August 22 , 2016

Why afterschool programs are helping me find joy in #BacktoSchool 

My daughter started second grade today.

I regret that I am approaching this first day of school with a sense of dread instead of a sense of celebration. Based on all the things that happened last year, I am just scared.  Last week, I wrote about the ways that I am working to bring the lessons of Go Girls! Camp - an experience my daughter absolutely loved - into this school year as I support my daughter at home.

But this week, I am worried again. When my daughter leaves school for day and returns to the comfort of our safe and cozy, Go Girls!-inspired home, that is one thing. But, what happens when she’s in school? What happens when she wakes up tired and grumpy and just plain sad and decides that she is going cry through the first hour of class? What happens when she is on the playground and she encounters the girls who have decided that they don’t like her and she follows them around even more? What happens when the next level of math feels too hard for her and, instead of asking for help or breaking down into bite-sized steps, she takes out her frustration on the kid next to her? My daughter’s limited social-emotional capacity diminishes her joy at school. The bad news is that this experience is not unique to my daughter. There are thousands of kids who are still learning the skills of...
  • Self-awareness;
  • Self-management;
  • Social awareness;
  • Relationship skills; and
  • Responsible decision making

...who are struggling in school as a result. These students, who may not have received the foundational learning in their early childhoods to set them up for success in these areas, are struggling with low grades, confidence in their abilities, behavior issues, and lacking that feeling of belonging that makes it possible for any of us to get up early and go to the same place day in and day out.

The good news is that there are a ton of smart people out there working very hard to help all students discover a sense of joy in their school lives and I am proud to call them my colleagues.
My 25 year career has been dedicated to working with youth in after-school and summer programs. For most of these years, this field, now known as “Expanded Learning”, has led the conversation in what quality social-emotional learning experiences look, sound, and feel like for children and youth of all ages. Researchers from this field have shown that young people thrive and ultimately succeed when they can consistently engage in learning opportunities that are;

  • Active - hands-on, project-based, engaging all the senses
  • Collaborative - working on tasks with a team to accomplish a common goal
  • Meaningful - relevant to their interests and experiences and enroll them as leaders and active participants
  • Support Mastery - allows them to take ownership of their own sense of growth and progress in complex skill building
  • Expand Horizons - exposes them to people, situations, issues, and ideas outside of their everyday experience

What the Expanded Learning field has done so well is to put this research into the hands of out-of-school time practitioners in ways that have actually helped to strengthen program quality and open up the conversation between after-school staff and school day faculty. According to a recent paper, Finding Common Ground: Connecting Social-Emotional Learning During and Beyond the School Day,:

“The Common Core State Standards represent ambitious and holistic goals for student learning, which California schools have committed to pursue. Embedded in the standards are strong expectations regarding “non-academic” skills that are important to student success. Simultaneously, school leaders in California face increased accountability for student engagement and school climate, along with critiques of previous student behavior and discipline policies.

Taken together, these changes are creating a new emphasis on social-emotional skills as a cornerstone of student success; an emphasis that is affecting what happens in classrooms during the regular school day, and in programs serving young people during out-of-school hours.”

Reading this makes me smile. It makes me smile because I can believe that, when I send my daughter off to school, I am not the only one looking out for her. It makes me smile because I know that I am not the only one who is sensitive to her social-emotional needs and recognizes how important it is to help her development in this realm.

I entered the field of Expanded Learning over two decades ago, way before I knew I would one day “grow up” to get married and build a family through adoption. Today, on this first day of school, I can smile knowing that I have dedicated my work to a field that is going to change the trajectory of my daughter’s educational experience. Even though I am still worried, that is something that I can celebrate.

Another thing I can celebrate is that, this fall, we are bringing the Go Girls! movement back to afterschool.

Get Go Girls! at Your School