On Tuesday, Americans went to the polls and exercised the right to express an opinion about who would represent them in both state and national government. For those of us in California two pieces of good news came out of the election for after-school programs.
First, long time advocate for after-school programs, Senator Barbara Boxer was elected for another 6 year term. Boxer captured approximately 50.2% of the vote while her Republican opponent captured 44.1% of the electorate. Boxer has been a strong supporter for after-school, helping to author the legislation in 1997 that authorized 21st Century Community Learning Center funding, and taking many opportunities to visit actual programs when checking in with her constituents in California. Her record speaks for itself.
Secondly, on the State level, Tom Torlakson currently a State Assemblyman formerly a State Senator from the bay area, was elected the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. This will be the first time since the beginning of after-school programming in California that the top job has been held by an advocate for the value-add of after-school programming. In fact, in 1998 Tom Torlakson authored legislation that has led to the development of the largest system of after school programs in the nation. In 2006, he authored the bill that led to a 300 percent expansion in these programs—so they now reach 4,000 schools around the state.
While this is good news for the field of after-school, these two strong proponents of after-school cannot do the job alone. In the field we need to give them the “ammunition” they need to convince others of the value-add of after-school programs that enrich the lives of young people each and every school day. How do we do that? I think there are several key things that we can all do to help our voice be heard.
First, I believe that each day we must work tirelessly to offer the highest quality programs for youth. These programs must support students academically, emotionally, and socially, while expanding their opportunities to develop leadership skills, participate in community service projects, apply skill learned during the school day, prepare for college and/or career, participate in healthy living activities, while all the time building strong, caring relationships with peers and staff.
Next, we must help to educate all of the stakeholders, parent, school day staff, the community at large, politicians, and others about the value-add of after-school. Invite an influential stakeholder to your program. Wow them with student leaders who take them on a guided tour while sharing with them the difference the program has made for them. This group of supporters may someday need to rally with after-school folks. So get the contact information of each of them and routinely reach out to them and update them about the successes of your program. Our stakeholders must believe that the after-school program is an essential service for students and families.
Finally, we must share our successes more broadly. Often times in after-school we enjoy the celebrations with students—the performances, the science fair demonstrations, the art gallery, the monthly recognitions—but we forget that we need to share these successes with others. Consider getting the newspaper and local television and radio to come out and regularly support your program. Keep your good work front and center. If you have positive evaluation data, share it. Look for the positive impact of your program and then celebrate it loudly and publically.
In California, after-school programming is heading into a year of uncertainty and vulnerability. Let’s support our existing champions!