

By Charlotte Steinecke

This post is presented as part of the Afterschool Spotlight blog series, which tells the stories of the parents, participants and providers of afterschool programs. The most recent Afterschool Spotlight illustrated how an Iowa afterschool program built a valuable partnership with local law enforcement.

Photo courtesy of the Haddonfield Sun

After three decades of serving as the director of Haddonfield Child Care, Denise Sellers finds herself thinking about one crucial concept: perspective.  

“As I start to make the transition out of this role,” Denise says, “I find myself thinking more and more about new viewpoints. In 1986 I was the right person to hire because I understood the plight of the parents, but there might be something I’m missing as I become part of another generation. Fresher perspective is something that will help the program remain responsive and relevant in the future.”

But that’s not to say that the program isn’t responsive and relevant now. The community of Haddonfield, N.J. has benefited from the exemplary childcare provided by Denise and her team for more than 30 years. This year marks two celebratory occasions for the program: first, an alumnus has enrolled his own child in Haddonfield Child Care, giving the program its first second-generation student.

Second, Denise has been honored as a recipient of a New Jersey Women of Achievement Award. The Haddonfield Sun's recent profile on Denise describes the award as celebrating women who take leadership roles in improving their communities and dedicate their personal and professional lives to creating a positive and lasting impact on others. It’s a description that fits Denise to a T.

Denise describes Haddonfield as small and close-knit, with a vibrant spirit of volunteerism and plenty of overlapping attendance across community groups. It’s a recipe for high buy-in; when members of the Garden Club are also members of the Women’s Club, there’s an opportunity to make connections across the community and encourage reciprocity.

“Because they know me from other community groups, I was able to go to the Women’s Club as an afterschool professional and ask them to support funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers,” Denise says. “Haddonfield Child Care isn’t eligible for it, but we know how important it is for other communities in New Jersey. I was able to advocate on the part of other afterschool programs because my connections to other community groups were already there.”



Weekly Media Roundup: April 12, 2017

By Luci Manning

Congress Urged to Keep Funding After-School Programs in Hawaii (Hawaii Tribune-Herald, Hawaii)

The Afterschool Alliance and more than 1,400 organizations send a letter to Congress this week urging representatives to reject President Trump’s budget proposal that would eliminate funding for afterschool programs. The budget cuts would affect some 6,000 Hawaii students. “We would like (Congress) to put the 21st Century (program) back into the budget,” Afterschool Ambassador Paula Adams told the Hawaii Tribune-Herald. “Afterschool programs… are making a huge difference in our children’s lives and they are proving to be effective in who our children are in general.”

Editorial: Hungry Kids Only Learn All the Wrong Lessons (Salisbury Daily Times, Maryland)

The Salisbury Daily Times editorial board argues that afterschool programs turn children into better students and better citizens, pushing back on the idea that afterschool programs don’t improve academic performance. They write: “Anyone, including the president, who thinks keeping fed and supervised after the school day ends is a waste of federal tax dollars, is sadly mistaken. ... The programs threatened by the president's proposed budget provide academic enrichment, supervised STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities, arts and social experiences, homework assistance, nutrition and socialization opportunities. They help youngsters develop skills they need to grow, learn and become productive, responsible citizens. Isn't that what we want, as a community?”

Don’t Close Doors on Successful After-School Academic Program (Plain Dealer, Ohio)

In an op-ed for the Plain Dealer, Annemarie Grassi, CEO of the afterschool program Open Doors Academy, details the effectiveness of the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program: “Teachers report substantial progress in homework completion and overall behavior. Strong improvements have been documented for mathematics grades (36.5 percent), English grades (36.8 percent), and state tests in elementary reading and high school math. Given that many of the young people enrolling in the programs enter with notable academic deficits, these outcomes are striking. ... The 21st Century Community Learning Centers federal grant program is characterized by high impact, financial efficiency, strong results, and a solid return on investment. ... We urge the president to protect 21st Century funding and thereby stand behind an initiative that truly works – for everybody.”

About 700 FPS Students Could Be Left without After-School Programs (Fremont Tribune, Nebraska)

About 600 to 700 Fremont Public School students could lose access to afterschool programs under President Trump’s budget proposal. The programs work to narrow the achievement gap and provide academic enrichment in coordination with the school curriculum, particularly helping lower-income students who may not have access to beneficial extracurricular activities. “We are giving kids the opportunities to participate in these activities and a lot of our teachers express that each year they see achievement from the beginning of the school year to the end of the school year raise in subjects like math and reading specifically,” Leah Hladik, program director of Fremont Expanded Learning Opportunities, told the Fremont Tribune



8 firsthand tips to win the sustainability battle

By Jen Rinehart

Sustainability: it’s an ongoing struggle in the nonprofit world. Afterschool and summer learning programs are no strangers to writing sustainability plans and working tirelessly toward this goal. For many, sustainability is elusive. For all, it’s hard work.

