NEW PORT RICHEY — At a tented booth in Sims Park last Thursday, Anthony Teel shook out his shoulders, bent his body slightly, and aimed his pumpkin bowling ball at a cluster of bottles weighted with a glittery liquid. He knocked the majority of them over and got to choose a prize from the prize bin.
Anthony, 10, was one of hundreds of children and family members who attended this year’s second annual “Lights on After-school” celebration at the downtown New Port Richey park. The festivities were one of 9,000 such events across the nation emphasizing the importance of keeping the lights on and the doors open for after-school programs.
Nationally, the event started in 2000 and is sponsored every year by the After-school Alliance. Speakers at the rallies celebrate the benefits of after-school programs and encourage lawmakers to support after-school funding.
The two-hour New Port Richey event included children and employees from all 36 of Pasco County’s before and after-school childcare centers in the Pasco Learning & Activity Centers of Enrichment, known as the “PLACE” program, which serves nearly 5,000 children a day in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“After-school programs provide academic enrichment activities, help children with their social skills through organized sports and activities, and give time to play outdoors, run around and exercise,” said Mary Grey, the supervisor of child care educational programs for PLACE.
The program supports working families by giving their children a safe, productive environment after class lets out for the day. PLACE has been providing after-school programming in Pasco County schools since 1990, Grey said.
A ring of tents circled the park’s amphitheater, each school providing a free game or activity for kids. The pumpkin bowling at Calusa Elementary School was one of dozens, which included crafts, photo-opps with fun backgrounds, cupcake and cookie decorating, limbo and more. Refreshments were also sold to support local high school clubs and local organizations.
A children’s parade preceded the program, which included speakers from the Pasco County School District, Pasco Sheriff’s Office Youth Services Department and Florida After-school Alliance. The River Ridge High School Air Force JROTC did the presentation of colors and children from various PLACE programs led the Pledge of Allegiance and sang the National Anthem.
“We practiced, practiced, practiced and they picked our video,” said Taylor Alfano, a third-grader in the Connerton PLACE program. Taylor and friends Kai Lewis, Brianna Gosman and Ashlen DiCicco had to submit a video to the school district to be considered to sing the anthem live.
School Board member Joanne Hurley was one of the honored guests who gave short speeches during the program. She emphasized how proud the district was of its PLACE programs, which are self-funded through tuition for each student and uses no educational funds from the county.
“PLACE provides safe, challenging, engaging and fun after-school experiences,” Hurley said to the crowd of children and parents seated in front of the stage.
For more information about the Pasco PLACE program, visit ww.pasco.k12.fl.us/place/.