Guest blog by Alyssa Plotkin, national program assistant for After-School All-Stars.
“Because of After-School All-Stars, I feel like I’m important, that my opinion matters. I’m so fortunate to have been chosen to be a yabbie. I feel happier, more social and more knowledgeable.” – Citlali of ASAS Los Angeles
After-School All-Stars (ASAS), a leading national provider of comprehensive out-of-school-time programs that serves more than 90,000 children in 13 cities across the U.S.—brought 40 extraordinary 8th grade leaders and staff to Washington, D.C., in July for a week-long leadership summit. Each chapter, from New York to Hawaii, selected an outstanding student-based on their leadership abilities, strong attendance, academic performance and unwavering commitment to community service.
Keeping with the ASAS mantra of “No training about students without students,” the Youth Advisory Board Retreat (YAB) also doubled up as training for staff on service learning, “program best practices” and ways to improve evaluation. Students provided feedback and ideas to our staff and took classes on leadership skills and our national program priorities. They learned from national partner groups such as America’s Promise (high school graduation), Opportunity Nation (career readiness), Alliance for a Healthier Generation (health and fitness) and Youth Service America (service learning).
They used this information during their “K Street Kids Project,” in which they broke into teams to develop an afterschool advocacy campaign on one of the key issues they had learned about. They presented their plans to a panel of distinguished afterschool field experts and advocates, including Kari Pardoe of the Mott Foundation, Kim Eisenreich of the National League of Cities, Jodi Grant of the Afterschool Alliance, Carol Berke of the National AfterSchool Association and Tara James of the National Collaboration for Youth.
Students and staff then participated in an “ASAS Capitol Hill Day” and shared their knowledge, ideas and firsthand experience with more than 20 different elected officials and staff members, including a group meeting with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. For many of the students, it was their first time in D.C.—never mind their first time away from home, on an airplane or outside their state. They also learned more about history and how the U.S. government works through special tours of the monuments, the U.S. Capitol and the White House.
The week was generously funded by the Mott Foundation and the Mazda Foundation, which sent over two race car drivers to talk to students about the importance of not texting and driving. Some students will be leading service projects on this topic in their home schools this upcoming school year.
“As a national after-school organization focused on meeting the multiple needs of at-risk youth, we must value and utilize youth voice and choice to make our programs as effective as possible,” explained Aaron Dworkin, president of the ASAS National Network. “These inspiring students know better than all adults what programs need to do to be most effective. Caring adults and government officials who work on youth and education issues are eager to hear from them directly. It’s our privilege to make these connections and experiences possible.”