By David Johnson, Student Chair, together with the Student Executive Committee
I had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C for the Afterschool for All Challenge as the Student Chair of Net Literacy, an afterschool nonprofit where we have increased computer access to over 150,000 Americans. I’m proud that Net Literacy was established by middle school students and high students comprised 50% of our board of directors.
In addition to fellow other nonprofits, our delegation included David Klinkose (President of the Afterschool Coalition of Indianapolis) and Debbie Zipes (Executive Director of the Indiana Afterschool Alliance). Susan Rohwer from the National After School Alliance helped coordinate everything and made certain that our trip was productive by helping maximize the number of Congressional staffers that we visited.
This was my second time in Washington D.C. While I had been part of the Net Literacy team of students serving as the Youth Voice for America’s Promise’s Grad Nation Summit last year, this was no less thrilling. As a 15 year old sophomore that serves as Net Literacy’s Student Chair, I am learning why the past Net Literacy Student Chairs believed that it was important for nonprofit organizations to be engaged at both a local and national level.
While I thoroughly enjoyed meeting with outstanding youths that represented an extraordinary mix of afterschool activity programs from across our country and have read their blogs on this site, I want to focus my blog on what I believe was the most significant component of our trip for me – getting the word out to our Congressmen and Senators about how important funding afterschool programs are to the millions of students that participate in these programs, and the 13 million students that would participate if funding permitted new programs to be established or existing programs to be expanded.
I talked with staffers from Indiana’s Congressman Carson, Senator Bayh, and Senator Lugar. It was great to meet with them – they understand the importance of afterschool programs – in fact, both Senators and the Congressman are members of Net Literacy’s Honorary Board of Directors! But what I learned is that we have to talk to them about helping us youth more and ask them to talk to their colleagues about helping us youth more by increasing funding of afterschool programs. If there were two points that I emphasized to the staff that we met, it was that there is a desperate and immediate need for afterschool programs to receive additional funding, and that traditional academics during our school day would be made more impactful if afterschool type programs could be integrated into them to provide the theory that we learn more context and a real world applications. Simply said, afterschool programs help students succeed and increase our high school graduation rates. That’s good for us students, good for business, and good public policy for keeping our country competitive in this international and competitive global marketplace.
Representing Net Literacy, a student founded nonprofit that’s a member of the Afterschool Alliance, I was one of two students among ten speakers that had the opportunity to talk to the crowd of supporters at the rally in front of our nation’s capital. The Congressmen and Senators were more knowledgeable and spoke more eloquent than I, but I told my story and Net Literacy’s story about how an afterschool program can change students’ lives. The halls in schools throughout Indianapolis, like most other larger urban areas, are seemingly populated by the ghosts of students that dropped out because they didn’t have enough family or other support to continue in school. Some of these are my friends. So from my heart, I talked in a way that said not providing additional funding for afterschool programs not only costs America money in reduced competition, it costs American’s the ability to live rich and productive lives.
I’d also like to say that there are some extraordinary corporations that have an outstanding social conscious and give back to the communities where they serve. Bright House Networks, the organization that took a chance on a bunch of middle school students with big dreams when we asked them to help fund us so that we could increase computer access back in 2004, became our first funders. They believed in us and have supported every year since then. We would not be successful without the support of companies like Bright House Networks, and we’re proud that they’re long time supports of the National Afterschool Alliance. While other companies have generously supported us and other nonprofits that support afterschool programs, we believe that companies must have heart and soul and give of themselves to support afterschool programs. It’s not just about monetary funding, Bright House Networks has a leader that serves as a member of the 50% of our board that are adults.
We need more money for afterschool programs. As a 15 year old, I see how those high school students those are able to take advantage of and participate in afterschool activities are impacted and the cost for those that are unable to participate because there just isn’t enough money to help all of the students that need the help. What’s frustrating is that by not finding additional millions of dollars to fund afterschool alliance programs now, our society will pay billions for those students that are incarcerated or never attain their full potential because they were unable to participate in afterschool activities.
This was an extraordinary learning opportunity. I was the only teen that for the Indiana delegation, and the adults suggested that I be make the introductions and make my comments first. While I didn’t have the global appreciation that other members of the Indiana delegation have, I’ve seen firsthand how student without options, such as afterschool programs, fail at school, and know that many will later go on to fail in life.
Attending the After School Challenge helped put things into context for me. The first thing that was done after my return was to make certain that the rest of Net Literacy’s Executive Student Board was aware of the results of our trip. In accordance with the way things work at Net Literacy, our Student Executive Board contributed to this blog and we collectively wrote it. It’s the wiki-management way that Net Literacy’s student volunteers work together. The second thing that we did is to more fully complete all of the programs that we offer on the Indiana Afterschool Network’s website – as high school and college students, we didn’t fully appreciate how the Afterschool Alliance is impacting us. But it’s not enough for organizations – especially student empowered organizations – not to be social activists, agents of change, and part of the solution. We can’t ask organizations like the Afterschool Alliance to bare all of the responsibilities of lobbying for us. Local nonprofits have to become cognizant and engaged in the awareness campaign ourselves.
Net Literacy is about student engagement and student empowerment – so we brainstormed how we could make a difference to support Afterschool programs beyond the scope of Net Literacy. Our Executive Student Board decided to submit a grant to America’s Promise that will provide a website of “best after school activity practices” that students (educators, and nonprofits) can suggest to make our daily academics more like an afterschool activity.
David Johnson and the Net Literacy Student Executive Board