After-school program celebration Oct. 14

On Oct. 14, after-school programs across the Valley will participate in the fifth annual national Lights On After-School Rally.

Events will take place at more than 6,000 sites across the nation designed to help send the message that after-school programs are key to a child's success and that lights and doors should stay open after school.

Lindsay Unified School District is planning an extra special celebration at 3 p.m. on Thursday at Sweet Brier Plaza. Children from after-school programs at each site will present songs and skits as well as speak to those present about how the after-school program has helped them. Dr. Paul Leavens will be speaking as well as Mayor Ed Murray. At 3:30 p.m. Motivational Illusionist, John Vasquez will entertain the crowd with a magic show. The event will conclude with a balloon launch lead by Stacy Reeves, the after-school program director at Lincoln.

"Each of the kids wrote a statement regarding what they liked about the after-school program," Reeves said. "They typed it up on the computer and inserted them in the balloons for the balloon launch."

Local parents, employers and neighbors are invited to help rally for safe, stimulating after school programs. The fifth annual Lights on After School is a project of the After-School Alliance. In May the After-School Alliance released America After 3 p.m., the most in-depth study ever to explore how America's children spend their afternoons. It found that 14.3 million kindergarten through 12th graders care for themselves after the school day ends. The parents of more than 15 million children say their children would participate if an after-school program were available. A fact sheet provided by Pre-youth, a Tulare County not-for-profit organization which sponsors the HEART after-school program, states that on school days the hours between 3-6 p.m. are the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and sex.

The fact sheet also states that more than half of voters say there are not enough after-school programs available to children and teens. As of December 2001, 19 states were reporting an average of 26,000 children on waiting lists for childcare. Seventy-six percent of voters are concerned that, with no new funds coming to after-school programs, not only will there not be new after-school programs but some existing programs may have to reduce services or close their doors.

In August, after-school program directors received an e-mail from the state informing them that $25 million of their funds would be returned to the state. The analyst who wrote the e-mail used wrong terminology and directors were assured by state officials that they would keep their money.

This is one of several problems that after-school programs have endured since the state took control of the once federal program. Congress recently enacted the No Child Left Behind law that transferred administration of the after-school funding to the states. Delays in allocation of federal funds have hurt local programs but Proposition 49, an initiative to expand after-school programs, should improve the situation. Once prop. 49 is enacted funding should increase and be available to any elementary and junior high school with a program.

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