Tuesday, January 26, 2021

VOICES FROM THE FIELD: Lessons and Take-Aways from 2020

By Sam Piha 

Between the COVID-19 pandemic, school closures, police shootings and the calls for racial justice, 2020 was a very difficult year. We asked people from the afterschool community to share any lessons or take-aways they've gained from this crazy year. Below are some of the responses we received. You can read all the response here.

Expanded Learning plays a vital role in the continuity of education during this time of pandemic, not only by providing staffing for a wide variety of educational configurations for distance learning, Expanded Learning is in a unique position to offering programming and learning experiences that not only address racial issues and equality, but gender issues and equality, marginalized groups and equality and Social Emotional Learning as whole. One take away is the need to identify more clearly the demographics that make up the Expanded Learning Field, who works in expanded Learning from a race perspective, gender perspective, cultural perspective, orientation perspective and so on.” -Director Expanded Learning, Los Angeles County, CA

Distance learning was good in that it showed us 1) How poorly many teachers support student learning and SEL development; 2) Online learning apps are not the panacea; 3) Educational bureaucracies get bogged down in regulations and labor rules. When this happens, resourced families and CBO's are able to overcome barriers to effectively serve students; 4) teacher-parent/caregiver communication has to improve even post-COVID.” -CEO Youth Service Non-profit, Alameda and Santa Clara County, CA

I think our organization has learned the important lesson of really listening to the community and developing plans that work for them! Flexibility and patience are key.” -Youth Worker, Harris County, TX

When the pandemic began, I was an Elementary School Assistant Principal. I was tasked with providing support to teachers as well as families in our at- home learning model that was not yet virtual. From the beginning our goal was to ensure student and family safety and well- being. What we all quickly learned is what we always knew, school is not just a building that students attend to learn curriculum. Our schools are the center of our communities and when they closed, we quickly rallied to ensure we did not miss a beat providing families with the support they needed to grow and nurture our students. During the pandemic, I was transitioned to a district level administrator working in Education Services as the Coordinator of Student Services. In this position I have several responsibilities that support the learning happening in schools but shifted my focus from curriculum and instruction, which had been my focus for my 15 year career, to supporting the social and emotional well- being of our students, families, teachers, and community. My role includes a focus on attendance, supporting the counseling departments, implementing professional learning with restorative practice, PBIS and focus SEL lessons, run the daily operations of the district community center and guide the work of the district and site nurses, the district social worker, and the community and site- based family liaisons. Through these interactions my takeaways are that in order to focus on teaching and learning the curriculum it is most important we meet the mental and physical well- being needs of not only our students, but our families and communities as a whole. My ability to be a strong instructional leader has only been strengthened by my understanding that stakeholder needs extend outside the classroom and the four walls of the school building.” -Coordinator of Student Services, Los Angeles County, CA

Have a fluid plan to help address new needs as they come. Work closely with partners to help meet the needs of the whole child and address needs specific to the community.” -Director of Programs, Los Angeles County, CA

Don't be afraid to try new ways of doing things and try and try again. Get ideas and reflections form the students you are serving. Don't under- estimate the tool that continued zoom meetings have on all participants. Take care to balance your time between work and home. Hold high expectations where necessary and let less important things go.” -Executive Director Youth Serving Non-Profit, CA

My take- away from 2020 would be thankful for my finances that saved me from having hard times. Be thankful for a job. My main take away is even though we marched for racial justice, until the cops who kill us black men are charged and sentenced, we still have a long way to go.” -EXLP Coordinator, Solano County, CA

The year taught us to put ourselves in a position where we must be more understanding, more flexible, and ready to expect and appreciate anything that comes our way. Working with kids has taught me that even they are having their own struggles, but they are willing to cooperate and put in the effort to be where they want to be. There are so many connections and differences we can make in their lives even if it is through a screen!” -After School Program Tutor, Fresno County, CA

Take-aways include needing to master better ways to have discussions about systemic racism and how to be anti-racist without stoking contentious anger...” -Youth Worker, Stanislaus, CA

I think the biggest take away for the year is to remember to appreciate what you have. Whether it's your family, your kids, your house, your job, friendships, relationships, love, nature, health, time... Appreciate it all. I know I've come to appreciate much more over this past year. Life goes too fast. Slow it down and enjoy it.”  -Program Coordinator, Fulton County, New York

Constantly adapt. Our staff members are outstanding. Love and connection are our strengths.” -Executive Director Youth Service Non-Profit, Mendocino County, CA

We are resilient; however, we need time to heal and mend. In 2017, we had the Oroville Dam crisis. In 2018, we had the Wall Fire. In 2018, we had the Camp Fire. In 2020, we had the North Complex Fire. Not to mention the COVID Pandemic. We are strong, dedicated and determined to serve our students and families with positivity and gratitude.” -Director of Expanded Learning, Butte County, CA

The lessons and take-aways for me, from 2020 are these: 1) put people first, focus on relationships; so many relationships have been fractured this year leaving people vulnerable and isolated. Our field excels at relationship-building we should be operating from our strengths and centering relationships, ensuring that staff have the necessary supports, tools and time to do so. 2) Funders can really make the difference between whether an organization not only survives but thrives in the coming year; they should focus on building and strengthening organizational capacity in a number of ways.” -President of Afterschool Training Organization, Philadelphia County, PA

We used to mistakenly think that success is the amount of time you put in at work. However, 2020 taught us that success is the quality of time we put in.” -Afterschool Coordinator, Solano County, CA

Relationships rule!” -Program Administrator, Alameda County, CA

Both personally and professionally, I've had two major takeaways from the year that was 2020. The first is that, as humans, connection with others is vital to our continued growth and development. The second lesson I learned is that we have to overcome the instinct to be fearful and engage in difficult and courageous conversations - with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, and leaders.” -Associate Executive Director/National Program Director, San Francisco Bay Area, CA

We have seen how many classrooms have tried to operate as they used to before the pandemic, employing the same curriculum but through distance learning. As afterschool programs, we cannot ignore the world around us. Our work is intricately tied to the issues, concerns, and ideas around us. We have to address and incorporate the current climate into our work with children. We cannot go on "business as usual," trying to hold on to old norms. We are skilled at adapting and meeting the needs, requirements, and new guidelines, coming from all directions, placed on us. We have been doing the work throughout the pandemic and have experience to share with those who'd care to listen.” -Assistant Afterschool Director, Contra Costa County, CA

The pandemic has laid bare that all our systems from education to healthcare to sustainability and every other system we live under are cracked at their foundations. Care for each other will be the starting point to reimagine new systems based on love and equity.” -Co-Director, National Afterschool Training Organization, USA

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