HALTOM CITY -- Nicole Tanner, 10, says she loves staying after school.
It's not punishment.
Once classes are finished at O.H. Stowe Elementary, Nicole and her friends can sign up to spend the afternoon creating artwork, learning guitar and playing soccer as part of an after-school academic enrichment program.
And Nicole's talent for drawing and painting won her first place in a nationwide poster contest held to publicize the 12th annual Lights on Afterschool celebration highlighting programs for children and families.
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Nicole's design will be printed on 70,000 posters and put up at campuses and recreation and youth centers. About 7,500 programs nationwide plan activities Oct. 20 to showcase after-school activities.
Nicole won a trip on American Airlines to Washington, D.C., and has been invited to an Oct. 2 kickoff rally at the National Mall. But her parents might postpone the trip so the whole family can visit the nation's capital, said Tracy Tanner, Nicole's mother.
Tuesday is the first day of activities for Birdville schools' After School Program Inspiring and Reinforcing Education, which is being offered at twice as many campuses this year, said Angie Bicknell, ASPIRE director.
Birdville has received about $20.8 million to serve 20 campuses for five years through a federal grant administered by the Texas Education Agency. Last year, the district served about 6,000 students at 10 campuses, Bicknell said.
After-school programs serve as a safe place for children while their parents are at work and provide activities that many families can't afford or don't have access to, said Jodi Grant, executive director of the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit that sponsors Lights on Afterschool.
"Today's after-school programs are much more than child care," Grant said. "Yes, we keep children safe, but our quality programs are about engaged learning. They are active in a way that is fun."
In Birdville, students can take martial arts lessons, join gardening clubs, and learn dance and photography. Last year, students at Major Cheney Elementary at South Birdville created a short film. So many children at David E. Smith Elementary were interested in yo-yo lessons that teachers created an advanced class, Bicknell said.
Parents can take evening classes in subjects including English as a second language, fitness and child development.
Nicole's poster highlights some of the students' favorite activities. She drew a long-haired child and, at the end of each strand, a symbol for an activity, including a basketball, camera, computer and book.
"What I loved about it was the way her hair is structured with all of the different things available in after-school. It's almost showing the brain doing all these things," Grant said. "To me, it showed a child's mind being opened to all sorts of possibilities."
Jessamy Brown, 817-390-7326