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The Next Generation of Afterschool Staff


When I started out in the afterschool field 30 + years ago I never envisioned this work as a career.

I had taken a position as the Outreach Director at a YMCA in New Jersey. One of the many items on my job description was operating the After School Kare (ASK) program at one school site. Fifteen years later when I left the Y the ASK program had grown to 32 sites in 7 school districts with 1600 children. Since that time I’ve worked as a state contract administrator, trainer, and evaluator for afterschool programs. But most surprising of all my son is now working in an afterschool program while he’s taking the LSATs and applying to law school.

Our dinner conversations have been very interesting as he tells me his perspective on working in a program like the ones he attended as a child. I have met other afterschool staff members who grew up in these programs and they bring a unique perspective to the movement.

As an evaluator I constantly review best practices based on research. The discussions with my son reflect the spirit of what research tell us about voice and choice, student engagement, and the importance of play. My son’s undergraduate degree isn’t in education so his interactions with students are based on his life experiences.

I’m sharing his perspective on afterschool based on our talks. You may find them insightful.

Moving from Participant to Staff:

As a former participant, what do you think are important elements of an afterschool program?

After a long day at school, kids need to have some down time to relax. They also need choice instead of being required to participate in activities. Obviously homework is important. Kids resent staff who have favorites so being fair and consistent is essential.

What is your approach to discipline?

Most of our kids are in 1st and 2nd grade so we don’t have many problems with discipline. I usually remind them of the rules or ask them “What do you think I’m going to say?” I know what the kids like to do so if there’s a recurring problem I’ll take away privileges for a day or two. Every once in awhile I use the “Dad” voice when they could hurt themselves or another child.

What do you think is different about afterschool today as compared to 15 years ago?

The extent to which the staff can physically play with kids has changed a lot. Staff have to be so careful about their interactions. I don’t play tag with the kids for this reason. Technology has changed, but our site only has access to one computer for homework assistance. Personally I think it’s a good thing for our kids because they have to play with each other.

What do you think is the same?

I am amazed at how many of the toys and games that I played with are still popular. The boys still love Legos and Pokémon cards and girls love to play school. Everybody plays Uno. I wish we could do cooking, it was my favorite afterschool activity in middle school.

What advice would you give to staff who have not worked in afterschool programs before?

Always get involved with the kids and play with them. Don’t just stand on the sidelines and watch. The staff that left the most impressions on me were the ones who were engaged.

We got a high powered blender for Christmas so for breakfast today I made a raspberry/blueberry smoothie with yogurt, cranberry juice and almond butter. Healthy and yummy!

Author Profile: @janesharp

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