Lights On Afterschool Day: Keeping Kids Safe, Engaged in Wash.

More than 11 million kids nationwide are alone or unsupervised after class ends, according to the Afterschool Alliance. Photo Credit: School's Out Washington

Eric Tegethoff

Public News Service

VANCOUVER, Wash. — Today communities in Washington and across the nation celebrate Lights On Afterschool Day. Now in its 17th year, the day highlights programs that keep kids safe and engaged beyond school hours.

According to the Afterschool Alliance, more than 11 million children nationwide are alone and unsupervised after school. In Vancouver, many before- and after-school programs take place on elementary school campuses.

Shannel Clouse is the services coordinator for school programs with the Vancouver Educational School District. She said these programs partner with the schools to help expand learning opportunities.

“We’ll do a lot of activities – for example, doing cooking projects or building something, and then talking to the kids about why it’s important, or about what they learned in that process,” Clouse said. “You know, just doing things to get them thinking about the things that they are doing in our program.”

She said Vancouver programs will celebrate Lights On Afterschool Day with arts and crafts activities, and by speaking with local elected officials about the importance of expanded learning.

After school opportunities are especially important for working families. Jackie Brock, also with the Vancouver ESD, said providing services on school campuses where kids already are helps parents immensely.

“Families aren’t having to worry about how to support transportation needs. All of the services that their children are accessing are in one location,” Brock said. “So, it definitely reduces a lot of barriers that working families may experience.”

Far from just providing supervision and learning opportunities, these programs also help kids with social skills. Instead of spending hours in front of a screen, Clouse said they get a chance to interact with other kids.

“We’re able to help facilitate some of those social-emotional needs, like taking turns and sharing, and just kind of managing their own emotions and recognizing others’ emotions,” she said; “helping with empathy that can carry with them throughout their lives.”

Funding for after school and summer programs is under threat in the 2018 budget from the Trump administration, which has proposed sharp cuts in grant money for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.