How afterschool changed my life, and inspired me to learn

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As far back as I can remember my mother worked late into the evening in order to make ends meet.  In our house, “making ends meet” meant paying our bills, keeping food on the table, and ultimately, providing me with a better life than she had.

As you might imagine, that did not leave much room for afternoons at home with my mother. Instead she worked her 40 hours per week at a technical event planning company, notwithstanding the additional twelve she put in coming in early and leaving late every day to ensure that the office ran smoothly.  This would often leave me, a ten year old, with at least four hours at home alone.

While my mother made copies and edited documents, I found my way into unnecessary trouble, avoiding my homework in the process. Rather than continuing to leave me alone, however, my mother opted to place me in an afterschool program.  It turned out to be the best decision she ever made.

During my time in afterschool, I was introduced to Spanish, cheerleading, extracurricular sports, cooking, Tae-Bo, and even musical instruments.  The benefits of being a part of an afterschool cohort were endless.  Through afterschool programming, I was able to identify talents and skills that I may have always possessed, but up until then had been underdeveloped.

For instance, in sixth grade I participated in an afterschool creative writing class that exposed me to poetry, different genres of books, and various other forms of literary expression.  Over time, I found that I possessed a natural knack for writing poetry and began to use it as an outlet for my thoughts and feelings.

To this day, I still use poetry as a major form of personal expression.  Poetry has not only been a personal weapon of sorts in my life; over the years, I have taught many of my own students to wield words against the injustices they see and experience in the world.

I am overjoyed to say that my experience is not a singular one.  Just as I was exposed as a child, hundreds of thousands of young children have been exposed to countless new experiences and learning opportunities through afterschool programming that have broadened their horizons.

The variety of activities and opportunities offered to children participating in afterschool programs are as wide ranging as children’s interests, from astronomy to folk dancing to video production to cooking, and much more.  Studies show that youth in afterschool are less likely to smoke, drink, use drugs, or become teen parents.  They also attend school more often and achieve higher levels of education.

However, a sobering study by the Afterschool Alliance shows that more than twenty-five percent – 14.3 million – of America’s youth are alone after school, when juvenile crime triples and youth often fall prey to using alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes.

In our cities today, afterschool programs are one of the best things we can do to keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, teach new skills, and help working families.  And, as several studies show, investing in afterschool saves taxpayer dollars.  According to a study by the Rose Institute at Claremont McKenna College, every dollar invested in afterschool programming saves taxpayers approximately $3.

Cities Celebrate Afterschool

Awareness of the range of benefits that afterschool programming provides – and the large need for afterschool opportunities across the country – is the reason why many organizations have offered support for the Afterschool Alliance’s Lights On Afterschool.

This annual event draws attention to the many ways afterschool programs across the country support student-learning and the development of new skills.  More than 200 organizations have joined the Afterschool Alliance to celebrate Lights On Afterschool this year.  NLC is proud to be one of them.

“There is no limit to the variety of fun, educational, hands-on activities offered in afterschool programs,” said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant.  “Lights On Afterschool offers us a chance to showcase those diverse activities and the skills children are learning in the afterschool programs that also keep them safe, inspire them to learn, and help working families.”

As local leaders across the nation grapple with the challenge of preparing their city’s youth to be successful adults in the 21st century, supporting afterschool is crucial to promoting the academic and technological skills to be competitive in the global workforce.

Last month, celebrations in cities across the country highlighted the important value of afterschool to mayors, councilmembers, the business community, school district leaders, community advocates, parents, and of course, the young people themselves.  Although Lights On Afterschool 2013 was successfully completed, do not feel that your enthusiasm for afterschool initiatives must lose momentum.

I hope you engage with what is happening in your city and share the reasons why afterschool opportunities can help your community meet its goals.  Feel free to share with us ( the ways in which you or others in your community are contributing to the legacy of quality afterschool programming!

And please visit the Afterschool Alliance website to get a more in depth glimpse of the media coverage of various Lights on Afterschool 2013 celebrations and the ways in which the Afterschool Alliance is already gearing up for next year’s festivities!

blog-photo-marleynaMarleyna currently serves as an intern on the Afterschool team at NLC’s Institute for Youth, Education & Families. If you wish to contact Marleyna, email her at