Afterschool is Part of the Solution: Making the Jump to Virtual

By Venissa White, Director of TRSU ASP

On March 30th, the TRSU After School Program (ASP) started providing virtual programming to students within our supervisory union. Over the course of a weekend, we had 60 ASP children and 48 families enroll in this new program being offered 4-5:30pm daily. Students were divided by school and grade (k-6) into Zoom groups, each staffed by a core staff member from their site.

Switching Gears. It was great to see all the happy smiling faces that first Monday, with kids not having the opportunity to interact with others it was great to see them giggling and just being kids. With our focus on social and emotional learning (SEL), kids are really driving this space. Each day staff allow time for students to just chat, to pick different games and activities, and to participate in 30 minutes of physical exercise. After the first week we enjoyed: 20 questions, hangman, GoNoodle activities, push up and jump and jack competitions, room tours, yoga classes, pet parades, and baby animal cams from around the world. 

TRSU After School Program staff working from home to keep kids connected!

What’s Next. As we look to expand our virtual programming after April vacation, we are also planning to open up our programming to all families within TRSU [not just those previously registered in the afterschool programs TRSU runs at four schools under normal circumstances]. We are partnering with several yoga instructors, our martial arts instructors, a local farm, and our arts community to offer online instruction. Beginning on April 20th, students will have access to:

Cooking (we will deliver groceries and have recipes to cook together), photography, Tae Kwon Do, Pokeman club, science experiments, nature art, story hour, social hour, chess club, dance club, yoga, virtual field trips, sketch club, music hour, virtual marathon, and much more.

Our outline of programming will all follow the guidance of 30 minutes of sharing, intention building, and goal setting. Followed by 45 minutes of programming, and wrapping up with 15 minutes of reflection and sharing.

Food for Kids. Because I am familiar with the summer food program, I have been assigned the role of the SU-wide food contact. I trained 25 employees for food distribution, designed forms and surveys for consent to deliver, and recording documents for reimbursement to the state. I currently receive all family and community communication if people need anything related to food service. I’m in constant communication between food service providers, staff delivering meals, and families.

Highlights. I have an amazing, veteran staff who are willing to try new things. Every different idea, and curveball I have thrown them in the last three weeks has been met with a smile and enthusiasm for meeting the challenge. I think I’m very fortunate to be working with a group of people committed to our students and our families.

Also, seeing the kids! Who knew how happy I would be to pop into Zoom chat rooms to see 6-year-olds with their pet hamster! The giggling, the sheer joy of them interacting with peers and staff.

Challenges. I think our biggest challenge is in trying to offer high-quality virtual programming that not only meet student needs but also parents. As a mom of five children, I often think about what parents need during this time–and how do we meet those needs? How do we lessen the stress of their day? I think parents’ responses of “thank you for this” gives us positive feedback, that we are helping. But I still wonder what is it that working parents and sudden stay-at-home parents need from us?

Resources: I recommend that everyone learn Google forms; learn the system, and use it to your benefit. The spreadsheets, the ability to organize as we all work in our homes without printers, and sharing with staff is invaluable. Transforming your offerings to digital format will change everything about how you do this job in the future. 

[Note that Vermont Afterschool has a growing COVID-19 Resource Library designed specifically for afterschool and youth-serving organizations.]