Photo by Ken Park
Last Thursday, parents and families of children who participate in White Salmon after-school programs were invited to the “Lights On For After-School” party at Henkle Middle School, where kids showed off the skills they have been learning in after-school clubs. Kids crowded around tables to make hats and crowns out of straws, or decorate candy skulls, among other things.
As of Wednesday, November 1, 2017
About 120 kids consistently participate in after-school programs in the White Salmon Valley School District (WSVSD). The majority of them are elementary school students from working families and homes where English is a second language. For most students in the after-school program, it is an opportunity to join clubs and learn new skills, for others, it is a safe place for them to be and receive homework help until their parents can come pick them up.
On Oct. 26 in the gym at Wayne M. Henkle Middle School, students that participate in the after-school program were able to show their parents some of the things they have been working on: From learning how to code and program “Sphere-O’s” to making movies on tablets, to learning basic life skills like how to cook healthy meals. This event was all part of a program called Lights On For After-School.
According to the Afterschool Alliance Web site, the initiative was launched in October of 2000 and,
“It’s the only nationwide event celebrating after-school programs and their role in keeping kids safe, inspiring them to learn and helping working families. The effort has become a hallmark of the after-school movement and annually sees more than 1 million Americans celebrate at more than 8,000 events nationwide.”
Schools can register and advertise their “Lights On” nights on the website and can also share on social media with the #LightsOn. They can also get ideas for how to organize the evening.
“It’s an opportunity for parents to see what their kids gain from being a part of the after-school program. Also an opportunity for us to engage with the families and find out what they would like to see available to the kids as well as themselves,” said Dorinda Belcher, head of after-school programming for WSVSD.
The evening was full of crafts that kids and their parents could do together, as well as healthy food options provided by Skyline Hospital’s health and wellness coordinator, Debi Budnick.
“I offer to teach kids healthy recipes as part of an after-school cooking class; we learn about the different food groups and what you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle, “ said Budnick.
There were deli meats, cheeses, crackers, fruits and veggies available to snack on as well as gatorade and water. Though many of the kids in an attempt to get their sugar fix, seemed to gravitate towards a table where they could decorate and, though not recommended, eat, calaveras, or sugar skulls. The tradition of decorating calaveras comes from Mexico as part of the celebration of Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead.”
“We really try to implement a cultural element in our after-school program as well and this one has so far been the most fun for the kids,” said Belcher.
In an article published in The Enterprise earlier this month, it was announced that the WSVSD received a $1.7 million federal grant for its after-school program, A-List Adventures.
“It was really surprising and exciting, especially considering the politics around it. The President wants to ‘zero fund’ after-school programs despite all of the data and testimonies from folks that have benefitted from it. Fortunately, the House and Senate said a resounding No and actually increased the funding for them,” said Belcher, during a presentation at the school board meeting that followed the “Lights On” event.
Belcher was chosen by the Afterschool Alliance to be an ambassador to Washington, D.C., to advocate for after-school programs.
“This funding has allowed us to increase our program to five days a week, which is great! Really helpful to working families,” added Belcher.
Belcher was asked by board members if after-school care is offered to high schools as well.
“We have in the past, but we get very little high school kids coming into the after-school programs, less than 30 a year, so we have cut back on offering it, but we do encourage kids to volunteer as teachers aids for the program, “ said Belcher.