Celebrate Youth Voices

The kids and parents in your program know firsthand why afterschool is important and can be your best, most authentic messengers. Tap into their energy and enthusiasm by engaging them in your event!

Letters to the Next President

This election season, youth nationwide are crafting messages to our nation’s next president. Invite youth to write Letters to the Next President and share their views on what our country needs to thrive. These creations don't need to take the form of written letters—students can get creative and share their vision for the country through poems, art, video... whatever format inspires them!

  • Ask youth to read their messages at events, or post student letters around the event venue for guests to browse.
  • Contact your local paper to print one or more of the youth pieces on their opinion page.
  • Submit the pieces to the Letters to the Next President website to be shared with the world and the next president!

For submissions to your newspaper or the L2P website, youth pieces do not have to be about afterschool programs, but do encourage students to state that they are writing from your afterschool program.

In search of inspiration? Check out these letters authored by Virginia Partnership on Out of School Time Youth Afterschool Ambassadors!

Watch the Webinar

In this webinar, we dug into how programs around the country can leverage their Lights On Afterschool events to engage youth voice. The perspectives, experiences, and ideas of today’s youth will shape the world of tomorrow, and it is crucial that we provide them with productive outlets to express their thoughts and concerns, and Lights On Afterschool provides a great opportunity to help the youth in afterschool programs to become engaged decision-makers and express themselves in a meaningful way. One great way opportunity to capitalize on the diverse perspectives that youth bring to the table is through the Letters to the Next President project co-hosted by KQED and the National Writing Project.

In this webinar we were joined by Ally Graul, an Afterschool Ambassador and Director of Youth Leadership and Civic Engagement Programs at Alternatives, Inc. in Virginia, who provided valuable insights for how she engages youth voice and gave us a special look at how she plans to leverage the Letters to the Next President project in her program. We were also joined by Rachel Roberson, leader of the Letters to the Next President project for KQED, who provided great tips and suggestions around how your program can best capitalize on youth voice in your Lights On Afterschool event.

Tips for Involving Youth & Parents

Give kids and parents the floor at your event. Invite young people and parents to speak publicly about their views on afterschool, learning, education and other related issues. Invite your mayor, school board members or city council members to come and listen to what kids and parents have to say.

Decorate light bulb art. Our ready-to-go artwork is a colorful way to deliver a message about afterschool. If you're located near a Congressional district office, arrange for your students to deliver the artwork and meet with the Member of Congress or staff. Or, make a project out of sending a package of artwork. The Congressional office will likely respond with a letter back to your program: use that as a second learning opportunity to discuss the role of elected officials.

Sign petitions or write letters to elected officials about the importance of afterschool programs and investments.

Youth voices in the paper. Work with the local newspaper to publish op-eds by kids that focus on their views of afterschool and learning, like how, when, or where they have fun learning.

Go visit policy makers. Take youth to visit the mayor, city council members, school board members, state legislators, the governor and/or Members of Congress. Work with students ahead of time to set up the meetings and develop a list of talking points. Notify the press ahead of time so that they can cover the story of local young people being their own best advocates on learning and education.

Work with young people to request a hearing on afterschool and education in your state legislative body. Ask the education committee to hold a special hearing at which kids testify about the benefits they receive from afterschool programs and how afterschool helps engage them in learning.

Engage Youth as Event Partners
When involving youth in your event planning, consider:
  • Student ages.
  • Group size. Will students work in large or small groups, or will individuals run their own activities?
  • Leadership skills of your students. Could they entirely design and follow through with a project, or will they need a good bit of development and leadership from you?
  • Students with disabilities. Special accommodations may need to be made to include students with physical and learning disabilities.
  • Training. Would leadership development, planning, public speaking, working with the media, etc. be helpful to youth?


Examples of youth involvement levels
Level Tasks
Youth-Led A youth committee designs the rally or event, assigns roles and implements the plan with guidance from adults.
Youth Leaders Youth work with adults to identify roles they could fill and then plan out the steps and fulfill each role, such as tour guides for site tours of the program, publicity team to make posters and signs, donation team to ask local business for donated snacks and goodies.
Youth Contributions Individuals volunteer to speak, help set up the event, write invitations, hang up posters, perform or provide a demonstration at the event, decorate the event location, etc.
Ideas to Celebrate Youth Voices
Theme: Youth and Parent Voices
Planning: 10 Weeks
Difficulty: Expert

Case Study: Celebration led by youth honors a friend of afterschool

Keys to Success:

“This event and the planning process did a great deal to bring together organizations that historically have not worked well together,” Waters said. “The key was pulling together a great organizing committee.”

