Lights On Afterschool Expo Attracts Elected Officials
Where: Fort Worth, Texas
Who: 700 attendees, highlighting 45 programs district-wide
Highlights: Speakers included the Mayor Pro Tem, a staff member to a local Member of Congress, and several school superintendents
The Fort Worth Independent School District's (ISD's) 21st Century Community Learning Centers Programs' primary Lights On Afterschool event in 2003 was a rally in front of JCPenney store in Fort Worth's Ridgmar Mall. Event organizer and Afterschool Ambassador Sue Matkin says the event, which drew more than 700 attendees, has helped cement relationships with key policy makers and stakeholders.
The event drew on the talents of children from 21st Century programs across the school district, featuring singing, cheers, ballet folklorico, poetry, hip-hop dance, steppers, Tae Kwon Do, a band performance, a fashion show and a Kung Fu presentation. Displays on various afterschool learning opportunities filled the mall walkways on two floors in front of the store, giving parents, the media and policy makers the chance to sample the programs' rich and diverse curriculum. In all, groups from 45 schools participated in the performances and displays.
Speakers included the Mayor Pro Tem, a staff member to a local Member of Congress, and several school superintendents. Several local afterschool leaders and supporters received plaques, including: the local JCPenney manager for the store's support of local YMCA afterschool literacy programs; and an executive of Lockheed Martin for the company's ongoing support of Fort Worth afterschool programs.
The Lights On theme was emphasized with a five-foot light bulb, a number of smaller paper maché light bulbs, and hundreds of paper light bulbs for students to decorate. A large "What I Like about Afterschool" banner was also on hand for students to sign.
KEYS TO SUCCESS:
Matkin points to a number of keys to the program's success:
- Partners: First, she says, "We tried to bring together various afterschool providers, because we felt very strongly that it shouldn't be just the Fort Worth ISD's programs that were recognized. We're just one piece of the provider community, so we had YMCA and others."
- Get Buy-In: Second, she says, "at our first meeting, we brought the decision makers of the various organizations together, and once they'd bought in to the program, we brought in site coordinators and people who work with the kids for a second meeting to get their ideas. The process was so democratic that my idea didn't get adopted!" Matkin says the planning committee met monthly for five months, and three times in the final month. One meeting was at a conference room at the JCPenney store that was the site of the event, Matkin says, to give participating organizations tangible evidence of the store's commitment.
- Recognize Local Supporters: Third, Matkin says, recognizing policy makers and corporate leaders who support afterschool in the community helped to solidify their long-term buy-in, and also to strengthen community members' personal relationships with key leaders.
- Incorporate Fun & Substance: Finally, one lesson she learned for the coming year is that, in addition to children's performances and fun activities, it's important to make sure that the substance of afterschool programs and the breadth of activities they provide is reflected in the event. That way, the audience will get a richer understanding of what kids are doing every afternoon, and how valuable afterschool is on several fronts.