Wichita, Kansas — More than one million Americans will be coming together today on October 20 for the annual Lights On Afterschool nationwide event that recognizes the importance of afterschool programs in the lives of children, families and communities. In Wichita, we have 135,000 reasons why our community should join in the celebration.
Each reason represents one 11- to 13-year-old life steered in a positive direction through our local Middle School After School program that turns 30 this school year. A partnership between Wichita Public Schools and the Greater Wichita YMCA, Middle School After School is a resource for families. It also makes our neighborhoods safer.
“Lights On Afterschool has a great history, but Wichita has an even longer one. We’ve been keeping the lights on for 30 years with the primary goal of providing a safe place for kids,” said Mim McKenzie, Chief Operating Officer at the Y. “The first few hours after school lets out are a prime time for youth to make negative choices. The availability of Middle School After School programming from the end-of-day school bell to 5 p.m. gives sixth, seventh and eighth graders a place where they can feel secure and understood.”
The YMCA Middle School After School program is currently offered at no charge to families at Brooks, Coleman, Curtis, Gordon Parks, Hadley, Hamilton, Horace Mann, Jardine, Robinson and Truesdell; St. Patrick Catholic school also participates. At each site, students receive support from caring adults, tutoring, engaging projects, a nutritional “super snack,” physical activity and relationship-building with peers.
For youth in recent times, the program has also helped them overcome inequities they face at home, such as lack of food, electricity and wifi services; some attend so they can be a kid for just a few more hours before they have to go home and fill an adult role.
“We are thankful for our partnership with the YMCA and their after-school program, which provides our students with unique opportunities such as field trips, clubs, tutoring and activities," said Amanda Kingrey, Wichita Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Schools.
The program’s roots go back to the late Bobbie Harris, Wichita Public Schools’ physical education department, and the late Bill Himebaugh, City of Wichita Parks & Recreation department. In 1997, former Y President and CEO Dennis Schoenebeck, who retired in 2016, worked with both groups so that the Y could step in for the city as a partner and continue to expand Middle School After School with the school district.
Hamilton Middle School was one of the first Middle School After School sites; Lavonta Williams, former District I Wichita City Council member and Hamilton physical education teacher, served as its site coordinator.
“I truly believe we created better adults through the Middle School After School program, and I still have former students who were in the program come up to me today and ask if I remember them – which I do,” Williams said. “If we had not intervened in some of their lives, I have no idea where they would have ended up. We were doing the right thing 30 years ago, and it’s still the right thing to do today.”
Statistics back up the assertion that Middle School After School gives students what they need to stay out of trouble and feel good about themselves.
A 2019 national Fight Crime: Invest in Kids report found that the rise of afterschool programs across the country corresponds to a 70 percent drop in juvenile crime.
An independent evaluation of the impact of the YMCA Middle School After School program by Wichita State University’s Public Policy and Management Center in 2019 revealed a marked decline in absenteeism (40 percent) and disciplinary incidents (54 percent) among participating students vs. nonparticipating students.
Parents who are interested in enrolling their children in Middle School After School can inquire at their children’s middle school office and at ymcawichita.org/msas.
ABOUT THE GREATER WICHITA YMCA
Since 1885, The Greater Wichita YMCA has been volunteer-led and mission driven and consistently empowered healthy lifestyles, strong families, and positive youth development for all in South Central Kansas. Today, we employ more than 1,400 individuals and serve well over 300,000 of our neighbors in Butler, Harvey, Kingman, Reno and Sedgwick Counties. We support a healthy spirit, mind, and body through community development, education and wellness initiatives, youth and family programs, licensed child care and camp, and physical activity. Our more than 190,000 members and the entire community have access to over one million square feet of fitness space across our 10 area branch locations in El Dorado, Newton, Hutchinson and Wichita as well as four seasonal, outdoor water parks, two indoor/outdoor sports complexes and Camp Hyde. Our annual Strong Community Campaign, which funds our free and reduced-cost programs and enables scholarships, grants and income-based member and program pricing for those who qualify, allows us to honor our commitment to serve all, regardless of their ability to pay. Learn more at ymcawichita.org.