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, October 29, 2010

Starting an Afterschool Program

Dr. Paul G. Young
President and CEO
Here at NAA, as well as at many of our state affiliate leaders' offices, we frequently receive inquiries from individuals and groups about how to start an afterschool program. Most often when we talk to these individuals, it sounds like they have read about various movements and initiatives in afterschool and participated in or worked in an afterschool program. The tone of their voice/s expresses strong passion and interest in creating extending learning opportunities and making a difference in the lives of kids.

But I sometimes wonder if they fully understand how hard the work of developing and leading an afterschool program really is - or if they can sense the joy and accomplishment they will experience if they are successful. Having been there and done that, I can reflect and re-envision the work that must be done to develop the structures that need to be put in place. I know how relationships must be developed to establish and sustain a high quality program. I wonder if the callers do - and how I can help.

If you, or someone you know, is contemplating starting an afterschool program, that’s GREAT. We need many more good programs everywhere. So what follows are a series of questions we want you to think about and answer. But first, understand that before the dream of an afterschool program can become a reality, there must be a committed leader. I hope that is YOU!

The first question is who are you? This is the most important question your students, staff, parents, and stakeholders will need to have answered if you want them to follow you. There has to be a leader, and if people can't determine your core set of values from what you say and do, your dream is doomed. Values are the core of who you are. They influence everything you say and do. If your values and code of ethics are not aligned with and shared by others already doing best practice in the profession (see the NAA Code of Ethics on our website, I suggest you go no further.

Second, what's your vision? Can you describe in vivid detail what the program you intend to start will look like, sound like, and how, when and where it will function? Can you envision the outcomes you will see during differing points of time? Can you anticipate the challenges and obstacles? People want to know you are a credible leader first, then they want to know where you will take them, what the journey will be like, and if you can clearly talk about it all.

Third, are you committed enough to help others imagine the possibilities and follow you? Have you had successful experiences developing relationships with constituents, attending to their needs, forming bonds, and attaining positive results? You have to be able to connect with people and demonstrate that you have been associated with other leaders - or that you soon will be! These are major reasons why professional associations exist and why your membership in NAA and our state affiliates is so important to your career success. And what are you willing to do to professionally to develop others that will be working with you?

Fourth, are you planning to develop this program alone? It’s a mistake to think you can. Are you trustworthy? If you are willing to take risks and be open with other people, admit mistakes, listen and learn, you can gain trust and move toward realizing your dream. But you have to show you can be trusted.

Start with these important questions. Reflect. Jot down some responses, ideas, and further questions. The work of planning, acquiring space, raising resources, and selecting staff can come afterwards. Our work at NAA is to help you find your voice, focus, grow professionally, address your challenges, achieve your dreams, and celebrate your success in the profession.

Join us in Orlando, FL, April 16-18, 2011, and learn how your professional association can help you further develop your leadership skills and clarify your vision of afterschool. Your leadership matters. Together, we will shake the status quo, envision possibilities, and pursue opportunities.

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