Professional Development

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Stories That Shape Us: Vanessa Sinclair

Monday, 09 August 2021 16:03

NAA's "Stories That Shape Us" series shines a spotlight on the authentic stories and varying career paths of the afterschool profession. Told from the perspectives of NAA members themselves, each story is unique and highlights the differences but also the commonalities of the dedicated professionals serving youth around the country in out-of-school time today.

For Vanessa Sinclair, the "why" behind her work in the out-of-school time field always goes back to the students she serves.

"Being able to offer a program that aligns with the school day and offers enrichment that is engaging for all students in a variety of ways by creating hands on activities that help students to grow socially, emotionally and academically is the overall 'why,'" said Sinclair, who is the Executive Director and Curriculum Specialist for Extended Day Child Care in Dublin, California.

Ever since she can remember, Sinclair has always wanted to work with children.

"Growing up, my father was an athletic director and physical education teacher and I really loved going to work with him and seeing how the kids had fun and were excited about learning," Sinclair said, adding that she knew at a very young age that she wanted to be a teacher. "I first started working as an elementary resource teacher for kindergarten through fifth graders. It was there that I learned so much about teaching and the joy of helping children who are struggling with reading and language arts."

Sinclair was able to assist these students individually and create programs that helped them get up to par with their reading and language arts needs. Eventually, Sinclair also taught second grade English, science and math in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E. which she notes was a whole other challenge in itself.

"After teaching abroad, I didn't know where my next teaching assignment would be in the United States and I kind of fell into teaching in afterschool," Sinclair said.

At first, she didn't think she would stay long because she wanted to go back to her own classroom again. But not long after working in afterschool, Sinclair knew afterschool was where she was supposed to be.

"I soon became the director of an afterschool program and saw how much freedom the teachers had to be able to explore so many topics with their students," she said. "I encouraged my teachers to find their youths voice and plan lessons that their students wanted to learn about. Seeing the kids get so excited about a lesson that was their idea and the joy that was had by all was amazing."

Sinclair eventually arrived at the conclusion that she'd found her calling to work within the afterschool world, where she's been since 2009.

"Now, being the executive director for nine different afterschool problems on all of the elementary schools in Dublin and one in Pleasanton, I feel so lucky to be able to impact so many more children by maintaining standards and training staff to keep our afterschool programs exceptional," Sinclair explained. "Being able to see the joy on each of the students faces as I visit the centers is what continues to inspire me to stay on this side of the education field."

Sinclair didn't know what to expect the first time she ever attended an NAA conference.

"As soon as I arrived, I realized just how amazing this association is and how much it had to offer me," she said. "I found the classes that I took to be educational and the best part was that I could take something from each class and bring it back to my center to implement, which helped me to make constant improvements for my center and the students that we serviced."

Year after year, Sinclair has always looked forward to attending the conferences to gather more knowledge in addition to being able to interact with other afterschool professionals and network.

"The conferences offered a great way to interact with people from all over the United States and world in such a fun and interactive way," Sinclair said, noting the guest speakers always bring a positive message that can be internalized and gets you pumped up to be there all week. "Throughout the year, NAA also provides many resources and articles that have provided the necessary information needed to stay up to date with everyone in our field—not to mention the endless opportunities for professional development and training, which is integral to staff."

Even though the annual conference was unable to be held in-person due to COVID-19, Sinclair likes that NAA was still able to offer its support and resources virtually.

"My directors and I always look forward to attending, whether in-person or virtually so we can share the information with one another and discuss ways we can use it to enhance our programs," she said.

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.