Where Policy Meets Practice: 5 Beautiful Things in Healthy Afterschool
Imagine what would happen if we empowered the 10.2 million children in afterschool to create healthy thriving communities. Beautiful things are happening afterschool, but it takes advocates in the field to sustain the healthy afterschool movement.
By Daniel W. Hatcher, Director, Community Partnerships
Imagine what would happen if we empowered the 10.2 million children in afterschool to create healthy thriving communities. Afterschool professionals are some of the most enthusiastic, creative and passionate people you will ever meet, but they cannot achieve the dream of healthy communities alone. Government officials, healthcare providers, school leadership, caregivers and business owners are essential.
Beautiful things are happening in afterschool, but it takes advocates in the field to foster the level of collaboration that will sustain the healthy afterschool movement.
Here are five beautiful facts, each with a call to action for you to consider.
1. Parents Want Healthy Afterschool
Stories from parents and caregivers are gold. The good news is that the Afterschool Alliance reports 8 in 10 parents want physical activity opportunities and 7 in 10 want healthy meals, snacks or beverages for their children in afterschool. From e-news to social media or an old-fashioned construction paper bulletin board, help spread the word that quality afterschool is healthy afterschool.
2. Healthy Afterschool Is True Movement
Born from the Healthy Out-of-School Time Coalition in 2009, the glue of healthy afterschool is a set of national standards and best practices for healthy eating and physical activity, adopted by the National AfterSchool Association in 2011. Today, the three largest afterschool providers in the country, the YMCA of the USA, the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and the National Recreation and Park Association are all implementing public commitments to disseminate the standards to thousands of afterschool sites across the country. Together, we are working hard at the national level to sync our efforts, but local advocates like you must actively encourage youth serving organizations to partner.
3. Policy and Practice Are Working Together
As thousands of afterschool sites and recreation agencies implement the National AfterSchool Association Standards, a few states are exploring policy approaches to support healthy afterschool practices. Here are a few milestones:
- California was the first state to pass legislation (bill approved in September 2014) establishing a voluntary Distinguished After School Health Recognition Program.
- In 2015, the Afterschool Alliance in collaboration with Voices for Healthy Kids convened a consortium focused on increasing children’s physical activity and nutritious food consumption in early childhood and in out-of-school time settings. Policies advanced by the consortium are in alignment with the national standards.
- In 2016, North Carolina was the second state to pass legislation (authorized July 2016) establishing a voluntary Healthy Out of School Time Recognition Program. The program launched in April of 2017. Sites applying for recognition will join thousands of other programs from across the country in utilizing the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s online assessment and training center.
As we work collectively to ensure healthy afterschool is quality afterschool, we must remain focused on ensuring policy approaches move in alignment with implementation efforts. The great news is that states like North Carolina are setting the trend for consistency and streamlined technical assistance. As an advocate in the field, it is essential that you lift up local stories to inform the broader movement to prevent duplication of efforts.
4. Healthy Afterschool Is Building Its Research Base
Members of the healthy afterschool movement are feverishly working to evaluate implementation efforts, milestones include a special edition of New Directions for Youth Development in 2014 and Using State Laws & Regulations to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity in Afterschool Programs in 2016. The healthy afterschool movement is beautiful because it is a symbiotic relationship between local practitioners and national capacity builders. The more research we have, the stronger our technical assistance but the heart of the movement are local stories. Be informed and share your story.
5. There is a Role for Everyone
As the movement grows, advocates in the field are needed more than ever to ensure smaller afterschool providers are engaged and that the field remains cohesive and vibrant. We know that for every child in a program, two are waiting to get in. Building a unified movement has the potential to build support for existing programs and bring additional funding to a field hungry for training and capacity support. Beautiful opportunities exist to blend content and relevant trends, from physical activity that fosters social and emotional health to nutrition enrichment that supports environmental stewardship. If you’re doing something innovative, the healthy afterschool movement wants to learn from you.
We’re committed to ensuring everyone has a seat at the table and once you’re there, your voice is truly heard.
*Photo credits, Alliance for a Healthier Generation