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Front Line Staff / Opinion / Partnerships and Building Relationships / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

3 Great Opportunities to Blast off the New School Year

new school year

It’s that time again! All across the country, youth are getting ready to embrace the new school year and after-school programs are transitioning from summer learning to fall programming.

I have found that a new school year is like a blank journal just waiting for an author’s special touch. It is an opportunity to expand upon an existing story, transform the direction of the story, or create something totally new. I wanted to share three thoughts to consider as you begin the new school year:

1. What’s Your End Goal?

Have you considered what you want to accomplish this year?

When summer rolls back around and you look back at the school year, what do you want people to absolutely know about your program? Perhaps, you are focused on providing a safe haven for youth. The world may be full of darkness, but your program is the lighthouse for helping youth overcome their fears and barriers. Maybe, you want a program that provides learning in skills that may not be a priority during the school day.

A complimentary program that focuses on Social Emotional Learning. Possibly, your program is focused on academic achievement. You might act as the lab to the school day, working with teachers to align programming with what is being taught during traditional classes. In this scenario, the school day provides the “book learning” and you provide the “hands-on” aspect.

No one but you can really say what the right end goal is for your particular program & community, but taking a moment to think about your direction is like checking your GPS to make sure you are still on the right path. Sounds simple, but do we all really do it?

2 . Are You Engaging Families?

The last thing I wanted to do when I finished school was go back…for anything! I mean, school was ok, but it was over and I was done with it. Now that I work in after school, I am in schools all the time and I can’t help but wonder what our families think. Sure, they are quick to come to an event where a child is performing or being recognized. Especially if that event has food! Yet, are they really engaged with the program and more importantly are they really engaged with their kids? This might be a different feeling for community centers, but the core concept is the same. Engaged families help create amazing programs.

new school year

Many of the family members in the programs I work with are swamped with work or personal obligations. Sometimes it is difficult to get a moment of their time, which is why every moment is critical. Take a moment to evaluate how your program engages families, realizing that family units are very different. Maybe you create a welcoming environment by having a staffed parent information table (student ambassadors are great for this concept). How do you communicate with families – flyers, text, social media, etc…? Perhaps you escort kids to pick up just to say ‘hi’ to the family member or ride the bus with the kids and say ‘hi’ to families when the kids depart.

Take a moment to share how you engage families in the comments to this post. There are so many ideas out there, the point is to just do it!

3. Do You Share Your Success?

After-school / Out-of-School-Time Programs have been around for some time but aren’t always well-known. It never fails in my travels that when I tell people I work in after-school, they respond by saying “huh?” It is a good opportunity for me to share more about our industry, but I would love one day to tell someone that I work in after-school and they respond by sharing wonderful praise about their community’s after-school program. This awareness is something that must be cultivated and grown. We are doing amazing things in our field and yet we sometimes only share our success with others in our field. We need to be sharing the success of our programs with everyone.

Have you considered sending regular updates to your local government officials?

Do you have a regular piece in the local spotlight of your news channels? How many times do you share with your local school board the amazing stories of youth in your program? Your work with youth is incredible and people need to know – so share!

pen new school year

We really do live in remarkable and sometimes challenging times. While many in the world are trapped in dark despair, our industry is working to make a better future. In this short post, I shared only three thoughts but if you read the BOOST Breakfast Club Blog you will find a multitude of thoughts and great ideas. In addition, you can add your own comments to the blog (or become a blogger yourself). I look forward to this new school year and can’t wait to hear all the miraculous things that your program will accomplish. Until then…

Oh, I started writing this post during my breakfast which was a Coke Zero and a Breakfast Taco (gotta love Texas!). 

Author Profile: @shawnpetty

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