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WA After-School Poetry Program Creates "Confident Young People"

Tacoma's after-school program Write 253 helps students prepare for the team slam poetry competition Louder Than a Bomb. (Johnny Schuler)
Tacoma's after-school program Write 253 helps students prepare for the team slam poetry competition Louder Than a Bomb. (Johnny Schuler)
October 24, 2019

TACOMA, Wash. – It's Lights On Afterschool Day, a celebration of the expanded learning opportunities available to children after the final school bell.

In Washington state, more than 180,000 kids are in after-school programs, but they're outnumbered by the number of kids who are alone or unsupervised, at more than 215,000, according to the " target="parent">Afterschool Alliance. Another 330,000 are waiting for a program.

One group serving Pierce County youths after school is Write 253, which has a number of programs including Louder Than a Bomb, which prepares teens for a team slam poetry festival in March.

"Programs like ours help create confident young people," said Michael Haeflinger, Write 253's executive director. "A lot of times, the kids that we work with maybe feel a bit on the margins, and so, by offering them a stage and a crowd, it helps them to become more confident."

Haeflinger said the program is creating a community of young poets in Tacoma.

Seventy percent of Washington parents say after-school programs reduce the likelihood that kids will engage in risky behavior.

Kathy Oehrling, who runs YMCA child care at Spokane's Farwell Elementary School, said kids likely would be unsupervised without this program. Oehrling, who provides learning opportunities for kids and also helps with homework, said parents are thrilled this exists.

"They're very pleased that we have them," she said, "because it gives them a place to be and to make friends and to be a part of something."

Haeflinger said Write 253 works to strike a balance between educating kids and supporting artistic expression.

"It's kind of a fun, engaging, enriching time for them to be creative," he said, "but then also, we're sneaking some poetic terms in there or we're working on explication or we're working on interpretation, and those are things that are going to help support them when they come back to school the next day."

Data from Afterschool Alliance is online at, and more on Write253 is at

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA