What do young people like about After School? This week at our Beacon Program, they put it in writing.
“After School is important because kids need to make friends.” “After School is fun because you can meet friends and learn new games. Also you can go outside, and you can get snacks.” “What I like about After School is computer coding, because it’s fun to play around with the codes.”
As part of their Lights On After School celebration, each child wrote, colored and drew pictures on white poster paper cut out like puzzle pieces. Then they gathered in a hallway at the Joan of Arc school complex on West 93rd Street to display them. (Beacons are miniature community centers located in schools; they all host After School programs.)
Before ceremonially assembling the puzzle on the wall, some of the students showed their pieces to special guests Yani Fernandez and Tracy Garcia of the city’s Department of Youth and Community Development, which oversees Beacons. Fernandez and Garcia quizzed them gently on what they’d written and admired their work.
Why puzzle pieces? Beacon Program Coordinator Chantel Roberson said since the pandemic has kept young people apart for so long, “We wanted to connect them to the things they love doing at After School.”
Lights On After School is a national event organized by the Afterschool Alliance, which works to expand After School programming in all 50 states. The goal is to call attention to the importance of these programs for America’s children, families and communities.
Kids may like the program because of computers and snacks. Parents value it too—for different reasons. In a survey, 76 percent of New York parents with children in After School said it keeps kids safe and out of trouble. Seventy-eight percent said it inspired kids to learn, and 82 percent said helped them develop life skills, like the ability to communicate and work in teams.
Unfortunately, many families don’t have access to these benefits. According to the Afterschool Alliance, for every child who attends After School in New York, there are another four children waitlisted.
Roy Baptiste, the director of our Beacon After School, has been organizing Lights On events in our programs for years. Asked why, he says simply: “We feel it’s crucial that at least once a year, everyone gets a chance to advocate and say why After School is important.”