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Turning the first Lights On Afterschool in the nation's Last Frontier!

By Jodi Grant

LOA Alaska Kickoff

On Monday, Oct. 12, I had the honor of kicking off our national celebration of Lights on Afterschool at Hunter Elementary in Fairbanks, Alaska. Keeping the Lights On is especially important in Fairbanks, where temperatures can drop far below zero and there are just a few hours of daylight. It's why the city celebrates Lights On Afterschool twice each year: once in the fall, and once at the end of the long winter in the spring.

The champion of our kick-off event was Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. A relentless advocate for high quality afterschool programs, Senator Murkowski led a challenging effort in the Senate to save afterschool and summer learning programs for 1.6 million students, which the original Senate education bill had eliminated. Senator Murkowski worked tirelessly with every member of the committee until her amendment to restore and improve funding and programming for out-of-school time was adopted—unanimously—by all 22 members of the Senate education committee. 

I treasured watching the students of Hunter Elementary guide Senator Murkowski around their school. They clearly impressed the Senator with their many activities and creative endeavors, which included programming 3D printers, controlling robotic hands, crafting Rube Goldberg devices, and taking classes about indigenous cultures lead by museum staff. Students were engaged, they were learning, and they were so grateful for their afterschool opportunities. As Hunter Elementary students will often tell you, "Afterschool is Pretty Cool!"

You can watch Senator Murkowski's comments to the Hunter Elementary community on the Afterschool Alliance's YouTube page.

Like afterschool initiatives across the country, this event came together thanks to a strong partnership across institutions. Fairbanks afterschool advocates have been working to implement great programs for more than a decade. This team of superstars at Hunter Elementary includes Robyn Ward, the school principal; Billy Smith, coordinator of the afterschool program; Courtney Havrilek, the 21st CCLC Coordinator at Fairbanks' North Star Borough School District; and Afterschool Ambassador Julie Wild Curry, who is also a recipient of the White-Riley-Peterson Fellowship and the Director of After School Programs for North Star Borough School District. Alaska Afterschool Network Director Thomas Azzarella provided state-level support for the team. Together, these partners have created invaluable afterschool opportunities for local students.

The benefits of afterschool programs speak for themselves, inspiring local supporters like Fairbanks' superintendent Dr. Karen Gaborik, and national champions like Senator Murkowski. It came as no surprise that the team in Alaska put on an excellent national kickoff for Lights On Afterschool.

I left Hunter Elementary feeling encouraged and energized. Please send us stories or multimedia from your own Lights On activities—simply email with your program's name and location in the subject line. Lights on Afterschool is our chance to celebrate and promote the programs we care so much about, while encouraging more local, state and national leaders to become champions of afterschool.

Even if you aren't hosting an event of your own, there are many ways to show your appreciation and support for afterschool programs. Find an event to attend in your community, ask Members of Congress to help keep the Lights On Afterschool, add your voice to our Thunderclap, or give the gift of afterschool—just ten dollars helps ensure that four kids in need have access to a quality program!

Lets continue to work together to keep the Lights On Afterschool: both for the 10.2 million students currently participating in a program, and for the nearly 20 million more who are still waiting to get in. This Thursday, one million people in 7,500 communities across America will come together to celebrate afterschool's role in keeping kids safe, inspiring them to learn and helping working families. Don't miss this opportunity to show your support—join me in celebrating this year's Lights On Afterschool.

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