Today I had an interesting experience that started my thinking process about afterschool programs and our relationship to the schools we often share space with. In my practice with school age children, I have experienced a wide variety of relationships with different schools. I have worked in programs where we picked up the children from school and bused them to our program. I have worked for school districts and practiced in programs that rented space from different schools. While practicing in these different environments I had one goal, how can the school and our program create an environment that affords the best experience for the children and families and builds the learning community.
Depending on the school our work is seen a different way. Often through the actions of the school toward us it feels like two different groups work with the children. There are the real educators at school and then the afterschool program, the babysitters, who play checkers and make toilet paper tube animals to keep children entertained while their parents are at work. I have tried over the years to make our practice meaningful and to invite children to create their own work, to cultivate interests that children enjoy with friends, or with the educators. We strive to create a place where children are valued, are seen as competent and are encouraged to try new experiences. We have the similar goals, as formal education the process is just different, in a good way. The main goal is we want the best for children we want them happy and secure and to enjoy their time afterschool at the end of their workday.
Back to today, I had a child who needed some help. The school had an opportunity to assist us and make this child feel valued and supported. When I inquired with the school staff they told me that the child was now with us afterschool and it was our role to help the child. We could have collaborated and help could have easily been offered to the child, but because of perceived rules or the fact they really believe we are separate in our care and concern for children they declined to help.
Most of the schools I have worked with are great. Many administrators and teachers want to partner and communicate with the afterschool educators and assist us in anyway to be successful but there are exceptions. In certain districts, I hear about or experience schools that do not support the afterschool program. Whenever the opportunity exists, these schools remind us of how they feel about our partnership with their actions toward the program and the afterschool educators who are working hard to offer children opportunities for growth and happiness.
Schools could choose collaborate with us more often, learn together and build community. In afterschool we offer opportunity, a place where the learning that happens during the school day is applied to meaningful projects that the children create. We are the place that supports families and the schools we are in. We have pride in the school we are in and want all of the children to be successful and cared for.
We want to be part of the school community that is why afterschool educators often donate their time to school events. What afterschool educators really want is for our relationship to be a two way street in all schools. We want all afterschool educators to be valued and have the opportunity to work together with the school for the benefit of the children. The possibilities are endless in how the school community and the afterschool community can come together, but we need the schools to meet us half way.