On Tuesday, August 4th, a group of afterschool and other youth-serving professionals gathered to discuss the challenges that have been coming up related to reopening programs as they work on planning how to do so safely and effectively. The specified topic of the day was staffing, though the conversation ventured into other topics as well.
Many of those on the call expressed frustration and concern with the lack of a cohesive plan for students returning to school whose effects have rippled out into the third space and made planning difficult. There are expectations being put on some programs to solve problems that seem beyond their capacity right now. This is not to say that planning and strategizing are not happening. Some general themes that emerged included having as much communication with stakeholders as possible (ideally with a seat that the bigger planning table), planning multiple options concurrently so you’re ready for whatever reality emerges in the fall, and also being realistic and transparent when it comes to planning for the very real possibility that infections and transmission can happen in your program (i.e. having clear protocols in place so no one is surprised when they’re enacted). Many program leaders are having regular communication with staff around policies and expectations and even including these in interviews with new potential staff, so applicants know early on in the process what to expect around health and safety.
Venissa White of the Two Rivers Supervisory Union Afterschool Program shared some of her strategies around supporting staff that worked well throughout her TRSU summer program for children and youth:
- Build in a significant amount of break time for staff morale.
- Micro-breaks where they can be alone and remove their masks will be very helpful.
- Purchase and supply PPE that will make staff more comfortable (even if it’s more expensive). You want staff to feel safe and if they need a higher level of protection to feel that way, support them in that.
- Start off the school year slowly: ramp up into longer hours so everyone can get their feet under them. Many staff may also work during the school day and will have already been in masks for many hours, so be wary of pushing people too hard and burning them out.
The conversation then transitioned to discussions around staffing and programming to support students on Wednesdays, a day when many districts will have no in-person staffing. There was some frustration expressed about the lack of flexibility in terms of funds. Many program’s budgets cannot be used for childcare while there is also a limit on the number of hours that licensed childcare providers can serve school-aged students since school is technically in session on these days. This gap is presenting a challenge to programs that want to support working parents.
Vermont Afterschool will also be supporting programs in their search for staff by doing outreach to local colleges and other potential pools of employees to raise awareness of the need for staff in afterschool and third space programs. You can find the #Afterschool is Hiring campaign materials here. Overall, creativity and patience were the watchwords of the day. Programs are doing their best to plan, and continuing to connect and discuss current issues has proven helpful.
The next roundtable reopening discussion will happen on Tuesday, August 11th from 1-2 p.m. The topic will be “Getting Creative with Spaces.” Come prepared to listen, share, and bounce ideas off each other as to how afterschool programs can run in non-traditional or non-school environments. Head HERE to register.