Lights On Afterschool shines spotlight on importance of afterschool programs

Several students and a teacher stand in the hallway of their elementary school holding their arms over their head in the shape of a lightbulb.
Flint students participate in the Lightbulb Challenge during a previous Lights On Afterschool Day celebration. Photo: Cristina Wright

Students across the nation are raising awareness about the value of afterschool programming by doing everything from participating in a rally in Hawaii to attending an ’80s-themed dance party in Michigan as part of the annual Lights On Afterschool celebration.

Events are taking place throughout the month and will culminate on Oct. 26 with Lights On Afterschool Day. Some 8,000 events will shine a light on the innovative ways afterschool programs support the success and well-being of young people. There also will be 2,000 digital billboards across the country, landmarks lit up in yellow and blue, and a social media initiative where people pose as lightbulbs.

Organized by the Afterschool Alliance, a Charles Stewart Mott Foundation grantee, Lights On Afterschool is the only national rally for afterschool programs, which keep kids safe and healthy, inspire them to learn and give working parents peace of mind. The Afterschool Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring all children have access to high-quality, affordable afterschool programs.

“Lights On Afterschool draws attention to the many ways afterschool programs support students by offering them opportunities to discover new skills and experience hands-on learning, as they explore everything from community service and Tae Kwon Do to robotics and poetry,” said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant. “The events send a powerful message that millions more kids need quality afterschool programs.”

Now in its 24th year, Lights On Afterschool celebrates afterschool programs and their important role in the lives of children, families and communities. The effort has become a hallmark of the afterschool movement. The Mott Foundation is a longtime supporter of the field, having granted nearly $392 million from 1998 to date to increase access to high-quality afterschool programs in the U.S.

An image of the Empire State Building with all of its light turned on in the early evening with the setting sun and the New York City skyline surrounding it.
For the 17th consecutive year, the Empire State Building will be lit up in yellow and blue in recognition of Lights On Afterschool Day. Photo: Courtesy of Afterschool Alliance

“There’s solid research that shows the positive impact of afterschool programs and polling data that shows unmet demand for programs,” said Ridgway White, president and CEO of the Mott Foundation. “What Lights On Afterschool adds is a sense of the love for afterschool programs and the enthusiasm that kids, families and educators have for them.”

Lights On Afterschool events happening from coast to coast include a rally at the Hawaii State Capitol Rotunda, hands-on science experiments in Angleton, Texas, and an outdoor movie event in Gardiner, Maine. In Mott’s home state of Michigan, upward of 100 organizations and schools are planning Lights On Afterschool events. These include a smoothie-making competition in Detroit, a talent show in Grand Rapids and an ’80s dance party in Coleman.

“The creativity of the Lights On Afterschool rallies in Michigan shine bright and vary greatly by community,” said Erin Skene-Pratt, executive director of the Michigan Afterschool Partnership. “Michigan is well represented in this year’s Lights On Afterschool work. Together we’re making a difference in the education and lives of today’s youth, and afterschool programming is a vital part of that.”

In addition to the rallies, the celebration includes lighting iconic buildings and landmarks around the country on Oct. 26 to raise awareness of the importance of afterschool programming. For the 17th consecutive year, for example, the New York skyline will shine for Lights On Afterschool when the Empire State Building is illuminated in yellow and blue. Other landmarks will include: Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin; the Frederick Douglass Bridge in Washington, D.C.; and the Mott Foundation building in Flint, Michigan.

Plus, more than 2,000 digital billboards will be strategically placed in key areas nationwide thanks to support from Clear Channel Outdoor for a broad-based visibility campaign. The most prominent ads will be shown on the jumbo screens in Times Square in New York City.

Where I Feel Connected

The ads tie into a top concern of families and youths today — mental well-being and the need to provide young people with positive social opportunities and relationships. The ads feature the tagline, “Where I Feel Connected,” and the words are paired with photos of joyful kids engaged with their peers.

A billboard graphic with images of students doing afterschool activities on the right and on the left containing the words "Where I feel connected."
More than 2,000 billboards like this one will be on display Oct. 26 in support of Lights On Afterschool Day. Photo: Courtesy of Afterschool Alliance

There is also a social media component to the Lights On celebration. Every year, the Afterschool Alliance challenges friends of afterschool across the country to take a photo of themselves posing in the shape of the Lights On Afterschool lightbulb logo and post it on social media with the hashtags #LightbulbChallenge and #LightsOnAfterschool. Participants then challenge their followers to do the same.

The events and social media send a message that kids and families love afterschool programs and need more access to them. Some 24.7 million U.S. children who are not in an afterschool program would enroll if a program were available to them, according to a survey of 1,500 parents commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance and conducted by Edge Research in 2022. That’s the highest number ever recorded.

“The study shows we need to expand quality afterschool and summertime learning programs now more than ever,” said Gwynn Hughes, senior program officer for the Mott Foundation. “This is especially true in the wake of the pandemic, when many students need access to expanded learning and enrichment before and after school, and over the summer months.”

For more information about Lights On celebrations, visit the Afterschool Alliance website.