United Ways of Tennessee (UWTN), the association of 38 United Ways in the state, and the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY), gathered at the state capitol Thursday with partners to launch and celebrate the Tennessee Afterschool Network. October 23rd was chosen for the announcement because Governor Bill Haslam joined the Afterschool Alliance in naming it Lights On Afterschool Day in Tennessee.
"The Tennessee Afterschool Network will bring together a diverse group of stakeholders, including policymakers, educators, parents, business leaders, afterschool service providers, and other nonprofits, to advocate for and support afterschool programs," said Mary Graham, president of UWTN.
"Research shows that students participating in high-quality afterschool programs have better school attendance, grades and standard test performance compared to students who do not participate in afterschool programs. They also have less misconduct and lower rates of drug and alcohol use," said Graham.
The Network is made possible through a grant to UWTN by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, with matching dollars from UWTN and the United Ways of Bradley County, Elizabethton, Greater Chattanooga, Greater Knoxville, Mid-South, Rutherford and Cannon Counties, West Tennessee, and Williamson County.
The Governor's proclamation recognizes the state's afterschool programs' role in enhancing learning and keeping children safe and less likely to engage in risky behavior. In his proclamation, the Governor said afterschool programs "build stronger communities by involving our students, parents, business leaders and adult volunteers in the lives of our young people, thereby promoting positive relationships among children, youth, families and adults."
The proclamation was requested by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY), a Steering Committee Member for the new state afterschool network. "It marks the 15th annual national Lights On Afterschool Day," said Linda O'Neal, executive director of TCCY. "Afterschool programs across the state are participating in the national event organized by the Afterschool Alliance. More than two dozen events are planned in Tennessee, including open houses, student art projects and performances, and festivals," said O'Neal.
Mike Herrmann, Executive Director of State Operations in Tennessee's Education Department, is attending and speaking at the Tennessee Afterschool Network's launch event. "Lights On Afterschool draws attention to the many ways afterschool programs support students by offering them opportunities to learn new things, such as science, community service, robotics, Tae Kwon Do and poetry. The events send a powerful message that more children need quality afterschool programs," said Herrmann.
Nearly 300,000 Tennessee K-12 students - almost enough to fill the University of Tennessee's Neyland Stadium three times - are responsible for taking care of themselves after school. "While only one of every eight Tennessee students participates in an afterschool program, many more likely would if programs were available. I look forward to seeing the tremendous impact United Way and all the Tennessee Afterschool Network partnering organizations are going to have on our children and youth," said Hermann.