Lights On Afterschool Celebrations Recognize Programs Big and Small

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The Empire State Building will be lit up in yellow on Thursday to mark Lights On Afterschool, a nationwide celebration of after-school programs.

Courtesy of Afterschool Alliance

The Empire State Building will be lit up in yellow on Thursday to mark Lights On Afterschool, a nationwide celebration of after-school programs.

WASHINGTON — Communities across the country will celebrate after-school programs on Thursday, everywhere from school gymnasiums to the top of a skyscraper.

The 16th annual Lights On Afterschool event is a chance for programs to show off all they’ve accomplished, through science shows, dance routines, cooking demonstrations, running races and family-style dinners.

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And it also helps make the case for more support for programs, said Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, which spearheads the awareness campaign.

This year’s rally comes as Congress considers key policy and funding questions for after-school programs, including the structure of a grant program that provides funding for after-school care for low-income children.

A report commissioned by the Alliance found that 10.2 million students participate in an after-school program. Millions more families said they would enrol their children if an after-school program were available to them.

“We really need to be doing more so more kids have these kinds of programs,” Grant said.

Since Lights On launched, Grant said, she’s seen an increased spirit of collaboration between the youth development and science education fields; a growing recognition of the value of measuring how after-school programs affect students and what those measurements should be; and greater communication between schools and after-school programs.

“There’s definitely a sense that we’re all in this together,” she said.

More than 1 million people are expected to participate in Lights On programs at more than 8,000 sites nationwide. Mayors, governors and others turn out to pledge their support.

Each program puts their own twist on the day, just as programs do every day, said Grant.

In New York, after-school supporters will climb 4 World Trade Center in the All-Star Climb 4 Kids to raise money for After-School All-Stars chapters in Newark, New Jersey, and New York.

Dax-Devlon Ross, executive director of the chapters, said organizers wanted to host an event that mirrored the organization’s efforts to keep children active and healthy. And they wanted to challenge supporters — just like they do their participants.

“Every day we ask our kids to step outside of their comfort zones. We ask them to dream big,” he said.

The climbers will walk or run up 68 floors, for a total of 1,632 steps. Once they reach the top, they’ll have the perfect after-school view: the Empire State Building, all lit up in yellow to mark Lights On Afterschool.

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