Durham celebrates afterschool programs

By Taylor Rankin

SeeSaw Studio students Muhammad Karim (left) and Kyle Rhoden concentrate on drawing skateboard designs. (Staff photo by Taylor Rankin)

UNC Staff Writer
the Durham Voice

Fourteen-year-old Muhammad Karim spends his Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons artistically.  He leaves Northern High School, where he’s a freshman, and heads to SeeSaw Studio, a free afterschool program that teaches design and entrepreneurial skills to creative teens from all over Durham.

“Right now I’m working on a skateboard idea, just a quick design,” Karim said.

SeeSaw Studio is just one of Durham’s many non-profit afterschool programs and one of thousands across the country.

On Thursday, Oct. 20, SeeSaw Studio will join many of these programs for the 12th annual Lights On Afterschool event.  The celebration hopes to gain visibility for afterschool programs, find new partners, develop relationships with elected officials and attract support for supervised afterschool activities across the nation.

Lights On Afterschool is a project of the Afterschool Alliance, an organization dedicated to ensuring that all children have access to affordable and quality afterschool programs, according to the project’s website.

The 2011 Lights On Afterschool poster was designed by Nicole Tanner of Haltom City, Texas. Tanner participates in the Birdville Independent School District ASPIRE afterschool programs.

SeeSaw Studio Director Michelle Gonzales-Green, 43, was an integral part in bringing Lights On Afterschool to Durham.  She was recently selected as one of  20 Afterschool Alliance ambassadors nationwide — and the only ambassador in North Carolina.  The honor, which was announced Oct. 7, 2011, recognizes Gonzales-Green as a leader in the afterschool education movement and charges her with the responsibility of a year-long commitment organize public events promoting awareness, communicate directly with elected officials and build support in the area, said Jodi Grant, Afterschool Alliance executive director,  in a press release.

Gonzales-Green’s first task as ambassador was organizing a Lights On Afterschool event in Durham.  Her own program, SeeSaw Studio, will hold an event Oct. 21, exhibiting the students’ work and “advocating for afterschool” in downtown Durham.  She also hopes to arrange for Durham’s SunTrust building to light up yellow on Thursday to support the cause.

Gonzales-Green knows first-hand the importance of afterschool supervision.  She raised her oldest child while she was a single, working mother.

“Having a place for kids to go to after school, of any age, is vital to their growth and also to the growth of our economy,” Gonzales-Green says.

She cites statistics given to her by Afterschool Alliance that suggest that on school days, the hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. are the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol and sex.  Gonzales-Green also says that gang initiations similarly occur after school lets out and before parents get home from work.

If kids had supervised and safe learning environments on a regular basis after school, young adults would grow into more productive members of society, says Gonzales-Green.

Unfortunately, she says, people don’t know what kinds of afterschool opportunities are available to them.  On top of that, politicians are threatening to cut funding to some afterschool programs across the country due to budget restraints.

Gonzales-Green hopes to right those two wrongs by making this year’s Lights On Afterschool the most successful to date.

Last year, more than 7,500 afterschool programs and 1 million people nationwide celebrated Lights On Afterschool.  Every governor in the nation recognized the day.