MONTPELIER, Vt. (WFFF) — On Friday, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and Sen. Bernie Sanders teamed up to shine a spotlight on “Lights on Afterschool” day. Since 2000, the annual occasion has focused on celebrating afterschool programs and the vital role they play for kids, families, and communities.
That occasion also brought some big announcements for the future of afterschool and summer programs in Vermont, as Scott announced a long-term plan aimed at boosting their affordability and availability. “I signed an executive order calling for the creation of the Vermont Inter-Agency Afterschool Youth Task Force,” he said. “Our hope is that this will be part of a multi-year effort to move us toward true universal afterschool for all kids that looks to the future with input from our youth.”
The task force will look to build on the progress made earlier this year courtesy of federal funding secured by Sanders in the American Rescue Plan. The “Summer Matters” grant program helped over 12,000 Vermont kids get involved that otherwise may have missed out.
“A couple hundred years ago, when I was mayor of Burlington, one of the first things we did was bring parents together to ask what they think we should be doing for the kids.” Sanders quipped. “Afterschool programs—childcare programs. It was true then, and it’s true today: if we want our kids to be happy, healthy, well-educated, go out into the world and be productive—that’s what we have to do for them.”
Research shows that afterschool programs help attend school more consistently, get better grades, and dramatically increase their chances to graduate. More than 80% of Vermont parents say afterschool programs help them keep their jobs and their peace of mind.
And Vermont Afterschool Executive Director Holly Morehouse said despite the progress that’s been made, the work is far from over. “One in four Vermont youth who want to participate in a summer program do not yet have access,” Morehouse said. “Young people want and need what we all want and need: opportunities to connect, to belong, hang out with friends, learn new things, engage with the community, and have their voices heard.”
Nobody knows the importance of these programs more than the students themselves, who found new potential in their futures they might not have explored otherwise. “Taking part in these new activities will introduce students to their passion, and perhaps even a career path,” said one South Burlington student.
“I like how they took something like STEM, something I and other kids wouldn’t find fun, and switched it around and made it fun,” another student said. “I would love for them to continue to do these classes in the future so I and other kids can have these experiences and benefit from them.”