Waters’ recommendation: “Bring together as many stakeholders as possible to plan an event that is both youth-focused and showcases the benefits of afterschool programs. Invite national, state and local officials. Try to get them or staff involved as participants in the event. Cultivate local media and plan events that have a unique story or photo opportunity. Plan for success, do a good job and make sure that as many people as possible hear your message.”

Business support was strong. JCPenney store employees passed out flyers and wore Afterschool for All stickers the week leading up to Lights On Afterschool. 

“As soon as the event was over,” she reports, “organizing committee members began talking about bigger and better plans for next year.”

Where: Las Vegas, Nevada

Who: Numerous state officials, including a congresswoman, 1,200 participants, and 35 event co-hosts.


The Southern Nevada Afterschool Collaborative hosted a community-wide Lights On Afterschool event at Freedom Park in October of 2003. More than 1,200 people participated in the rally, organized by Afterschool Ambassador Susan Waters, who brought together more than 35 afterschool and community-based organizations to serve as co-hosts.

The rally was emceed by a high school student featured student performances and comments on afterschool by both youth and local leaders. An “Afterschool Hero” award was presented to the family of an afterschool staff person. Event co-hosts provided information and fun activities for participants.

“The support from law makers was incredible, but there is no doubt that the stars of the program were the kids,” Waters said. “A remarkable high school student served as the emcee. The closing act was a rap group of young people who called themselves The Academics. They turned the message of being successful in school into a rap. The crowd was on its feet!”

“For me, the most compelling statement of the evening came as the crowd was going home and I was packing things up,” she continued. “A middle school boy came to me and said, ‘Why can’t we have afterschool programs at my school?’ I can only hope that events like this one will help to make his request a reality.”

The Program:

For the rally, each co-host group provided information and fun activities, including face painting, balloons, a jump house, a table for decorating Lights On Afterschool light bulbs, a roving juggler, local mascots and more. Student performances included dancers, mariachi bands, singers and tumblers. Youth talked about what afterschool meant to them.

Rep. Shelley Berkley spoke to participants about the importance of supporting afterschool programs, staying for more than an hour. Aides to Gov. Kenny Guinn and Sens. John Ensign and Harry Reid addressed the crowd, as did Las Vegas City Councilman Gary Reese. Officials from the State of Nevada and the Cities of Henderson, North Las Vegas and Las Vegas presented proclamations. Rep. Jon C. Porter sent formal Congressional congratulations.

The first annual “Afterschool Hero” award was presented to the family of Robbie Stroh, a City of Las Vegas employee who was a longtime afterschool staff member. Stroh was killed in an automobile accident just two weeks before the event.

Audiences: Policy Makers, School/Ed Leaders
Theme: Youth and Parent Voices
Planning: 1 Week
Difficulty: Beginner

Petition, Poetry & Art for Lights On Afterschool

This event featured three simple activities for Lights On Afterschool.

1. Light Bulb Art - Students decorated light bulb art from the materials offered on the Lights On Afterschool website, which was then used to decorate the school's hallways.

2. Petition - Event organizers printed the petition available on the Lights On Afterschool website and encouraged event participants to sign it.

3. Poetry - Students wrote poetry about their favorite activities at their afterschool program.

Audiences: Parents, Media
Theme: Youth and Parent Voices
Planning: 3 Weeks
Difficulty: Intermediate

Celebrations Across State Unite on Twitter

An an Iowa Lights On Afterschool event, messages and live tweets from celebrations in communities all across the state were displayed for attendees. Sites from across the state participated by using the hashtag #LightsOnAfterschoolIowa. The tweets also allowed those who could not attend our event to see what was happening at afterschool programs in their state. We were also able to call out leaders in our community and thank them for attending events, helping increase the visibility of leaders who support afterschool.

Audiences: Policy Makers, Parents, Media
Theme: Youth and Parent Voices
Planning: 6 Weeks
Difficulty: Intermediate

Students Lead US Senator on Program Tour

The Alaska Afterschool Network kicked off Lights On Afterschool nationwide on October 12th with a special event featuring U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski and Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant. Senator Murkowski and other guests received a student-led tour of the Hunter Elementary School afterschool program from 4:00 to 5:00 PM to see first-hand the STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) activities students were working on and to talk with students about what they’re learning in the program. Senator Murkowski and Grant each delivered remarks about the importance of afterschool programs, as did a number of other guest speakers: Fairbanks North Star Borough School District (FNSBSD) Superintendent Dr. Karen Gaborik, Alaska Afterschool Network Director Thomas Azzarella, FNSBSD After-School Programs Director and Afterschool Ambassador Julie Wild-Curry and a local parent. Approximately 80 students and 50 parents and community members attended the event.

Audiences: Policy Makers, Parents, Media, School/Ed Leaders