From providing a safe, nurturing environment to offering students opportunities to learn new things, after school programs across the country have the opportunity to highlight the diverse ways they support students.
Every October, more than one million people across the country celebrate Lights On After School - a nationwide event celebrating after school programs and their important role in the lives of children, families, and communities. From providing a safe, nurturing environment to offering students opportunities to learn new things, after school programs across the country have the opportunity to highlight the diverse ways they support students.
Organized by the After School Alliance, the event also sends a powerful message that millions of more kids need quality after school programs. Educators are encouraged to become advocates for after school to generate support, expand resources and increase access to affordable quality programs in their communities. By becoming a champion of after school, educators can raise awareness of the issues, needs and opportunities that exist in these programs.
To get started, here are 7 tips for becoming an advocate for after school from Dr. Paul Young's Lead the Way: 24 Lessons in Leadership for After School Program Directors:
- Prepare by doing your homework: Study the issues you face, and prepare a specific and succinct message. Get to know your local, state and national representatives: learn about their background, party affiliation and specific interests.
- Schedule visit to legislators: Call or send an email to schedule a visit. Make sure to state that the elected official represents you, and, if you have a personal acquaintance or shared history with the official, mention this information. If necessary, share your information with an aide.
- Stay on topic: Elected officials and their aides have limited time. Use your prepared talking points, and provide the elected official or aide with printed copies of your issues and positions.
- Invite legislators to visit your program site: Provide opportunities for legislators to observe children learning in a safe and nurturing environment. This can help officials fill their information gaps and establish your program as a best practice.
- Establish a common ground: Always leave visits with elected officials on a positive note. You may disagree about a topic, but do not burn your bridges. Be courteous, but remember that courteous does not equal intimidated.
- Advocate with local officials and community groups: Do not overlook the influence of your mayor, who may support grant writing, connect you with funding sources and support partnerships. You can also advocate for after school by speaking at gatherings of local service clubs, senior citizens and faith-based groups.
- Advocate with school personnel: Help dispel the common myths about after school programs sometimes found among teachers and principals, such as a lack of standards, competencies, accountability or expectations. Advocacy is much more effective when all educators present a unified front.
You can learn more about advocating for after school and more leadership lessons for after school program directors in Lead the Way: 24 Lessons in Leadership for After School Program Directors.