When it comes to its after-school program, Jamestown Public Schools wouldn't mind absorbing the extra cost to its electric bill in order to keep the lights on. Luckily, the district has received some financial assistance from its community.
On Thursday, multiple buildings in the district participated in the 14th annual Lights On event, along with more than 8,000 other schools nationwide. Sponsored by Afterschool Alliance, the Lights On event celebrates after-school programs and demonstrates their importance to families and communities across the United States.
According to Tim Mains, district superintendent, JPS' participation in Lights On is intended to draw attention to an underrated, often unnoticed service provided by the district.
Students at Bush Elementary School construct paper headbands to celebrate JPS’ participation in the national 14th annual Lights On Afterschool event Thursday.
P-J photo by Gavin Paterniti
"This event gives us a chance to highlight and draw attention to a program that doesn't get a lot of attention," Mains said. "Certainly, the after-school programming that we're able to provide to students is extremely valuable to them. We've got a fair amount of research that suggests to us that the students who participate in the extended day program that we have in our various schools are doing better. So it has a direct positive impact on their behavior, attendance and their performance in school."
Currently, the district's after-school program extends to each of its five elementary schools, as well as Jefferson and Washington middle schools and the Eastside YMCA Middle School Academy. At each location, it operates every day in which school is in session from 3-6 p.m.
While the benefits provided by the program are without question, the major obstacle in its implementation has been funding. Federal investment in after-school has dropped from the $2.5 billion it supplied in 2007 to 21st Century Community Learning Centers, the primary federal funding stream for after-school, to less than half that amount this year. As a result, a national study conducted by the Afterschool Alliance last year showed that 39 percent of after-school programs are in worse shape now than they were at the height of the recession in 2008, while 62 percent report that their funding is down from three years ago.
Julie Poppleton, after-school programs coordinator for JPS, used to be in charge of securing grants through the 21st Century Community Learning Centers. According to Poppleton, the $700,000 in annual funding that JPS had come to rely on through these grants concluded with the 2012-13 school year, causing it to rely heavily on the support of local charities and foundations to keep this year's program going.
"Currently, it is being funded through a sliding fee scale that we employ and we also have some funding from an extended school day grant, but our community foundations have really stepped up this year and invested in us," Poppleton said. "We made a plea to our foundations in the community, and they have really come forward for us and provided some very vital gap funding to help us sustain ourselves through this year as we seek some additional funds."
Poppleton said the primary community supporters in the way of gap funding included: the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, United Way, the Sheldon Foundation and the Lenna Foundation.
Representatives from some of the program's community supporters were also attendees of the Lights On event, taking tours of the activities taking place at Bush Elementary School, Jefferson Middle School and Love Elementary School. Randy Sweeney, executive director of the Community Foundation, said he appreciated the opportunity to see the impact that the after-school program has on its students.
"We're just out here trying to see the faces of the young people, and it's fun to see them laughing and smiling and learning all the way," Sweeney said. "We really want our kids to have a great experience during the school day, but it doesn't end then. There's opportunity after school to do those extra things that don't fit into the school day. So, we wanted to help keep it going this year until we can see how it's going to fit into our plans moving forward."
Lights On Afterschool was launched in October 2000 and was celebrated in more than 1,200 communities nationwide. The following year, more than 3,600 events took place. It has consistently been growing over the past 13 years.
To learn more about the Lights On Afterschool program, go to afterschoolalliance.org.