Event highlights importance of quality afterschool programs

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An estimated 80,000 children ages 5-14 in Dallas County spend about three hours alone each weeknight between school ending and their parents returning home from work. Afterschool programs aim to fill that time with learning in a safe environment.

That statistic came from Christina Hanger of Dallas Afterschool (https://dallasafterschool.org/), a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to increase the number and quality of afterschool and summer programs in low-income communities.

The “Lights On Afterschool” celebration is a nationwide observance of the importance of afterschool programs – highlighted first in October 2000.

The event on Oct. 25 culminated with 80 students from John Quincy Adams, Martin Weiss and Ascher Silberstein elementary schools participating in STEM activities with the help of adult mentors – including Dallas Police officers.

Thomas Taylor, Chief of Staff for Dallas Police Chief Reneé Hall, said many of his Saturdays are spent at youth events, which provides a positive place for children to interact with police.

“It gives us an opportunity to have that first encounter with our youth, for them to understand we support their development,” Taylor said.

Matt Smith of PepsiCo’s Food for Good initiative said the program came about after CitySquare officials explained how students who depend on breakfast and lunch programs in school often don’t have access to food in the summer.

In 2016, he said, there were almost 4 million after-school meals served in Dallas County.

“But if every child got a meal every day a – every eligible child after school – it would be more than 50 million meals,” Smith said. “There’s a lot more work to do, in bridging that gap, trying to scale the solutions to have solutions that match the size of the need and the problem.”

He said more high-quality afterschool programs where children are gathered gives PepsiCo more opportunities to provide food.

Sherry West Christian, Dallas ISD Assistant Superintendent of Student Services, said there are many benefits beyond the safe and secure environments that afterschool programs provide – particularly academic gains.

“A lot of times, these are fun and engaging, and they don’t realize that they’re learning, but they actually are learning,” Christian said.

There are also opportunities for students to work on communication and leadership skills, teamwork and behavior issues. She said many afterschool participants are on their best behavior during the school day so  they can continue to attend the afterschool programs they enjoy.

“Within the district, we work really hard to provide equitable programs, access and then high-quality programs to our students to make sure that they are getting the things they need to make sure we are working on the growth of the child from a whole-child perspective,” she said.

There are more than 100 afterschool programs in Dallas ISD, some led by campus staff and others coordinated by a host of incredible partner organizations. The district, she said, is also working to establish programs where they are needed.

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