In November, I had the opportunity to hear from three 21st CCLC-funded afterschool providers in Colorado who have achieved success in sustaining at least portions of their afterschool and summer programs. 

One of those project directors, Maria Ortiz, served as an Afterschool Ambassador in 2013 and manages a program in Poudre School District. Located in Fort Collins, Colo., the district is home to one of the first 21st CCLC-funded afterschool programs that I ever visited as a program officer at the U.S. Department of Education. 

I remember being impressed during that first visit back around 2001, and hearing Maria speak again recently only strengthened my initial impression. Maria has been part of the afterschool program in Fort Collins from the beginning and has done a tremendous job finding and cultivating local champions and applying for new grants to keep the program going for more than 15 years! 

Tips for sustainability success

Maria and her two counterparts, Clarice Fortunato of Englewood School District and Jovita Schiffer of Boulder Valley School District, offered many valuable insights, including these eight key sustainability tips:



Weekly Media Roundup: October 19, 2016

By Luci Manning

Rally Will Help Celebrate Afterschool Programs in Hawaii (Hawaii News Now, Hawaii)

The Hawaii Afterschool Alliance will celebrate Lights On Afterschool with a rally at the Hawaii State Capitol Rotunda today. The rally will allow children to show off their talents for art, dance and music and give the community a chance to show their appreciation for afterschool programs. “These places are engaging, the kids are having fun, and they are linked to the school hours, so when they are in the afterschool hours, they can support the work they do during school,” Afterschool Ambassador Paula Adams told Hawaii News Now.

Valley Center District Honored for Afterschool Program (San Diego Union-Tribune, California)

The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) recognized Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District as its featured 2016 Lights On Afterschool district in honor of its exceptional afterschool programs. The district’s programs mix academics with enrichment activities, giving students a chance to try their hand at cooking, weightlifting, STEM subjects and more. “Parents are working, and this provides a safe place, an engaging, positive place for students,” Superintendent Mary Gorsuch told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Students need opportunities in a rural community like ours to have outlets that aren’t available otherwise. For us, this is huge. We want to make sure kids graduate ready to be successful adults.”

Need for After School Programs Highlighted at Burchell High (Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Alaska)

Community members celebrated the Mat-Su Borough School District’s Building Bridges afterschool program and highlighted the need for more quality afterschool options at a Lights On Afterschool rally last week. Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle issued a Proclamation of Support for Afterschool Programming and students gave presentations on digital art design, dance, archery, robotics, outdoor recreation, personal finance and poetry, according to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. Building Bridges is a STEM-focused program that provides homework assistance, mentoring, college readiness training and other services.

Play Will Put Spotlight on Boys & Girls Club After-School Programs (Tampa Bay Times, Florida)

Students in the Boys & Girls Club in Hernando’s six afterschool sites will perform dramatic productions to celebrate Lights On Afterschool. Each site will put on a different play, and overall some 450 children will participate in tomorrow’s event. The performances are the culmination of a new initiative for club members called Drama Matters, which teaches students the ins and outs of the theater business, Tampa Bay Times reports. Students are not only the actors, but they built the sets, designed costumes and will manage a lot of the production aspects on the night of the performance.



US Senator praises Afterschool Ambassador named 2016 Champion for Kids

By Robert Abare

From L to R, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) with Afterschool Ambassador Julie Wild-Curry at the 2016 Afterschool for All Challenge in Washington, D.C.

Current chair of the Alaska Afterschool Network and Afterschool Ambassador Julie Wild-Curry has been recognized for her advocacy for Alaska's youth and out-of-school time programming by being named a 2016 Champion for Kids by the Alaska Children’s Trust. Wild-Curry is the Director of Afterschool Programs for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District and a White-Riley-Peterson Fellow.

Throughout her 25 year career, Wild-Curry has advocated for increased out-of-school time opportunities for children and working families, both in Alaska and across the country. Her work helped create a strong out-of-school time network in Fairbanks, AK, which has ensured families have the support they need, and that more children have access to safe and enriching environments during the after school hours.

A letter from Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was read at a reception celebrating Wild-Curry’s receipt of the Champion for Kids award on Wednesday, August 17. “What many people here this evening may not know about you is that, in addition to being an outstanding program director and mentor, you are a national leader for after school programs,” said the Senator of Wild-Curry.

The Senator went on to praise Wild-Curry’s work, in partnership with the Afterschool Alliance, in drafting and advocating for the Afterschool for America’s Children Act, which sought to strengthen the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative (21st CCLC). “The bill reflected your many years of experience and your commitment to ensuring that children have the most enriching, safest after school and summer experiences possible,” she said.

