Mary McAllister, Afterschool Coordinator for the Lowell School District in Fall Creek, Oregon, got involved in out out-of-school time space because she's passionate about providing children with an engaging, safe, creative environment that could push them to explore their limits and abilities. Her journey began in 1977, as a preschool teacher after she earned her Associate of Arts degree.
"I decided on preschool, as I've always wanted flexibility in my work with children," McAllister said. "Over the years, I made many forays into the afterschool realm, the first being the time I opened my own home center with a group of children I had taught during preschool."
It was an amazing experience that allowed McAllister to continue to support those children as they grew, but she also realized she didn't enjoy the formality of elementary education.
"I really enjoyed showing them more difficult crafts and construction projects and getting them out in nature the way I had been able to in my childhood!" McAllister explained. She continued to grow in the field when she became a Summer Kamp Counselor named "Krafty," providing arts and crafts for the children and behind the scenes support for the young adults in charge of the camp.
Afterschool really stuck for McAllister when she began working with the school age crew at the University of Oregon.
"I started out leading one classroom in an old refurbished house and ended up retiring as the school age mentor teacher in charge of 70 to 100 children, three lead staff, 25 to 30 student staff and managing the transportation for three campus centers and loving it!" she said, noting the immense joy brought by the diversity of the campus community and having the chance to educate young adults on how to interact with children.
In this setting, McAllister had the staffing and the monetary backing to provide a dream setting for growth and the development of a great community.
"The friendships, skills and development that happened for all was astounding," she said. "So many of us are still friends today, with some of the children now in their mid-twenties!"
McAllister credits NAA with expanding her knowledge on many subjects and emphasized how much she's enjoyed NAA's offerings over the years, whether it be through presentations or attending the annual conference.
"The merit of the presenters are above and beyond most conferences I have attended," she said, adding that NAA has helped her keep up with the latest in the field. "I value the chance to pick and choose tidbits from all different focuses! The more we allow children to think and plan, the better they will become at that as they grow."
In addition, McAllister values the training tools NAA provides.
"As I was responsible for the growth of not only children but college students and classified staff (lead teachers), having tools available to build on for trainings and other events was very helpful," she said.
Perhaps the most beneficial element of being part of the NAA community for McAllister is the camaraderie of like-minded people.
"Having the chance to bounce ideas off people who also believe that the opportunities we provide for children are often some of the most important developmental tools that come their way is invaluable!" she explained.
Today, McAllister is running a small one-room afterschool program in the small town where she lives, but says she still relies on the resources NAA provides.
"I now have no one to bounce ideas off of, but I enjoy reading the info you share and it allows me to still feel connected to the field I love so very much," she said. "Bringing quality afterschool care to a small community who would very seldom get it is the final joyful chapter in my long and special career!"
To connect to more afterschool professionals around the country, upgrade to an Executive membership today. Look for more "Stories That Shape Us" experiences and perspectives in upcoming enewsletters.
Courtesy of NAA.
Photo courtesy of Mary McAllister.