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Front Line Staff / Program Design, Development, and Quality

Take Cover, and Be Prepared, Here Comes the Rain

student engagement

I had 30 minutes to kill this morning after eating my standard: oatmeal, fruit, and 2 eggs breakfast. While waiting for my 13 year old to get her lunch together, I decided to see if I could catch up with local news. (Side bar: Being that I am a busy mom, wife, and full-time professional, I’ve had to cut some non-essential activities out. Currently, I’m on a media fast, meaning I read and watch VERY little news. I actually find that I’m a much more peaceful person, but I digress. Back to the shocking headline I found as I opened up the front (web) page of our local newspaper, The Press Democrat.)

“Enjoy the dry, albeit chilly weather while it lasts because the storm door is expected to open wide next week, with wet, windy and potentially hazardous weather starting Monday.” (Press Democrat, 12/4/09)

EEEEEEEK! Are my after school line staff ready for rainy days in after school?

I have exactly 1 day to prep folks for the glory and bliss of holding students captive indoors from 3pm-6pm, after a full day of school, with the minimal chance of an outdoor recess. Fret not my dedicated youth workers! Mama Sheppard has a plan! (Side bar: I’ve served at all levels of after school, but just prior to my current position as the Program Manager of “whatever comes up”, I was a site director and earned the name Mama Sheppard. First, because I am totally a Mom to anyone more than 13 months younger than I. Secondly, because I shepherd folks in the direction of their own potential. And three, because I was working at Sheppard Accelerated Elementary School at the time. Endnote.)

Here’s the plan:

Wise Up! Please, please, please, be realistic in your expectations of what students can, or should be asked to do, after a day stuck indoors watching skilled contortionists (aka Highly Qualified Teachers) kill themselves implementing the next best thing for closing the achievement gap. It’s a little like going to the Cirque du Soleil; you’re exhausted just watching. So after a day of observing acrobatics from their seats, our sweet youth just may be itching to move their own bodies. So move the furniture, and keep the song “I like to move it, move it” playing in your own head (if not in the room). Because if you have ANY delusions of “Quiet Seatwork” in after school, you’d better get your hands on a bulk size Acetametaphin bottle from Costco, because you WILL go home with a headache. Be realistic, make space for movement = No headaches.

Bring it! Now is the time for pulling rabbits out of hats, fancy dance moves, and bringing the WOW factor. You have a captive audience, but don’t take it for granted. You MUST pull out all the stops, and bring lesson plans that Rock the casbah, rock the casbah! You know what I mean? We’ve all experienced that Dyn-O-Mite substitute teacher in school, the one that brought that reptile, or instrument, or game activity that was nothing like you’d ever experienced before? Those were brilliant substitutes. They understood the power of NEW and DIFFERENT to create a classroom atmosphere of anticipation, intrigue and 100% engagement? (We all know the value of student engagement …… if we don’t give them something they want to do, they’ll find something that they want to do. And heaven knows, I REALLY don’t want Hugo to choose his own activity, because it usually involves experimenting with devices not originally intended for insertion in your nose, ear or neighbor!) So, heed my advice, when you know that your students have been seat-bound most the day, you must BRING IT!

Collaborate, research and, oh heck, who are we kidding, Steal!

Last I checked, the phrase “Three Heads are Better Than One”, was still being overused by my dad’s generation. (Side note: He seems blissfully unaware of toxic pollution, and genetic engineering. Although, you’d think he’d be sensitive to this phrase, considering he remembers those crazy-voyer-pleasing-inhumane “man behind the curtain” experiences at the fair. Again, I digress.) Even though the phrase is out of date, I think it still has some merit when considering the challenges of our vocation. The one thing I learned early was that there IS a limit to my creativity when working alone. But no limit when I reach out to pick others’ brains, exchange ideas, synergize new and cool activities. (Side note: I’ll spare you the detail of how these collaborative efforts transpired in my early 20’s. Suffice it to say, half the games I learned, I couldn’t bring to school on Monday.) So, keep your eyes and ears open, make it a priority to never leave a conversation with a colleague without a new idea to try, and steal all of the tricks you can from teachers and others who are successful in keeping kids engaged.

Eat Healthy: Now, you’ll notice that my breakfast included a serving of whole grain, fresh fruit, and a protein. I highly recommend a diet that includes these items AND lots of fresh veggies. No flour, no sugar, nothing that is more than 2 steps from the earth. Your body was not meant for “pretend” food. So abstain and THRIVE! You’ll surely have energy AFTER 6pm if you fuel yourself with good food.

Resources: Here are some sites & resources for fun Rainy Day activities.

Family Education

Get Kids in Action

Until next time, Take Cover and Be Prepared!

Over and Out,
Mama Sheppard

Author: Annette Zucconi

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