In 30 towns and cities around Washington today, people are celebrating "Lights On Afterschool." The annual event calls attention to the need for high-quality programs and activities for students outside the traditional school day.
The Lynnwood-based Edlab Group makes grants to programs in 36 states that focus on technology and science for girls through its National Girls Collaborative Project. Vicky Raya, a diversity program manager for Edlab, says women still are under-represented in science careers - and the hours after school are a great time to get them interested.
"In these after-school programs, there's more freedom to bring in inspiring, hands-on materials that really elicit engagement and relevancy of these subjects for students - which is really what creates those critical thinkers that we need, for the research of the future."
Other countries are turning out a lot more scientists than is the United States, Raya says, and that research shows that students are more likely to become interested in science or technology when they experience it hands-on, more as a hobby than a school requirement.
Nationally, the Afterschool Alliance says 62 percent of after-school programs report their funding is down from three years ago.
Raya is also a national Afterschool Ambassador who speaks to civic and school groups and lawmakers about the importance of keeping these programs strong.
"They're vital to students, they're vital to working families. They help students get inspired in learning and they keep them safe, as well as helping families who are working and need a place to have their children stay engaged in the learning process."
A national survey says more than 15 million students are home alone after school, and that their parents would consider enrolling them in after-school activities if they were available in their area.
An EdLab event will be held from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. today at South Shore School, 4800 S. Henderson St., Seattle, cosponsored by School's Out Washington, Kids Co., and the King County Youth Development Network.