The National AfterSchool Association is the leading voice of the afterschool profession dedicated to development, education, and care of children and youth during their out of school hours.

Friday, September 10, 2010

What is Afterschool - and what is it not?

Dr. Paul G. Young
President and CEO
I frequently get calls from curious individuals from all parts of the country wanting to know what I think makes a good afterschool program and where they might find the best programs. Typically, the caller is simply on a quest for information and clarity. I always find the conversations to be interesting, enlightening, and challenging. Over time, I’ve formed some generalizations.  Callers seem very confident when I ask them to describe what they think is a good school. They think they know one when they see one. And most of them admit that they have been in a school. But they are all over the page when discussing a good ‘afterschool’ program. Most have not been in one. Defining and describing afterschool is like trying to put a square peg in a round hole. Some clarity can help us all.

I always try to explain and celebrate how diverse the afterschool programs are throughout the country. I also describe how it is good practice when learning communities come together with a shared vision and design programs that meet their unique children’s needs during out of school time. But then it often seems that I begin to confuse the callers because they want and expect a narrow, common definition.  I find it challenging to provide specifics in a very short amount of time to a total stranger at the end of a phone line.

When I suggest to the caller that schools with good reputations always have a strong principal and a staff that works well together, they get it. Likewise, when I explain that, from my viewpoint, all good afterschool programs have at least one champion (often many more) and have effectively addressed turf issues, they get that too! Those descriptors seem universal for all kinds of schools and all kinds of afterschool programs.

Most people really do know good schools when they see them. The challenge facing our association is to teach and inform the public, in simple and concrete ways, what a good afterschool program entails. We all know there are many factors, but the public doesn’t.  But they do recognize the two essential factors I’ve described – a strong, champion leader and unrestricted, structured use of space.

NAA currently has a group of committed members engaged in writing an association platform that will include a variety of common definitions, position, and belief statements that will help inform the public about our profession – what we are , what we do, when, where, and how we do it, and what we believe. As we move throughout the weeks and months preceding the 2011 NAA Convention, this platform will be filtered through a variety of writing and review processes and ultimately adopted by the NAA Board of Directors. The unveiling of our first NAA Platform will be a featured event during the convention.

We hope that you will use this blog to check that progress, weigh in on important issues, and help us identify and define positions and beliefs that we all can embrace and ultimately will bring clarity to what afterschool is and what it is not.

So, what do you think afterschool is, or should be – and what do you think it is not, or shouldn’t be?