a young child leans over a filleted fish while an adult teaches

October 19, 2016

Learning doesn’t have to stop at 3 p.m. – This Thursday, October 20, more than one million Americans will take part in Lights On Afterschool, the only nationwide event raising awareness of the important role that afterschool plays in the lives of children, families, and communities. Currently 120 programs are celebrating throughout the state, with more than 30 of those taking place in rural Alaska. Governor Walker has declared October 20 as Lights On Afterschool Day.

Bristol Bay 4-H celebrated a Lights On Afterschool celebration by hosting STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) nights in Aleknagik and Dillingham this month. Throughout the year, Bristol Bay 4-H engages more than 150 youth in events such as Family Olympics, Culture Camps, and Earth Days. Bristol Bay 4-H clubs are located throughout Bristol Bay, in communities such as Dillingham, Nondalton, Iliamna, Manokotak, Aleknagik, Louis Point, Clarks Point and Levelock. Due to high demand for afterschool programming in this region, Bristol Bay 4-H is hoping to launch clubs in Pilot Point and Chignik Lake soon.

group of young boys observe as fish is being processed
Bristol Bay 4-H

Out-of-school time learning opportunities are crucial. Afterschool and summer learning programs provide new learning opportunities to children and help them explore a variety of topics and interests. In Alaska, programs that take place during out-of-school time contribute to a decrease in drug and alcohol use, reduction in juvenile crime, and increased physical activity. Afterschool programs also have been shown to improve math and reading scores, narrowing the gap between children from low-income and high-income families.

This gap cannot be closed without equitable access to programming, though. Currently 25,600 children participate in afterschool programs throughout Alaska, but 45,000 Alaska children are not currently participating in afterschool programs and would if one were available to them. This is especially true for children in rural Alaska, as low-income students in rural areas are less likely than their urban and suburban peers to be enrolled in afterschool programs.

Nationwide, 3.1 million children in rural communities are not enrolled in an afterschool program but would be if a program were available. Finding an available, affordable afterschool program is a significant challenge for families living in rural communities. Safe travel for children to and from programs is another issue that families often face.

Rural communities also often have fewer opportunities to partner with businesses and organizations, making resources less affordable and accessible.

If afterschool programs in rural communities are able to pool the necessary resources, research shows that these programs are more likely to engage their students’ families, provide transportation, and offer healthy snacks than afterschool programs outside of rural areas.

Healthy snacks are among many benefits of out-of-school time programming in rural communities. The highest instances of food insecurity in Alaska are found in rural areas, where several communities have more than 30% of their kids struggling with food insecurity. Snacks in between lunch and dinner allow kids to be fully engaged in the educational and enrichment activities offered afterschool. Programs that offer snacks also attract more youth to attend, especially teens.

young girls make crafts with pretzels at Bristol Bay 4-H club
Bristol Bay 4-H

Afterschool programs can also help children develop social skills, receive help with homework, and gain access to caring adult mentors. Programs in rural communities also help benefit the entire family by giving working parents peace of mind about their children while they are at work and helping them keep their jobs.

Lights On Afterschool celebrations can help raise awareness of the importance of investing in afterschool, particularly in rural communities. To find a Lights On Afterschool event near you or for help on hosting a celebration of your own, visit www.afterschoolalliance.org/loa.cfm or contact Thomas Azzarella at tazzarella@akafterschool.org.

Alaska Afterschool Network logo

The Alaska Afterschool Network is statewide collaboration supporting, strengthening and advocating for afterschool programs in Alaska and is a project of the Alaska Children’s Trust. Founded in 2013 with a grant from the Mott Foundation and local support from the Alaska Children’s Trust, State of Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, Rasmuson Foundation, Mat-Su Health Foundation, ExxonMobil, Alaska Association for Community Education, and United Way of Anchorage.  Contact Thomas Azzarella, Director, for more information.