It's clear that as different communities prep for schools to eventually reopen, plans will vary greatly based on individual needs and as CDC guidelines are changed and updated. In addition to pondering WHEN schools might reopen, many afterschool professionals are wondering about HOW.
During the conversation, Melendez offered some insight on how some options might look like for his specific district, including alternating days in which students attend school in person to reduce capacity.
"The county government and the school system, at the beginning of our shutdown, brought together community based partners and created a team called the Community Providers Coordination Team," said Melendez, noting there's one team specifically dedicated to youth programing and the out-of-school time field. "The county and school system understand that we can't provide the only answers and we're not the only ones who could provide programming, so we do reach out to our nonprofits and create work groups from that to see what it is that we can address now."
It's important, Melendez says, for these conversations to start happening now and not later down the line in September. Warner followed up that message by adding that people should not get discouraged during the process and that being flexible is key as plans change. Melendez stressed that things are changing quickly and that what works in one location might not work elsewhere.
"We're nowhere near business as usual, how you adapt those programs should be at the forefront of your thinking," said Melendez. "Start looking at the options and where you can play into them. Understand there's going to be limitations on how many participants can be a in a room, limitations if you do go virtual. Thinking of all those potential barriers from the onset can help your program."
On a positive note, Melendez says he's liked seeing how the current situation has brought more people—who wouldn't necessarily be collaborating normally—together.
"There's not one group that has the answer," said Melendez. "We really have to depend on each other to see what works and what doesn't, and what can be provided for our kids. Because at the end of the day, that's what it is. We all understand that most of our kids have been out of any structured environment since the beginning of March, and the more we wait to see what the schools decide before we as service providers chime in, we do a disservice to them."
Melendez touched on some of the possible different scenarios that are being considered for Fairfax County, including not having all students coming back to school at the same time; virtual programming, and more.
"We're in such uncharted territory, all options should be on the table to think of what partners and what buildings we could use that don't traditionally have out-of-school time programming," said Melendez. "It would help the schools and parents, but at the end of the day, it's helping our young people who need to be connected to something else other than sitting at home."
What could people be doing now to build relationships to have a seat at the table and advocate for out-of-school time programs? Warner and Melendez agree that school principals want to service their students, but that can only be done with a plan.
"Don't be afraid to ask," said Warner. "The schools want to give that support and find solutions. We need to come to them with our ideas, with our requests. 'I can make this happen if you can do that.' You're right that nothing is off the table."
"Definitely present your program as a service to their population," said Melendez, noting though schools may be territorial in some ways, it's important to stress how your services will benefit them. "We're servicing the same students who come through their door. We can be an extension of the school day. The schools understand they don't have all the answers, so showing you can be an asset to the school—I can't imagine, especially during this time, a principal turning that away."
Melendez adds that relying on your community based partners is integral, as they may be able to reach more people you may not be able to on your own and have built trust with the community. Initial steps for reopening—in addition to the ongoing professional development and trauma informed care mental health trainings for staff—includes training and outreach, followed by assessing virtual programming.
"Parents are now likely understand just how important out-of-school time programs are," said Melendez. "It's not just babysitting, but it's the development of our youth and it's a great opportunity for us to leverage that and show schools, community and participants that we're needed."
Now more than ever, it's clear: This is an opportunity to be creative and flexible.
For assistance in scenario planning, see the Future of After School Scenario Planning Resource.
Courtesy of NAA.