WASHINGTON — The students watched Cecily Mendie intently as she poured a bottle of Elmer’s glue into a plastic tray. Next she added a few drops of red food coloring and a spoonful of borax. Then she told the students to roll up their sleeves.
A few minutes later, their hands were coated in a layer of pink goo.
“It feels weird!” one student said.
“In after-school, you have a captive audience,” said Mendie, manager of the Department of Parks and Recreation’s Raymond Recreation Center, in an interview. “It’s an opportunity to be able to expose kids to things they may not be getting in the school system.”
On Thursday, kids enrolled in after-school programs through the parks and recreation department were exposed to pink slime and much more during a Lights On Afterschool event held at the center.
The nationwide initiative, sponsored by the Afterschool Alliance, was a chance to celebrate the activities after-school programs have to offer, “but also realize the demand is so much greater,” said Jodi Grant, executive director of Afterschool Alliance.
Though 10.2 million students are enrolled in after-school programs nationwide, there are 20 million kids who want to participate but can’t because programs aren’t available to them, Grant said. That means millions of kids are left alone and unsupervised after school.
“The need is so high,” she said.
About 200 students participated in Thursday’s event in the rec center’s gymnasium, where they planted flower and basil seeds in tiny pots, played minigolf, performed dance routines and painted piggy banks.
Aniyah Gordon, 9, was a member of a pom-pom program that kicked off the evening by debuting a new routine.
“I always dreamed about it, so this is like a dream come true to me,” she said of the performance.
On the other side of the gym, Amya Howard, 5, painted a pink nose onto a white ceramic piggy bank. She said she would put money in her bank and spend it at McDonald’s.
Next to her, 10-year-old Christaney Brown painted her pig with horizontal stripes.
“Right now, [I have] $10,” Christaney said. She planned to save it in her piggy bank.
Keith Anderson, director of the parks and recreation department, said Lights On was an opportunity to emphasize the need for structured programs for kids between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m.
After-school programs teach kids life skills, keep them safe and help them build bonds with role models outside the classroom, others said.
“Just seeing youth in a different setting, you get the opportunity to see them in a different light,” said Brian Hilliard, who works for the parks and recreation department’s teen council.
Besides parks and rec staff, there were plenty of parents at the event Thursday participating and playing with their kids.
Diane Gilchrist, a pre-K teacher at Raymond Education Campus, which is attached to the recreation center, said it was good to look around the room and see all the parental support.
“It shows a child that [parents] really do care what I do with my time,” she said.
“It’s wonderful. The kids have a wonderful time.”