Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Expanded Learning for All

October is here. Shocking I know, but before we get mired in the pre-winter angst let’s all take a deep breath and enjoy all that October has to offer. No, I’m not talking about the sugar rush of Halloween. October is Lights on Afterschool Month. In short, October is when youth, parents, providers, advocates, policy makers and funders celebrate the powerful impact expanded learning programs have on our community, and commit to supporting them in the year to come.

In many ways DC is fortunate. We live in a city that is rich with youth development opportunities. Starting with the littlest of humans, programs like Jump Start and the The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project ensure all children start school ready to succeed. At the elementary level, parents take a collective sigh of relief knowing that their youngster has the opportunity to participate in programs that support whole child development. Programs like People Animals Love, FLOC, Jubilee Housing, and Horton’s Kids start to tease out and develop areas of cognitive strength while building competencies in areas of weakness. 

At the middle school level -- those 3-4 years that represent a time of greatest risk and greatest reward in youth development -- we can have faith that organizations like DC Scores, Higher Achievement, Kid Power, Inc., and Sitar Arts Center are connecting this vulnerable age group to positive opportunities, social networks, and caring & consistent adults.

By high school, expanded learning takes on a whole new level of nuance. As Urban Alliance, BUILD, Life Pieces to Master Pieces, Beacon House, and Sasha Bruce have demonstrated, expanded learning opportunities at the high school level means many things all at once. They are opportunities for tutoring, experiential learning, SAT/ACT prep, post-secondary and career exploration and finally, for continued pro-social development that can inform a lifetime of healthy decision-making.

High quality, expanded learning programming during non-school hours and the summer, is one piece of the educational pie One that cannot be underestimated: it’s how we excite disengaged learners, engage non-traditional learners, and allow high fliers to fly. It’s a rising tides lifts all boats scenario.

Unfortunately, only a fraction of our youth have the opportunity to participate. Decreases in funding to the DC Public School Out of School Time Programming and The Children Youth Investment Trust Corporation (among others) has gradually diminished the degree to which DC dollars support expanded learning opportunities.

So, if you believe that educational aptitude is not defined by test scores. If you want to know that we are cultivating investigative, not simply rote learners. If you know a youth who may not always excel in the classroom but thrives in a wood-shop, debate hall, on a theater stage or on the field. If you are a parent who wants to know that your child is participating in positive activities during the gap between the end of the school day and the end of the work day. Then October is your call to action. 

Follow DCAYA during the month of October as we rally together to call, email, tweet at, and send letters to Councilmembers and Mayor Gray letting the DC government know why expanded learning matters to us!  

By speaking up for your child, your family and your community, you can help us make sure the lights stay on for all DC youth. 

Maggie Riden is the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. As a child, Maggie learned to read by participating in an after school theatre program which provided her with the confidence to overcome her reading disability. While she no longer participates in theatre, she credits the expanded learning program for having a profound impact on her adult life.

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