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Partnerships and Building Relationships

The Time Is Now: Lights on Afterschool

Lights on Afterschool Event

As I board a plane to head off to another location for a training, I reflect on how I arrived in the out-of-school time field.

It has been 8 years now and I have loved every minute of it. Even though I focus more on adult learning, as I train OST providers, I still have several opportunities to conduct site visits and interact with youth. I am amazed everyday at the dedication of OST professionals, which is why I would like to dedicate my blog post today to effective messaging for Lights On Afterschool.

Across the country, federal, state, and community sponsored OST programs are under attack, or so it seems. Advocates everywhere have been pushed to the limit to stand up for continued funding as well as the right to have innovative and fun programming. Not only is program funding being challenged but support for OST professionals is being cut too. In my home state, efforts to start a state funding stream have been slow going and the state education agency has cut training and support dollars for 21st CCLC in half even though the resources are still in the overall budget.

Of course, this isn’t happening everywhere.

In a few states, support for OST is growing and resources are being allocated to help. So my question that I reflect on today is why? Why are some states going backwards and others going forward? What can we do to help?

Well, the Afterschool Alliance has for years hosted Lights On Afterschool in October as a great instrument to drive up the awareness factor of the impact of out-of-school time programs. I have attended many of these events and I walk away amazed each time. However, the most powerful Lights On Afterschool events were the ones that were well-planned with a coordinated message that kept going after the event was over.

Just last year, I was able to attend an event that hit the target in Birdville ISD, Texas. I had known about the event well in advance as the Birdville team had been promoting the event for at least 6 weeks, probably longer. The team had invited district administrators, community leaders, city and county officials, state officials, federal officials, and even their state training manager!

The event was hosted at Holiday Heights Elementary and was a Lights On Afterschool / Science Night.

In addition to the OST program called Aspire, the PTO & local college were also there. There was food, games, a planetarium, a class where we dissected frogs and owl pellets, a live radio show, a bike making club, a college student science show with explosive demonstrations, and so much more. The Principal, Site Coordinator, and PTO President greeted everyone. Over 400 participants visited this small campus and the night was considered a success. Yet, the message that was relayed and followed up on throughout the year was the biggest success. That message was really simple; this program was provided by grant funding with supplemental funding provided by the school. Yet, one day this grant may end and we need to be ready for that day. Please support continued OST funding and help us keep the lights on Afterschool for all our kids. That message rang clear on the day of the event and has been repeated throughout the year.

Lights on Afterschool Event

As OST advocates, we have a great opportunity to take a nationally sponsored event and make it a year round call to action.

Regardless of how big or small your Lights On Afterschool event is, take the opportunity to develop your message. Don’t stop with this one event. Let your message ring true throughout the year. In Texas, I use the football example. Imagine if I proposed to the school board of the district that in an effort to close the achievement gap, I was going to cancel football for a year and reallocate the funding to supplemental programming for the schools. I would probably be lynched in the same meeting that I proposed this.

For Texas, football is a way of life. It is a community affair and people from 3 years old to 80 years old attend games faithfully. I’m not talking NFL or College games, I mean High School games. When OST programs can achieve this type of status, then we can take a break. Maybe I am a little naive in thinking that we can make OST as important as football, but I have seen stranger things happen (oh and for my Texas readers, I would never advocate for eliminating football, so please don’t lynch me).

There are many smarter people out there who have great advice on how to create a message or even implement a movement. I personally like to listen to Jennifer Peck from California as she highlights the Summer Matters Campaign or Eddie Wilson from Pittsburgh as he highlights his efforts around the Dreamers program. I could spend all day listening to Terry Peterson and Milton Chen talk about expanded learning time and the third space of learning. For more main stream contemporaries, how about Guy Kawasaki’s thoughts on messaging or Erik Qualman on the power of social media?

Whomever is your personal influencer, take their best advice and channel it into this year’s Lights On Afterschool program.

Follow California’s example, as they have more than double the amount of events happening from the next state registered.  Keep your message alive throughout the year. Blog about it, highlight it, post it on social media, create a Thunderclap, host additional events…Whatever you do, don’t let this opportunity go.

It is my dream that in 8 years from now, I will be on a plane with several other trainers going somewhere to host several large trainings because OST programs have become the standard in our schools and are continuing to change the educational landscape. Thank you for all that you do and let’s see how far we can take it.

For breakfast today, I am having Rice Crispies with chocolate milk (totally not on my diet so, shhhhhh, don’t tell my wife!).

Author Profile: @shawnpetty

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