August Congressional recess is great time for site visits

by Jen Rinehart

Every August we encourage afterschool providers to think about inviting Members of Congress, who are back in their home districts for much of the month, to come visit programs. We have tools to help plan a site visit, we have case studies of past site visits, we have Q & A blogs with providers who have successfully hosted visits and much more on our website to make it easy to host a policy maker at a program.

Last week I joined Congressman Barletta and his chief of staff, a staff member from Senator Casey’s office, numerous state legislators and legislative staff and local Superintendents for a visit to the SHINE Afterschool Program in Jim Thorpe, PA. The SHINE Afterschool Program, funded in part with 21st Century Community Learning Centers funds, started in three centers serving 90 students across two counties. This year, it will serve 1,200 students from 16 centers in Carbon, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties.

Creativity and flexibility are key to a successful site visit

SHINE is no stranger to organizing site visits, but they faced a unique challenge that other providers might also face in mid-late August… no students.  SHINE offers summer programming, but it was all wrapped up by last week. In August, their model shifts to focus on home visits as they gear up for a new school year. Inviting policy makers and media to join home visits was out of the question. So, SHINE did what they always do; they innovated. They invited a group of guests to Carbon Career & Technical Institute and arranged for staff, students and parents to give the invited guests a sample of what SHINE has to offer to students and families.

During the visit, we heard about the philosophy and quality principles behind SHINE, we experienced a home visit with one of the SHINE home visit teachers, we observed students engaging in activities similar to the opportunities they have during the school year, and we heard from a grandmother who is raising her grandchildren and values what SHINE has offered her grandkids over the years.

Congressman praises the benefits of afterschool

Reflecting on his first visit to SHINE in 2011, Rep. Barletta said, “This program is exactly what we need to change the direction and lives of our children… Changing the direction and lives of our children is the best thing we can do for America.”  Rep. Barletta views SHINE as not only a model program for Pennsylvania, but for our country.  State Senator Yudichak talked about meeting children and parents who talked about how much SHINE empowered them and how impressed he was by the evidence based, data-driven program that has a success record spanning more than a decade. In his words, “SHINE is improving lives in the classroom, after school and in the community.”

Seeing students using computer design software to design cars and then build those cars in the precision machine shop, program robots and test out engineering skills by building bridges, it was clear to see why Barletta and Yudichak are such champions.  In the end, it was a grandma who stole the show with her heartfelt appreciation to the staff of SHINE for helping her grandchildren succeed in school despite lots of challenges and helping her keep them safe and better prepared for their futures.

Congratulations to Rachel Strucko, Director of SHINE and the Pennsylvania Afterschool Network, PSAYDN, for getting state and federal policy makers and local media to see what SHINE is all about and why state and federal investments in afterschool are so important.  

© 2013 Afterschool Alliance