Flashing lights. A red carpet. Paparazzi. A DJ playing Nicki Minaj. Sound like a Hollywood party? Nope. Here, the people aren't celebrating a movie release, or winning an Oscar; they're celebrating something arguably much more important – after-school programs.

With budget cuts and the loss of enrichment programs such as music and the arts, after school can be an important time to offer kids the opportunity to experience things they might not otherwise have a chance to. Not only are after-school programs fun and educational, they also can help to keep students safe and engaged in making healthy choices.

Last Thursday, as one of 9,000 national events celebrating "Lights on Afterschool 2012," a collaborative of Buffalo after-school participants and providers celebrated at the Buffalo Museum of Science. The event included the red-carpet premiere of "Connected," a documentary made by students about why they love their time spent in after-school programs. A year in the making, Buffalo's Lights on Afterschool celebrated everyone involved in local after-school programs.

Although the programs are often seen as one of the most important parts of a child's education, they don't always seem to get the attention they deserve. Since statistics have shown that most juvenile crime takes place between the hours of 3 and 6 p.m., after-school care and attention has become necessary to help kids avoid the perils of risky behavior like drugs and violence.

"If I didn't have after school when I was in school, I'd probably be out on the streets," said Coantrelle Hornsby, a freshman at Erie Community College.

"Most parents get off work at 5 p.m., and most kids get out of school at 2 p.m., so that leaves a lot of time for nonproductive activities," said Nekia Kemp, the after-school program director for Concerned Ecumenical Ministry on Lafayette Avenue.

Kemp, the co-chairwoman for this year's Lights On event, is a product of the African-American Cultural Center's after-school program.

Not only do after-school programs provide an incentive to avoid making bad decisions, but kids use after-school programs as a chance to do homework and catch up on other schoolwork and credits, as well as learning valuable social skills.

As Buffalo School Board at-large member Barbara Seals Nevergold said, "Learning doesn't end when the school bell rings at the end of the day."

The kids aren't just there because they have to be – they also enjoy it. So much, in fact, that they made a documentary about it.

"Connected" is filled with kids detailing why they love after school – be it photography, cooking, the counselors, or just having something to do. A number of students involved in area after-school programs have never had an opportunity to experience many of these kinds of enrichment activities, according to Kemp. Some kids have never even played or picked up a musical instrument.

For teens, after-school programs often provide assistance with college admissions, applying for jobs and learning life skills such as public speaking.

Hornsby has put the public speaking skills he learned in an after-school program to good use – he spoke to the audience before the documentary premiered, encouraging kids to dream big, work hard and never stop trying to achieve their goals.

All the kids in the documentary had wonderful things to say about after-school programs – especially what a positive influence they have had on them.

Fatima Nor, a sophomore at Hutchinson-Central Technical High School, said that "after-school programs helped me realize my true leadership potential."

For students new to the experience, it may take some getting used to – one student recalled that she was anxious and scared in the beginning. Then she brought a friend along, started to become more outgoing and is now friends with almost everyone in the program.

All of the students interviewed said they couldn't imagine life without an after-school program.

Najma Farah, a student a Health Sciences Charter School, said, "We're like one big family."

And when families can't be together after school, these programs can provide them with a way to help ensure their children's well-being.

Saki Salaam, whose kids are involved in an after-school program, said, "After school helps me and my kids a great deal – without it they'd probably just be home alone, watching television and goofing off."

Zachary Jabine is a freshman at City Honors.