On Oct. 26, the McPherson Family YMCA Ykids program will celebrate the achievements of after school students and draw attention to the need for more afterschool programs to serve the millions of children nationwide who are unsupervised and at risk each weekday afternoon.

Over 8,000 such events across the nation emphasizing the importance of keeping the lights on and the doors open after school will take place. The activities done on those days will celebrate the many benefits of after school programs, and encourage lawmakers, businesses and others to support after school funding.

The Ykids will do activities that encourage learning and promote healthy behaviors such as an outdoor scavenger hunt, healthy snack, a dance party, and a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math or STEM activity. The Ykids will also be doing a project to send to legislators in an effort to gain support for after school programs.

Recent data from America After 3PM, the research series on after school programs commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance, shows a vast unmet demand for after school programs nationwide.

In Kansas, 70,407 children participate in an after school program, yet 132,731 more would be if a program were available. Further, 70 percent of Kansas parents were satisfied with their child’s after school program, and 85 percent nationally agree that after school programs give working parents peace of mind. 

More work needs to be done to meet the great need for after school programs that keep Kansas kids safe, inspire them to learn, and help working families. 

In March, the Afterschool Alliance released a new report on the state of after school programs in rural America. Drawing on data from America After 3PM, the report found widespread support for after school, with 85 percent of parents saying they are satisfied with their child's program. However, for every child in a program, three are waiting to become available. That's 3.1 million children in rural communities who still wait to access the benefits of an after school program.

There's no reason that learning should stop at 3 p.m., particularly if the alternative is unsupervised time in front of a television set, or any of the dangerous or unhealthy behaviors that can ensnare children in the afternoons.  

Ykids now serves 60 children in McPherson, providing homework assistance, mentoring, tutoring, and daily STEM activities.  The program is a collaboration of the school system, YMCA, the United Way of McPherson County and a number of other area programs and businesses.

Lights On Afterschool is organized by the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit public awareness and advocacy organization working to ensure that all children have access to quality after school programs. More information on the Afterschool Alliance, Lights On Afterschool and America After 3PM is available at www.afterschoolalliance.org.

Tyler Glidden is the wellness director for the McPherson Family YMCA.