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Opinion / Staff Leadership and Management

10 Tips to Include Expanded Learning in Program Planning

feet standing by sidewalk text reading Passion Led Us Here

This is a shout out to School and District Leaders, and everyone doing the work planning for a safe return to school in the Fall. The following list of 10 promising practices reflects what I have learned and experienced over the past 15+ years working in an ASES Expanded Learning Program, as we are classically known to be an afterthought.

Just as you School and District Leaders are, we, your local Expanded Learning Program, are proactively planning for a successful student-centered school year.

1 – Include us in the brainstorming, planning of operations, logistics, and training, including anything relative to COVID-19 and the reopening of schools. Why? Because we are on campus too! We’re often on campus when everyone else has left for the day and it becomes a ghost town. Often, we (along with the custodial staff) are all we have and it helps to be informed and aware. After all, we are serving the same students you have during the regular day. Access and support shouldn’t stop because the bell rings.

2 – Youth development is our jam and Social-Emotional Learning is our craft. Some of us have been doing this SEL thing for years… years before it became an educational buzzword. Give us an opportunity to be a respected part of the wheel or circle of learning for students. We shouldn’t be considered as only the after school program. We aren’t against anyone… we respect and value core academics, but imagine the impact we can make if we’re able to work together by braiding the work of both core day and expanded learning educators. The essence of leadership and true community building.

3 – Now, as a result of our craft… we have connected to our students and families in unique ways school staff have not. There’s nothing bad or wrong with that, we just simply have different relationships. The element of relationship-building has always been key in our work of heart and mind.

4 – As mentioned, we are serving the same students with the same ID numbers and the same diverse needs. Their needs don’t pause when the bell rings, and neither should resources and support. Keep us connected with mental health and wellness supports, it ultimately benefits OUR young people and families we’re working so hard to educate, develop, and support.

5 – Keep us in mind when making School Site Safety Plans. After all Safety is one of the elements in our CA grant name, ASES, and is one of our Quality Standards. As educators, we know that creating and maintaining Safe and Supportive environments help students thrive! Therefore, we MUST always be informed of site emergencies, lockdowns, or any other safety concerns. Adding us to a phone tree or email listserv can help with keeping us informed. Learning about a lockdown after the fact should never be acceptable.

6 – Be informed… our student daily rate equals the same as a Frappuccino from the local coffee shop, and not even a Venti size, no joke! But every day, despite our minimal and tight budget, we add our creative juices and facilitate magic! Why? Because our youth deserve it and we passionately advocate for them.

7 – I recently heard Expanded Learning described as similar to “Gumby,” because we are bendy and flexible and will always find a way to make it work. But a little help and support from you are never overrated. Supporting us with shared space is always appreciated and giving us enough notice to create a back-up plan because the space we use is no longer available, is like gold!

8 – Advocate for us, don’t alienate us. We need you and your inclusive leadership! Change starts at the top, and as leaders, you have the opportunity to set the example and baseline and model how other school staff should engage with us. Share your wisdom and constructive feedback with us, but please don’t talk down to or at us. Bridging the disconnect will not only have a positive impact on students but will also enhance positive school culture for all schools, programs, and community stakeholders. It’s a Win-Win!

9 – Learn our program name, the names of our team members, and the work we are so very passionate about. Engage in that growth mindset and stop making it okay to blame us for every bad thing that happens after school. Support us in evolving from being the school scapegoat to the school extension of learning and support. As a leader, model referring to our programs by our program name and as an Expanded Learning Program and not as “daycare” or “those after school people.” We are skilled, educated, and proud youth developers. By doing this you show us and the school community you value our work and expertise in child and youth development.

10 – Now let’s do this, our youth need us! We all have a lot of work to do!

#TeamWorkMakestheDreamWork #ExpandedLearningMatters

For breakfast I had chorizo, papas y cafe… in English, that’s chorizo and potatoes with eggs and coffee.

Author: @melissatovar1219

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