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Professional Development

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‘We Are the Ones That We’ve Been Waiting For.’

The National AfterSchool Association's immediate past chair of the board of directors, Tracey Lay, along with current chair Tommy Brewer II, recently joined Gina Warner, President & CEO, NAA, to discuss the ups and downs, crises, pivots, and transitions, that have recently transformed the field of afterschool.

During the conversation, they examined where we've landed, where we're going and what elements will be critical to the future.

"I really have always felt it's really critical that people realize that this is a profession," said Lay, stressing there's a lot of opportunity in the afterschool field. "I've been around long enough to see how much the profession has changed. I've always felt fortunate that we can bring everybody together and we can all learn from each other. We've come a long way and we continue to grow, and NAA is a sort of a catalyst to help us all."

Warner, thanking Lay, said that all the work and efforts of those in the field are meeting the moment right now, offering an understanding to many people the value of what afterschool professionals and leaders do. Warner also asked Brewer about his hopes and visions for his two-year term.

"I can't ignore that my leadership in this particular position comes amidst a global pandemic and we're negotiating racial justice, social justice and our society. What keeps coming into my mind is that these are all opportunities around society's call for us to expand," said Brewer. "As I'm looking at my term and our opportunity as an association, I'm really present with this question around 'how do we leverage this disruptive moment?'"

Brewer says it's easy to become very pessimistic because there's a lot of things that look and feel ugly in society right now.

"My grandma used to say that 'this has come to pass,' and as we transition through this, my thinking is around asking 'what do we want to create?'" said Brewer. "Priorities for me include communication and discussion, similar to what we're doing right now, creating space for the brilliance and the intelligence and the expertise of this field to come together to not only share but to envision what we do next, on behalf of children in partnership with our workforce, as well as on behalf of our workforce, so that we can sustain this really crucial offering to society."

Coordination and collaboration to drive the field forward are also large elements Brewer is looking forward to focusing on.

"I believe that NAA is very well positioned to continue to create opportunities like these for people to come together to share and to collaborate as we co-create this new reality," Brewer explained, touching on the point of making the field ready to led by the next generation of leaders and creating space for them. "As I'm looking at my term and our opportunity in this moment, I'm looking towards sustainability in terms of planning for the future of our association and field by creating space for next gen leaders to have a seat at the table."

Warner acknowledged this is a challenging time and asked what are some of the biggest challenges being seen throughout the field. Lay notes for many, the unknowns are at the top of the list.

"This is something that has impacted everyone," said Lay. "We adapt and we tend to have the mindset of, 'let's make it happen.' I think I see that as kind of a common thread when I see programs all across the country and meet people from all across the country.

"We're hardy and you know it doesn't mean it's easy, but that flexibility serves us well in times of adversity like this."

Supporting staff and finding financial sustainability are key issues.

"There were challenges that existed in that area before COVID that are now just exacerbated in the face of the pandemic, and I think the challenge that comes up is how do we event more effectively communicate why sustainability and funding for our field is imperative?" Brewer said, while noting that pivoting, adjusting and rising to the moment is tied to that challenge. "If our field is not fully sustained financially, we will continue to wrestle with how to pay a competitive wage and compensation to our workforce in a way that respects all the brilliance that they bring to bear on behalf of our work with children and communities."

Even amongst these challenges, this is a time for opportunity. Lay notes meeting basic needs for families and youth and supporting their social-emotional needs is imperative.

"Schools are struggling on how to do all this and this is where the afterschool world can be so helpful—we can we can be there as a support," said Lay.

Brewer agrees, adding that we have a unique opportunity to amplify the ways that afterschool and afterschool professionals have always provided, but particularly in the face of the pandemic an essential service to community and to society as a whole.

"This pandemic created an opportunity for us to rise up to meet the moment," said Brewer. "If there was ever a time social emotional learning and social emotional competency development was critical, it's right now. We have the expertise, we have the background, we have the experience to rise to the moment and to share our knowledge and experience with others.

"We are the ones that we've been waiting for. If we all took on that mindset of, 'this moment is calling for me' ... We are enough for this moment, and we're about to surprise ourselves as we surprise society as a whole about what we can create as an association for the work that is ours to do, but for the broader work about creating community."

To view the conversation in its entirety, click here.

Courtesy of NAA.