This week is National Afterschool Association (NAA)’s Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week! This week is a chance to thank the people who make an incredible range of afterschool activities possible for children and families across the United States. With two parents who worked full-time, I attended after-school activities throughout my childhood. I had the opportunity to explore my many interests, extend my learning beyond the classroom, and forge long-lasting friendships with my peers. My experience in afterschool programs was invaluable, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
However, not all children are provided equal access to these experiences. Historically, children with disabilities have been excluded from the opportunities that afterschool programs afford. Their families have been told, “We just don’t have the resources or the knowledge to be able to support your child. Sorry, but no.” They have been told the funding is not there, the staff is ill-prepared, the leaders do not know all that they would need to know. Children with disabilities are continuously marginalized, pushed to the edges of our society and told they do not have a place here.
KIT was founded as a training program to assist after-school programs in training their staff and developing budgets that respect the unique needs of all of their kids and do not need to exclude anyone. The reality is that it is a legal responsibility to serve these children. But beyond that, it is also morally and ethically right. It is our obligation, as providers and role models, to set the standard for inclusion early on and to do it right when it matters most—when our kids are watching.
KIT began in 1997 by offering training, technical and leadership support to local after-school programs, parks and recreation, YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs, museums, and similar organizations and companies. The original staff of two people worked tirelessly to spread the word of inclusion. Since its beginning, KIT has grown to serve 229 sites in 30 U.S. states and eight countries. Training is provided on-site or through webinars and the online learning center modules. Though KIT’s headquarters remain in San Diego, where it all began, it has opened a second office in Washington, DC to ensure full support of programs on the East Coast as well. KIT has developed contracts with the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Defense to train teachers across America and on U.S. military bases around the world, to ensure that all students receive fair and equitable access to programming. Torrie, our CEO, has captivated audiences and shared her inclusion story across the country, including events such as TedX and SXSWedu.
There are a reported 6.4 million children and youth ages (3-21 years) who receive Special Education services (US DOE, 2012-2013). While they represent 13 % of all students, there are tens of thousands of other children and youth who live with learning disabilities, social emotional and behavioral challenges, chronic health issues, and other challenges that affect their day-to- day lives.
The future is brighter each and every day for these young people as their lives are enriched with quality Out-of School (OST) programs. As we continue on this journey from exclusion to inclusion, join us. At KIT, we dream of a truly inclusive society—authentic inclusion, where children’s differences are honored and caring communities are the norm. Join us in the sea of voices, commanded by KIT, striving for the best for all children. Eventually, the equal access for which NAA strives and advocates, will truly have been reached.
— Written by Elise, KIT Blog Editor
Kids Included Together (KIT) is a non-profit located in San Diego, CA and Washington, DC. We help make the world a more inclusive place by providing live and online training to people who work with kids. We teach strategies, accommodations and best practices to include kids with and without disabilities in before & after school programs. Inclusive environments create stronger communities. Learn more about our work at www.KITonline.org.