On March 8–a day off from school–17 teenagers gathered on the marble staircase inside the John A. Wilson Building to prepare for a hands-on lesson in advocacy. Young people who participate in Global Kids DC’s afterschool program heard from Global Kids Director Wida Amir and DC Action Policy Analyst Ryllie Danylko. The lesson was how the DC Out-of-School-Time (OST) Coalition works with members of the DC Council to push for funding and legislation to make opportunities like the one they have at Global Kids available to everyone. An equally important teaching was that the DC Council members are elected officials who answer to DC residents–including young people.
The day’s advocacy agenda included educating legislators about the need for: a $10 million boost to out-of-school-time funding, an increase in grant sizes for small nonprofits from $25,000 to $75,000, passage of legislation to ensure students with special needs can access OST programs, and an OST Roundtable at the Council to publicly discuss issues facing the sector and create accountability in DC government. Councilmembers Charles Allen, Christina Henderson, Brianne Nadeau, Zachary Parker, Robert White, and members of Chairman Phil Mendelson and Councilmember Matt Frumin’s staff met with the advocates.
Councilmember Parker agreed that increased funding for OST programs was necessary, and that money is only part of the solution. “The technical solution is more money for more programs,” he said. “The adaptive fix is figuring out how we make sure we’re meeting the needs of young people, especially our most vulnerable students.” Zachary Parker. Parent advocate Andrea Jones said she supports more funding for the OST sector so organizations can hire additional staff to meet the varied needs of young people who require additional support.
Representatives from coalition member organizations Advocates for Justice in Education, Children’s Legacy Theatre, Common Good City Farm, DC SCORES, DC Tutoring and Mentoring Initiative, Jubilee Housing, Kid Power DC, PAVE, Sitar Arts Center, and the Washington Urban Debate League joined the meetings with council members. One advocate from the Washington Urban Debate League was high school senior Liv Birnstad, who has been debating through the organization since her freshman year, and now coaches debate through WUDL at a District middle school. Birnstad was recently named National Debater of the Year.
“Debate is a life-changing activity,” Birnstad remarked. “I have an anxiety disorder but debate has helped me overcome that. It’s also such a great tool for students who have struggled with literacy. Debate has given me access to scholarships and my role as a student member of the State Board of Education. It’s helped me improve my ability to speak to adults and write essays.”
OST programs promote a wide range of skills, from academic success to empathy and understanding. “At Global Kids we learn about new topics, and what’s going on in other parts of the world,” explained one participant to a council staffer. “That helped me understand that everyone has different viewpoints and gives us the space to say how we feel about different ideas without being judged. We’re reminded that DC isn’t the only place in the world, and we don’t have the only problems.”
“Academics are an important part of OST programs,” explained KidPower DC Executive Director Andria Tobin. “But what keeps young people coming back are the relationships and social emotional aspects. We go deeper to make sure young people have tools to navigate the complex world we live in.”
Simply providing young people with a safe, welcoming space to be after school can be life saving, especially given recent concern about crime in the District and the numbers of youth involved in it. “OST programs fill some of that extra time,” explained Common Good City Farm Youth Program Director Emily Richardson. “We offer opportunities and space for kids to grow, to develop interests in activities they want to pursue, and to become better rounded adults.”
“We need safe places and activities so young people aren’t engaging in risky behavior. No one in our organization has a family that hasn’t directly experienced violence. Our kids are traumatized,” emphasized Children’s Legacy Theatre Executive Director Jackie Carter.
Councilmember Allen noted his sustained support for the OST sector, adding that funding for OST is included the programs he championed in his previous role as Chair of the Judiciary Committee. “We’ve put a lot of money into programs like Building Blocks and expanding victim services and justice grants to help individuals impacted by violence.”
All members of the council listened carefully to youth advocates and their adult counterparts, and welcomed additional input on pending legislation and continued communication about the needs of the OST sector. The young people from Global Kids appreciated the chance to make their voices heard. Now that they know they’re welcome at the Wilson Building, they plan to come back.