Hundreds of children, parents, businesses and community leaders will come together at a "Lights On — Safety Matters" event at Franklin Elementary School from 5 to 7 p.m. next Thursday, Oct. 17, not only to celebrate the achievements of after-school programs but also to teach children and families how to protect themselves in the event of an emergency.
There will be tables of activities from partnering agencies, and Santa Barbara Police Chief Cam Sanchez will be the keynote speaker at 6 p.m.
We want to draw attention to the need for more after-chool programs to serve the millions of children nationwide who are unsupervised and at risk each weekday afternoon. The gathering is one of 7,500 such events across the nation emphasizing the importance of keeping the lights on and the doors open for after-school programs.
America After 3PM found that 19 percent of California schoolchildren are enrolled in after-school programs, up from 12 percent in 2004.
“California is ahead of the pack on after-school, and can be proud of that,” Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant said. “But the data also shows another side of the story. The majority of California parents who want their kids in afterschool programs aren’t able to find them, usually because programs aren’t available, they can’t afford the fees, or transportation issues make it impossible. These are all barriers we can and should overcome. Quality after-school programs keep children safe, inspire them to learn and help working families. Every California family that needs an after-school program should have access to one.”
Although there has been a significant increase in the number of California children attending after-school programs over the last five years, today 24 percent of the state’s schoolchildren are on their own in the afternoons, and another 17 percent are in the care of their brothers or sisters. In addition, the parents of 36 percent of children not already in after-school say they would enroll their kids in a program if one was available.
Lights On is a powerful reminder that after-school programs keep children safe, inspire them to learn and relieve working parents of worries about how their children spend their afternoons. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough after-school spaces, and too many students are home alone in the afternoons or out on the streets where they can be exposed to crime or at-risk. We must open more programs and refuse to let tight budgets endanger the expansion of afterschool programs.
For more information, Contact the Santa Barbara Unified School District's Debi Badger at 805.965.4633 x252 or City of Santa Barbara Parks & Recreation's Terry Brown at 805.560.7552.
— Barbara Keyani is the administrative services and communications coordinator for the Santa Barbara Unified School District.