Afterschool is Part of the Solution: MAUSD’s Story

This week we are featuring one program in Addison County working to support youth and families. Across Vermont, afterschool and youth-serving providers like MAUSD are shifting priorities and reshaping outreach strategies through the COVID-19 pandemic. They inspire us and remind us that the field of afterschool continues to be one based in resilience, positive youth development, and partnership.

Afterschool and youth-serving programs are stepping up by:

  • Providing safe, enriching activities for children whose parents are essential workers, in some cases operating full day resource centers.
  • Preparing free grab-and-go meals for families who need them or delivering meals to families.
  • Offering virtual programming & homework help to stay connected with youth and keep kids engaged and learning while they’re home.
  • Organizing and sharing resources with families related to food assistance, unemployment, healthcare, and more. For example, some programs have developed remote check-ins with their students and families to ensure they have the resources they need during this crisis.

We’re all going through this together—juggling work schedules, income changes, unprecedented burdens, and health of loved ones and yourselves. We understand that not all people/programs are able to provide these services. Remember that practicing physical distancing, self-care, and keeping the home fires burning is paramount!

We provide care so they can provide care.

In response to Governor Scott’s directive that all supervisory unions/school districts should provide access to FREE high-quality child care for essential workers, the Mount Abraham Unified School District (MAUSD) is collaborating with the MAUSD Expanded Learning Program (a 21st CCLC program typically providing afterschool and summer learning) to deliver this full-day service to children in grades preK-8. Led by Mandy Chesley-Park, director of the Expanded Learning Program (ELP), this essential care program for school-age children just opened to another school district that has a hospital in their community to expand access. Mandy reports that their numbers fluctuate, with a median of 15-18 students per day. Kids get breakfast, snacks, and lunch too via the district’s food service program.

We’ve had to change our focus.

  1. Health and safety guidelines are top of the list for youth and staff.
  2. Pen Paling just became something you can do from classroom to classroom, not just country-to-country (see homemade mailboxes in photo below).
  3. Having an entire school allows for optimal physical distancing. An entire gym, check! A large playground, check!
  4. They have to vet family needs to make sure that each family qualifies as essential workers, which is a different approach from their standard inclusive practices.
  5. Leaders have been incredibly creative about fun ways to build personal spaces, nooks, and crannies for kids. No more sharing. According to many kids, this has been a progressive move on the part of the adult world! 6
  6. They’ve had a lot of 6′ apart dance parties, 6′ apart town walks, and a slew of enrichment activities. According to Mandy, “I think what has moved us is the cohesion of our team and the joy and peace that is palpable in the program.”

Our staff stepped up to the plate without hestitation.

Mandy reports she has an incredibly cohesive team. She hired staff predominantly comprised of her ELP site leaders and college students who are home and have worked for them during past summers. Mandy says, “This mixture of experienced devoted adults and high-energy, adaptable college students from our community has been magic.” Pre-K teachers also helped to set up systems for preschoolers (a population they’ve never served); additionally, all MAUSD school nurses are rotating shifts to be onsite to perform health screenings for students and staff. Their custodial staff has also been key–sanitizing all surfaces, door knobs, and bathrooms every two hours.

Finally, gratitude to all involved for providing safe, healthy, and engaging places for kids during this time of crisis.