Professional Development

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Building Back Better and Broader—Together

The field is seeing and hearing a lot about school reopening plans—from full reopening to staggered schedules, to all e-learning, or hybrid arrangements.

Whatever the plan, many families will also need child care. Sadly, we're not seeing child care or families' comprehensive needs during e-learning hours or out-of-school time child care addressed or even mentioned in most plans.

Recently, NAA was invited to be a panelist for the Partners in Learning and Care: A Back-to-School and Out-of-School Time Child Care Forum, hosted by Child Care Aware of America. NAA was joined on the panel by representatives from the YMCA of the USA, the National Association of Elementary School Principals, National CACFP Sponsors Association, and the National Center for Afterschool and Summer Enrichment.

Following are a few panel questions and answers from Heidi Ham, NAA's VP of Programs and Strategy, to provide some insight regarding what she touched on as a panelist.

Q: How can we ensure that moving forward, child care and families have a stronger voice in these conversations so their comprehensive needs for learning and care are met?

A: An analysis of state school reopening plans from Johns Hopkins University shows 44 of 53 plans include before and afterschool programs to varying degrees. In some states, it is merely mentioned, saying child care should be considered—or in some states, child care is recommended and districts will work with organizations and agencies to ensure child care options are provided. What can we do to be included?

First, build relationships and speak up and voice your needs to school leaders, community leaders, and public officials so they are always included in important related planning conversations. Stress collaboration is a way to work together to the mutual purpose of what's best for kids, families and communities. In addition, we always encourage providers to think creatively—while remaining mission-aligned—and bring solutions to the table. NAA has resources to support these efforts, which can be found online.

We know inequities exist. Yes, they have been made more visible and exacerbated by COVID-19, but they have existed for hundreds of years, systematically ingrained. Finally, there are longer-term needs that can only most efficiently and equitably be met through inclusive comprehensive learning and development systems.

We know the science of learning and development (SoLD) has implications across all settings and systems where youth live, learn, and play. This research should be used to drive systems that impact young people and communities everywhere. When communities have a comprehensive, well-coordinated approach to learning and development that's inclusive of these settings and the adults and kids that are part of them, there is already a mechanism in place that can be activated to respond to unplanned events.

Let's build back better and broader together. It's the only way to ensure we don't exacerbate inequities that existed before COVID-19.

Q: The pandemic has been an opportunity to spotlight the creativity of afterschool and school-age child care providers in meeting the needs of children and families. At the same time, many are continuing to experience trauma. What social-emotional supports are needed or being provided? What are you hearing?

A: Supports for youth and adults are necessary, starting at the base of Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Youth rely on afterschool and summer programs and schools for relationships with caring adults and social-emotional supports and, many times, for food. This has not changed, but the access to these services has changed and we are expecting there will be an increase in the type of social-emotional supports needed. We need policies and funding that ensure youth still have access to these services and more.

The adults who work with youth need to be taken care of so that they can provide what young people need. We need to first provide for their safety—personal security, employment, resources, and health. As always, we need to be working to ensure policies and practices, from lawmakers and employers, that ensure good wages, benefits—including health insurance and paid time off—and gratitude. This was broken before and the pandemic has exposed it ever further.

For those working with youth virtually, they need funding and access to the internet, technology, training on trauma-informed practices, virtual facilitation of relationship-building and learning, and more.

For those working in-person with youth, they need funding and access to personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies and support, paid training on COVID-19 safety, trauma-informed practices, and relationship-building and cooperative learning while physical distancing, and more.

Q: In general, what innovative services are school-age child care programs offering to support youth and families during COVID-19?

A: Afterschool professionals and school-age child care providers have always been flexible, working tirelessly to meet the needs and demands of young people, families and schools. This has not changed during the pandemic. Programs have pivoted to in-person meal service sites, essential child care services and some have transitioned to virtual programming.

Where there is support from policymakers, funders, the school district, and community leaders through additional funding, flexibility, or collaborative thinking, there has been innovation.

Rule flexibility with 21st Century funding has allowed programs to continue services and PD virtually. Rule flexibility and waivers from USDA food programs have given opportunities for meal pickup and delivery services, subsidy and licensing rule flexibility, and school or community facility usage. Additional funding from the CARES Act, PPA Loans, and CCRRs, has kept professionals employed and the doors open for essential workers.

For school or out-of-school time to be innovative or even to provide basic solutions, we need funding and time. It's unrealistic to continue to talk about what needs to happen without providing the time and resources that support the how to make it happen.

To actualize the needed services for kids and families—the what—we need policies and systems, along with funding, in place to facilitate innovation and implementation—the how.

Listen to the full forum to learn more from national leaders about what their organizations are hearing and doing related to afterschool programs and school-age child care as we approach the 2020 – 2021 school year.

Courtesy of NAA.

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.