We're asking many questions, while not having many answers; planning and attending virtual meetings, while not sure how we will navigate this upcoming school year for our scholars and families. Rightfully so, we are deeply concerned about the academic and social-emotional needs of those we advocate for and serve.
Many of us find ourselves working crazy hours, continually trying to find a quiet, child-proof and animal-proof space in our homes, while frequently staying up late, trying to figure out what to do with our children in our home amid COVID-19.
One thing is for sure: None of us knew this pandemic was going to happen. Nevertheless, there is something else I'm just as confident about, and that is our chance to take our afterschool programs to the next innovative level.
This is a chance to step into our role as an Agent of Hope. If each of us decided to be an Agent of Hope, our scholars, families and program's culture would be better once we get through this historical time. Agents of Hope do not just accept the current environment; we set the tone of the environment. We evaluate the current situation and dig deeper to focus on solutions that will inspire and transform.
Agents of Hope are conduits of inspirational new ideas. They are risk-takers and collaborators. Here are four things Agents of Hope can do as we seek to serve as afterschool leaders this school year.
1. PRACTICE SELF-CARE.
We all know the saying, "You cannot pour from an empty cup." This familiar self-care quote is used a lot in professional development training and is a great reminder. However, it's not always easy keeping our cup full. Practicing self-care is one of the most paramount gestures Agents of Hope need to do right now. The more fulfilled we are, the more we can give back to others. The more we take small breaks from our new standard of virtual calls, emails, and text messages, the more effective our meetings and connections with humans will be. Here are some options:
- Pick up an old favorite hobby, whether it's drawing, pottery, knitting, writing, or playing an instrument.
- Take 5 to 10 minutes to breathe and "do nothing." Mindfulness is the best!
- Take a brisk, brief walk to get your blood flowing.
- Take a dancing or singing break! Be free.
- Start a gratitude jar. I began doing this in January 2020 and go back periodically and read all of my moments of thanks and victories.
- Find an inspirational daily quote. Repeat it throughout the day whenever you need an extra boost of hope.
2. PROVIDE INSPIRATION.
It's much easier to provide hope for staff, scholars, and families if our cup is nearly full, full, or even overflowing. Folks are looking at us to provide glimpses of hope amid many uncertainties. This is a time for Agents of Hope to reflect and reevaluate our "why." Why am I doing what I am doing, and does it meet the needs of those I am serving? Is it time for me to shift my approach? How can I use my "why" during the pandemic to make a real difference in the lives of staff, scholars and families? This is the time to reignite our "why" so we get fired up to keep going and provide inspiration and empowerment to others within our programs. Agents of Hope are leaders, digging deep so they can inspire others.
3. PRACTICE FLEXIBILITY.
We must all be ready to shift at a moment's notice. The reality is: None of us have experienced a time when school districts have had to decide if they will conduct classes in person or virtually due to a pandemic. While we are preparing our programs, practicing self-care and trying to stay inspired, we have to remain flexible. Our best efforts may not work and may require changes. Programs planning to meet in person at the beginning of the year also need to be coming up with a thorough plan if programs have to shift to meet remotely. Parents' needs and requests may change during this time, and school districts' regulations for afterschool programming may also shift throughout the year. In all of this, Agents of Hope must stay flexible. Using a track athlete reference: We must stretch daily. Stretching our minds, expectations, and ideas will keep us flexible and more prepared for the hurdles ahead.
4. PROVIDE SUPPORT.
Our staff, scholars, and families need our support during this very trying and unpredictable time. This is the time for automatic check-ins, sending encouraging notes, mailing small care packages, asking the best ways to offer support, connecting new staff with a seasoned staff member, creating an Adopt-a-Family program with volunteers, establishing monthly drive-by visits at the site, and offering monthly parent support events—all supportive ways to help during this school year. We must be vigilant and intentional.
Agents of Hope, the time is now. We have the opportunity to shift with the times and make huge strides into the future role of afterschool programming.
Written by: Dormetria Robinson Thompson is the Out of School Time Director at Omega Community Development Corporation and an NAA Executive member. She is in the final stages of publishing her first children's book. To learn more visit www.omega-cdc.org/ or www.drtinspires.com.
Photo courtesy of Dormetria Thompson.