Professional Development

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Stretch Yourself to Learn Something New

It's never too early to think about attending NAA19! Michelle Owens, National Wellness Policies, Staff Wellness & Out-of-School Time Physical Activity Advisor for Alliance for a Healthier Generation, sat down with NAA to offer her perspective on why NAA19 is the place to be in March 2019.

Share a bit about your background!

I'm a former elementary school teacher and taught third-through-fifth grade special education, in addition to working as a counselor, leading a youth development program. I found myself staying after school most days of the week to work with my students in the 21CCLC program at our school. It gave me the opportunity to teach "outside of the box" and to connect with families at pick-up. Following my days as a teacher, I worked as a professional development trainer for Johns Hopkins University's Success for All Program, giving me the opportunity to work with school districts across the country working on school reform.

For the past 10 years, I've worked for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation as a National Advisor providing schools and sites providing TA and PD in policy, physical activity, nutrition education and staff wellness. I've worked closely with my colleague, Daniel Hatcher, as well as Heidi Ham and other national OST organizations on the development and refresh of the HEPA standards. Most recently, I've had the privilege of working with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) School Health Branch as the project lead for the Out-of-School Time Cooperative Agreement in partnership with the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. Through this work, I am providing PD and TA to 17 CDC Healthy Schools grantees on HEPA, SEL, healthy staff modeling, and school, family and community engagement.

How many times have you attended NAA Convention?

I've been attending NAA since 2004. I can't believe 2019 will be my 15th year attending the convention!

What makes NAA Convention special and worth attending?

My favorite part of NAA is the people. From the keynote speakers to the session presenters, attendees, exhibitors and conference staff—I always feel like we are one big family! We are working in our own unique ways to support youth and the conventions provide us with the time to bring it all back together and learn from each other's successes. It doesn't matter if you're attending as a funder, program director or someone that works directly with the youth: The convention gives you the opportunity to connect with folks that can provide you with OST data, implementation strategies, new ideas and tools and take-away resources.

What did you learn or see at NAA Convention that inspired your work?

Seeing so many people gathered together for the opening session always takes my breath away. The convention has grown so much in the past 15 years and I've seen this field move from "afterschool care" to a space where youth are learning outside traditional instruction. Afterschool is a place where fine arts and enrichment are provided to kids that may not have these opportunities without afterschool; where snacks and meals are served, filling the gap for many kids' nutritional intake; where kids finally "connect" with a caring adult that listens to them; where families feel comfortable and community members get involved—I could go on and on!

The convention inspires my work every day and reminds me that even though I do not work directly with kids any longer, that what I do makes a difference on down the line.

What main takeaways did you have after attending NAA Convention?

I always take away great stories and successes of the attendees. In my trainings, I always try to take data and evaluation of programs and policies and make it "real world." Say we have research that suggests kids learn about fruit and vegetables in an afterschool nutrition education lesson and they take it home to their families—but then what? I don't have the opportunity to see that training piece live on. At Convention, I get to take-away stories such as, "One of my second-graders took the portion distortion activity home and shared it with her mom. Now the whole family is using these ideas when they prepare meals together."

My takeaway is getting to see the impact of my work through the words of attendees' experiences.

What are you most excited about for NAA19?

I'm excited to see old friends, make new friends and attend the keynote sessions! Especially Gretchen Rubin's session, because I could use a lesson on embracing happiness and sticking with good habits in my life.

What would you say to leaders going to NAA Convention for the first time?

Take advantage of attending sessions that focus on topics that are out of your day-to-day work. Stretch yourself to learn something new that will impact the youth and families you serve, as well as meet new people and take the time to network. Share your successes. Your expertise is valuable to others in the sessions you attend!

Learn more about NAA19 and Rise Up! with us!

Interview by the National AfterSchool Association.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Owens.

 

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