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On-Site Staff / Opinion / Partnerships and Building Relationships / Program Design, Development, and Quality / Staff Leadership and Management

Afterschool = Great Opportunity

As I pack my bags to head off to another location to go train, I reflect on how I arrived in the afterschool field. It has been more than 10 years now and I have loved every minute of it. Even though I focus more on adult learning, as I train afterschool providers, I still have several opportunities to conduct site visits and interact with youth. I am amazed every day at the dedication of afterschool professionals, and wanted to share a few reflections of my own at this time.

What is compelling about the afterschool field?

In one word – dedication! Afterschool is not perceived as a glamorous field, although I would argue it has a lot of glamorous moments.

Our field doesn’t have a list of people lining up to work late in the evening for even less than what a school day teacher makes. Funding for afterschool programs is almost always on the chopping block and while the field has solid research to demonstrate effectiveness, it still hasn’t become a staple of society. Yet, many people have made this field their life mission and they serve this field with unbridled passion.

I have observed many program directors arrive on campus before school starts and then I have seen many leave long after the actual afterschool program has ended. These same program directors work throughout the summer and many find ways to keep their programs open on holidays. Their dedication goes beyond serving the youth in the program. It reaches into the community, providing support that wasn’t there before. This dedication is a constant reminder to me of the good that people have, and that this world can be a better place. This is what is so compelling about the afterschool field.

What impact do I hope to have on the afterschool field, and how can I make this happen?

Football! Just the word brings images to your mind. Have you ever considered the history of football? I am by no means a football scholar or even an advocate, but living in Texas I have found that football is a part of everyday life. Yet, if you look into the history of football, particularly for youth, you will find that it has only been around for about 100 years. That is amazing to me. In 100 years, football has gone from a small league that a factory owner in Philadelphia started to stop youth vandals to a staple in America. Imagine proposing to your school board the elimination of football to pay for an innovative afterschool program. Well, any program for that fact. It wouldn’t happen, and that’s ok! I am not sharing this to be negative about football. Instead, I am using the amazing sustainable history of football to share the type of impact that I desire to have on the afterschool field.

I desire to help the afterschool field grow into the staple that football has become over time. There are many things that I must do to make this happen, but the two that I focus on the most are professionalizing the field and sharing the afterschool story. As a trainer, I spend almost all of my time benchmarking best practices and bringing those practices back to the afterschool leadership and staff that I serve. Once they implement the best practice and have some success to share, I then share their story far and wide to anyone who will listen. I specifically target those who have influence as well as closing the loop with community stakeholders. I believe if I am successful in professionalizing the field and in sharing amazing afterschool wins, I will help transform afterschool into a staple of society similar to football. Naïve? Well, we shall see.

What do I consider the most critical issues facing the field right now?

Misperception is the most critical issue facing afterschool right now. Afterschool has a childcare issue. According to the messaging targets that the Afterschool Alliance has created, afterschool….

1.     Keeps Kids Safe

2.     Inspires Learning

3.     Helps Working Families

Two of the three messages are based in childcare, but one message is solidly stationed in the education arena. Legislators and others sometimes wonder why we should fund a “childcare” program when there are specific funding streams for childcare. When we point to the education message, legislators ask for proof. That proof requires investment in research and it requires sustained programs. Both are happening, but not fast enough. This is a dilemma that we must tackle today so that afterschool can continue for tomorrow.

What is the most pressing question that I have about my work or the field in general? Why?

Is it enough? I constantly reflect upon the work that I do and ask if I am doing enough. It doesn’t bother me that this is my most pressing question. Instead, it sustains me. I think when I stop asking myself if I am doing enough is the day that I should leave the field and try something different. I don’t foresee that ever happening.

As we move towards the 20th anniversary of Lights On Afterschool, I challenge every one of us to ask the questions I have asked here and see what your answers are. Together, we can push the envelope and really demonstrate how Afterschool equals Great Opportunity.

Thanks for letting me share my thoughts.

Today for breakfast, I had a healthy omelet with sausage and low-sugar orange juice.

Author: @shawnpetty

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1 Comment

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    Shawn, thanks for your insight and skills! Love this blog!

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