By Rachael Shaw-Rosenbaum, a rising senior at West Anchorage High School
Standing on a brightly-lit stage, quaking in one’s boots while making desperate appeals for an audience’s laughter is about as far removed from the daily office duties at most internships as you can get. Nevertheless, my experience at camp this summer has turned out to be far more relevant to my work than I could have predicted.
In the afterschool field, there are those who directly run programs that serve youth, and intermediaries--such as the Alaska Afterschool Network--who work to connect programs and advocate for them on the local, state, and national levels. As an employee of an organization that primarily focuses on advocacy, it is easy to feel disconnected from the day-to-day realities and joys of afterschool.
However, this summer, I’ve been lucky enough to see both sides of the equation. Attending Sitka Fine Arts Camp (SFAC) while employed at the Alaska Afterschool Network as an intern has put me in a unique situation when it comes to advocating for the expansion of afterschool and summer opportunities for children across Alaska.
As a repeat camper at SFAC for the past five years, I know how deep-rooted the traditions, ideas, and bonds forged in afterschool and summer programs can be. Through camp, I’ve gotten to know people from across Alaska and the world, exercise my creativity in collaboration with diverse groups of fellow students, and have experiences that I couldn’t have had anywhere else.
Just last week in Sitka, I was unexpectedly thrust into my first attempt at improvised stand-up comedy during an “art share,” a casual nightly event in which students and faculty take to the stage to showcase their creative expression. Standing in front of hundreds of people in my oversized sweatshirt and Xtratuffs with my hair still sopping after a lightning-speed shower at the tail-end of dinner and telling everyone an embarrassing story about myself would normally be a complete no-no for me. But in the open, supportive atmosphere of SFAC, I found the impulsive courage to raise my hand high, stand under the spotlight, and make a memory that will stick with me forever.
There are hundreds of programs across the state that are to some child or young adult what SFAC is to me. Every single one of these afterschool and summer programs is more than just a name—they are living, breathing, growing communities that provide safe, stable environments for youth to learn about themselves, others, and the world around them.
However, they are often not perceived that way. Afterschool programs are frequently seen as an afterthought--something good for kids but not necessary--, and on this basis, tend to be some of the first things kicked to the curb when funding issues arise. Working at the Alaska Afterschool Network in combination with my previous experiences with afterschool has unequivocally proven to me that this is completely false. Investing in afterschool not only creates safe spaces for youth and families on a daily basis, but also promotes positive long-term outcomes for children, families, and entire communities. Afterschool programs are so much more than “glorified daycares”; they build our workforce, alleviate the effects of poverty, protect against childhood risk factors, provide outlets for youths’ intellect and creativity, and so much more.
Afterschool makes for happier Alaskans and a stronger Alaska. How has afterschool affected you?
To learn more about Sitka Fine Arts Camp, visit their website here.