In a celebration of local after-school programs, a large section of the Avanti’s Dome in Pekin was converted into a combination playground and learning center.

The Tazewell County Health Department sponsored its 16th annual Lights On after-school Rally Thursday afternoon. Over 300 students from 18 schools who are enrolled in after-school programs were invited to celebrate their achievements. The event is also aimed at drawing attention to the need for more after-school programs to serve the millions of children nationwide who are unsupervised and at risk each weekday afternoon.

“We provide after-school services for 22 school buildings throughout the county,” said Tazewell County Health Department Communications Manager Sara Sparkman. “We see approximately 800 students a week and we have enrolled about 1,600 students. They come in and have their snack, then we help them with their homework. They also get some physical activity and life skills lessons. So, there are a lot of different components to our after-school programs.”

Children arriving for the event received their after-school snacks as they would have after a normal school day. There does not appear to have been any designated homework time at Lights On, but book tables promoted independent learning. Physical activity was offered in the form of adventure carts, bounce houses, inflatable slides and a variety of games. Safety presentations from the Pekin Police Department and pet care demonstrations provided life skills lessons and M&K Parties offered periodic rides on a child’s train. 

“This (Lights On) is awesome,” stated Matthew Timke, 9, of Pekin. “I like everything about it. My favorite thing so far has been the slide, but I’m really looking forward to going into the Warp Speed Arena.”

The event ended like any other after-school activity: with parents and guardians arriving to take the students home. Kim Duda of Pekin, who was picking up her granddaughter Taylor Pemberton, proved an enthusiastic proponent of both the Lights On event and after-school programs in general.

“The programs are very important,” she said. “My daughter isn’t able to go get Taylor from school and daycare would cost way too much. They do a lot of fun activities, they make sure the kids get their homework done. Until I can pick her up, Taylor’s with trained people, I know where she is all the time and they take good care of her.”