Jamal West, 11, nearly fell out of his chair raising his hand in Hanan Maarouf’s after school class Thursday.
The students were brainstorming reasons why after school programs, like the 21st Century Learners program the Sinclair students participate in, are important.
Jamal, a fifth-grader at Sinclair Elementary School in Manassas, waved his hand, trying to get Maarouf’s attention.
“They help you with a subject you don’t know very well,” Jamal said, when he was called on.
Thursday, the Sinclair students were participating in Lights on After School, a nationwide rally in support of after-school activities, organized by the Afterschool Alliance.
The students wrote letters to President George W. Bush explaining why after-school activities are important and why Bush should support them.
“I like after school because you get to do your homework and you get help,” Jamal said. “The teachers or one of the helpers can help you learn and do way better.”
“[After-school programs] get us, educate us and help us get ahead,” 10-year-old Carlos Merida said.
About 85 students attend Sinclair’s after-school program and about 80 attend before school, said Maarouf, a fifth-grade teacher at Sinclair.
During the program students split their time between a “homework club” and “specials.” Students can choose between “specials” in music, computer graphics and physical education.
Sinclair’s program is funded by a 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, that in turn, is funded through the federal No Child Left Behind Act and is the only federally funded after-school program.
According to the Afterschool Alliance, more than 7,500 after-school programs in the United States participated in the Lights on After School rally.
Statistics compiled by the Alliance, which advocates for more support and funding for after school programs, about 27 percent of students in Virginia are unsupervised in the hours immediately after school. Only 9 percent of Virginia’s children participate in after-school activities and 29 percent of those who don’t would if more programs were available, the Afterschool Alliance says.
At Sinclair, the students express their support for their after school program more simply.
When asked why he likes staying after school, fifth grader David Torres shrugged.
“It’s fun,” he said.