Senator Murkowski added, “I was proud to sponsor that bill because I know that whatever you recommend is worth supporting. That bill became law with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act this past December.”

Indeed, the Every Student Succeeds Act preserved and strengthened 21st CCLC despite significant challenges, an accomplishment that would not have been possible without the support of champions in Congress like Senator Murkowski and advocates like Wild-Curry.

Through the Champion for Kids award, the Alaska Children’s Trust annually recognizes an individual that has demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward eliminating child abuse and neglect by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive, and nurturing communities. 



Weekly Media Roundup: June 9, 2016

By Luci Manning

Underwater Robotics Team Comes Up a Winner (Petoskey News-Review, Michigan)

After months of research and hard work, the East Jordan afterschool underwater robotics club’s vehicle came out on top at the Great Lakes Regional Competition. In addition to developing a remotely operated underwater robot designed to collect and analyze spilled oil samples, each team in the competition created a fictitious company to market their product and services. “This competition is very real, as there are deadlines, teamwork, collaboration, communication skills, and innovative engineering challenges,” team coach and STEM instructor John Twichel told the Petoskey News-Review.

State Schools Chief Richard Woods Promotes Summer Reading in Macon (Macon Telegraph, Georgia)

Georgia school superintendent Richard Woods joined local librarians and superintendents last week to promote the Middle Georgia Regional Library System’s summer reading program. The state education department has partnered with several organizations to donate more than 100,000 books to children this summer, and the reading program is trying to encourage students to read at least 25 hours this summer. “Reading doesn’t just stop at the end of school,” Woods told the Macon Telegraph. “It needs to continue during the summer.”

Taking Afterschool on the Road (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York)

Afterschool Ambassador Marcel Braithwaite discusses the importance of federal and local funding for afterschool programs in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “Last week, I joined more than 150 afterschool advocates from 36 states… to send a message to Congress that we need to make afterschool a priority…. Lawmakers must resist efforts to balance the budget on the backs of schoolchildren. Securing funding for the afterschool programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn and help working families is vital for our neighborhoods and our communities. It was a message our lawmakers needed to hear, and we were proud to deliver it!”

Education for Homeless Kids Gets a Boost (Deseret Morning News, Utah)

The Utah State Board of Education recently approved funding to make sure summer education for homeless children starts on time this year. The board unanimously approved $15,000 to fund the Road Home’s Midvale Center’s summer program, which serves about 50 homeless students, according to the Deseret Morning News. The all-day program includes meals, academic instruction, field trips and other fun activities. “Children experiencing homelessness can lose an estimated three to six months of educational attainment with each episode of homelessness,” said State Rep. Steve Eliason, who secured the appropriation. “This funding will help mitigate this issue for some of the most at-risk students in the state of Utah.” 



Guest blog: Afterschool robotics, down under

By Guest Blogger

Photo via Camdenton 4-H FIRST LASER 3284 Robotics.

Sherry Comer is an Afterschool Ambassador Emeritus and Director of Afterschool Services in Camdenton, Missouri.

It was a “g’day” for the Camdenton R-III Afterschool Services department when they were notified that one of their five FIRST® Tech Challenge (FTC) robotics teams had been selected to be the Missouri FTC team representing FIRST® Robotics at an international level at the Asia Pacific tournament in Sydney, Australia, in July. Their selection was even more special because this small group of students was made up of 7th and 8th graders, even though most FTC teams are made up of 9-12th graders.

Camdenton is located in central Missouri in the heart of Lake of the Ozarks. This small town of 3,200 is tucked away in the hills where little industry exists and the economy relies heavily on tourism dollars earned in the summer to survive the winter months. The Camdenton R-III School system covers a massive area of 372 square miles. Bus rides to and from school can be more than 45 minutes one way. Camdenton founded an afterschool program 16 years ago after being awarded a federal 21st CCLC grant. The program has grown significantly over the years and now serves almost a quarter of the 4,200 K-12 student population through its innovative afterschool programs. About 7 percent of our afterschool children participate on one of the LASER (Laker Afterschool Science Engineering and Robotics) FIRST® teams in grades 2-12. 

As the Director of Afterschool Services, I was thrilled that students were able to experience new cultures, and that they worked hard to figure out how to communicate with international teams whose members didn’t speak English, so that they could work in alliances to compete. It was definitely a culture shock for the majority of our students. Several of them had never flown and only one had traveled outside the United States. Students had to quickly adapt to learn to exchange money, to walk on the opposite side of the sidewalk, and to find ways to communicate. They quickly realized food looks and tastes different around the world.