Dorinda Belcher (middle), head of Afterschool Programs for the White Salmon Valley School District, traveled to Washington, D.C., with members of the Afterschool Alliance and two Washington State student advocates to talk to Congressional staff and legislators about the importance of afterschool programs in public education. (Submitted photo)
Last week, White Salmon Valley School District (WSVSD) After-school Director Dorinda Belcher went to Washington, D.C., to stand up for afterschool programs in the face of suggested cuts to these programs by the Trump administration.
“Most parents and community leaders who’ve visited our afterschool program at the White Salmon Valley School District, tell me they’re impressed at how our students are so fully engaged in the various activities available to them. From our girl's #STEMinist program to, athletic teams, healthy cooking with oversight from our local hospital, to project-based learning opportunities like our Earthquake unit or Engineering Ice Cream,” said Belcher in a letter detailing the purpose of her trip.
In early 2018 when putting together the budget, the Trump administration proposed eliminating the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) initiative, the principal federal funding stream for afterschool programs like A-List Adventures, what the WSVSD follows. In 2017, Congress rejected the idea outright.
“One thing I’ve never heard anyone say is that we’re spending too much money on afterschool,” said Belcher.
Belcher went to DC because the initiative is on the chopping block again,
“I went to Washington, D.C., this past week, along with 200 other afterschool advocates, to share with members of Congress the good news about what I see every day in our program: Kids, safe and sound, constructively engaged, learning new things, getting homework help and forming relationships with caring adults. I also shared what I can’t see, but what I hear all the time from parents, particularly parents working full time: Knowing that their children are safe and well cared for relieves them of a gnawing, every afternoon anxiety about their children’s safety,” said Belcher.
Belcher said her visit was encouraging. She met with staff members from the offices of Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and with a staff member from Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler’s office. All expressed interest in visiting the afterschool program and said they understand the importance of afterschool programs.
Sponsored by the Afterschool Alliance, an organization dedicated to raising awareness on the importance of afterschool programs, the Afterschool for All Challenge that Belcher participated in featured a day-long visit to Capitol Hill by afterschool leaders from around the nation.
“While we met with U.S. Senators and Representatives, afterschool advocates from Maine to California turned up the grassroots volume by using social media to send thousands of messages about the need to protect afterschool funding,” said Belcher.
“Together we reminded policymakers that afterschool programs keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, and give parents peace of mind. They provide homework help, STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, mentoring, sports and physical activities, healthy snacks and meals, robotics, computer programming, college- and job-readiness, opportunities for hands-on learning, nutrition education, and more,” she added.
Current federal funds support afterschool programs for 1.7 million students in the United States, according to data collected by the 21st CCLC. Were this funding cut, the result would be fewer programs, diminished program offerings, and gutting of the partnerships between afterschool and summer learning programs and museums, businesses, and colleges.
As it stands now, 1 in 5 children in the United States is unsupervised after the school day ends, according to data collected by America After 3 PM.
“We told members of Congress that we should be working to drive the number of unsupervised children down, not up,” said Belcher
“We went to Washington because we believe educating lawmakers about the many benefits of afterschool helps them make the best decision possible about funding. We were proud to deliver that message. I’m sure they heard it!” said Belcher.