After-school programs have changed dramatically over the last 20 years, and there are currently efforts underway to professionalize the field. The after-school practitioner, also known as an out-of-school-time (OST) practitioner, is a professional who works with children and youths within the context of an after-school program. While some after-school practitioners are certified teachers, many are not.
After-school programs are indeed distinct, but too often educators think of after-school as a separate entity rather than an opportunity for partnership and collaboration with the school day. It’s not uncommon for teachers to be unaware of what their students do after the final bell rings or who works in the after-school program at their school.
Stronger collaboration between teachers and after-school practitioners offers mutual benefits for both educators, while strengthening student learning and development. Here are five reasons why your after-school practitioner is your biggest ally:
1. They Do Homework With Your Students
The number one question working parents ask their kids when they pick them up from their after-school programs is typically along the lines of “Did you finish your homework?”
After-school programs dedicate time and staff to help students complete homework and often provide individualized support and coaching to those who are struggling with an assignment or subject. The quality of the support can increase, however, when practitioners know what students are working on during the school day.
If teachers build a bridge of communication, practitioners can help students navigate their homework and reinforce skills learned in the classroom. Furthermore, this can be deeply beneficial for students who are off track or are harder to reach during the school day. Try using this sharing tool with the staff in your after-school program for guidance.
2. They Are the Link Between the School Day and Home
The after-school practitioner may see parents or guardians daily when they pick their children up after work, opening up channels for communication and family engagement opportunities that teachers often do not have.
The after-school practitioner can serve as a bridge between school and home, relaying important information to parents while helping to them engage in their children’s education.
3. They Have a Different Relationship with Your Students, and That’s a Great Thing
Students need a village: The various adults in a child’s life all bring about something different in the child, which is essential to children’s healthy development. Because after-school practitioners tend to be younger and engage with students in a different context than teachers do, they are more likely to have a mentoring relationship with students. Oftentimes, practitioners are even learning and exploring alongside the students while providing critical coaching support.
“The staff member who creates the caring conditions within their group allows the youth to take risks, make mistakes, and have opportunities to lead,” says Anita Winkis, a former after-school program director.
And it is these experiences in high-quality after-school programs that have been shown to increase students’ attendance in after-school programs and during the school day. Teachers and after-school practitioners share a strong work ethic, unrelenting resolve and patience, and a dedicated heart. By working together they can make a real difference in students’ lives.
4. Their Focus is on Positive Youth Development Strategies
Positive youth development strategies that support goal-setting and underscore characteristics such as grit and compassion link to key social and emotional learning (SEL) skills, which research proves contribute to classroom success. Positive youth development is foundational in character development, and it focuses on the strengths of the student while engaging them in experiences that interest them.
Most programs meet the needs of working parents while providing a rich environment for kids to develop their voice, build new skills, and engage in rewarding learning experiences.
5. They Want Your Students to Succeed as Much as You Do
Education and youth development are a dream team. After-school practitioners have the potential to be your support, your confidant, and your ally. They care deeply about the role they have in children’s lives and often say they genuinely feel their work matters and hope they’re contributing to whole child development. They may very well be an untapped resource that can give you support in ways you didn’t even realize you needed.
So what can you do? Start by identifying the after-school practitioners at your school and reach out. Talk to your principal. Build a bridge. You just might bring about meaningful change by developing new relationships that take you on new adventures.
Do you have any success stories? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.