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U.S. Senator Patty Murray's Staff Experience Quality Afterschool Firsthand

by Stephanie Lennon |

Students who feel inspired to pursue their passions and dream big is who we had the pleasure of spending time with at a recent site visit at Meeker Middle School’s 21st Century Community Learning Center program in the Kent School District. On May 19th, Nataly Morales from U.S. Senator Patty Murray’s office visited the program, which is run by Afterschool All Stars and partner organizations including Kent Parks and Recreation. Joining Nataly were SOWA’s Policy and Advocacy Coordinator Stephanie Lennon and Youth Development Executives of King County’s Policy Manager Rene Murry.

Combining academics and experiential opportunities, the Afterschool All Stars program believes in creating a fun, safe environment for students to gain academic and social emotional skills, while engaging in hands-on opportunities that don’t look like their school day. The range of options for students to choose from is broad – Top Chef cooking classes, DJ and photography classes taught by professionals, knitting (including a spinning wheel!), and STEM programming that incorporates everything from yoga to hands-on experiments. During our visit, led by a student named Malia, Senator Murray’s staff was able to see these programs and ask questions of the students and program staff.

The highlight of the visit was a question and answer session with a group of students who inquired with us visitors about a range of topics.  They were curious to learn more about the day to day of working to advance  public policy and support programs like theirs, what educational and career paths we took to get there, and why it’s important to go to college and graduate from school. Students shared their own career goals, including hopes of becoming a voice actor, an astrophysicist, a motivational speaker, and a NFL player. When asked why they choose to stay at school for an extra two hours each day, students shared many common reasons, including a reprieve from sibling arguments and negative home situations, staying out of trouble, the opportunity to spend time with friends and take fun classes, go on field trips (including visits to community gardens and the Museum of Pop Culture – MoPop), and to advance their school work.

SOWA and YDEKC’s policy team and the 21st CCLC program staff were able to share the critical importance of expanded learning programs like this one with Sen. Murray’s office.  We shared the key message that this program and many others like it have a huge impact not only on academics, health, and school attendance, but on preparing young people for future careers.  We also discussed the implications of potential elimination of 21st CCLC program funding not only for the youth who attend, but also for working families.  While we saw an increase in funding in the 2017 federal budget which came as a great relief to expanded learning advocates here in Washington and across the country, we know an uphill battle lies ahead to continue advocating for this critical funding in 2018.

A huge thank you to the students and staff at Meeker Middle school for such an engaging visit, and to Nataly from Senator Murray’s Office for taking the time to take a deep dive into the world of 21st Century programming. At the end of the visit Nataly commented that “those students are everything – they each have such bright futures ahead of them; futures —rest assured—Senator Murray will continue fighting for.”





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