Once upon a time in February, kids were finishing off their valentines candy. They were going to school, filing into their rows, and chatting with their friends. Some might have even brought up Spring Break which was just a few weeks away. This is the week that divided the regular school year with the dreaded testing season. As March rolled in, so did the news about the Coronavirus wrapping itself around the globe. In just a few short weeks we went from land of the free to home everyday.
In the aftermath, a lot of things have happened. Lock down orders began to fall like Dominos. Schools, stores, restaurant dining rooms, theaters, amusement parks, and even churches closed. As a center, we decided to stay open to serve the families. Immediately after Spring Break, this was actually pretty easy. But as one domino fell, another and another also toppled. Soon, many of our competitors were shut down as the rules tightened on who we could serve and how many kids each of us teachers could have in our care was whittled down to 10 or less. Face masks for everyone 10 and up became mandatory and suddenly, the entire After School landscape was more foreign than the dark side of the moon.
As students began their distance learning, I suddenly became a full time teacher and teacher’s aide. By April, I had 10 kids across 5 school districts from 4 different grade levels that all had different work schedules and live sessions. One child as young as seven was required to spend 3 hours a day in a live session. I have always tried to be a place where we could learn and have fun doing it, but this was something I don’t think any of us were ready for.
Besides acting as teacher and aide, I also had to support them emotionally and try to get them to forget the problems Covid introduced to their lives if only temporary. It became a balancing act: keeping them up with there studies, and giving them time to just be kids. Some of them would burst into tears for no reason. Others would act out in ways I had never seen before.
What I like about working in After School and out of school time is that I get to see these kids beyond just the one school year. Therefore, for some, my class is that place of stability and safety. While our class size was reduced and we had to change up the routine, our center was still there.
What is after school? If you think it’s just a baby sitting service, you are misguided. We help these kids cope with the stress of the school day. We encourage them to try new things. I had some girls who had barely even touched a computer, program a drone and fly it across the room. We allow them to explore, create, engage, and even be alone. Sometimes they cry and we give them words of encouragement. We do our best to laugh with them and remind them they are still just kids after all.
Especially now. After school after school closed became even more of these things and I am honored and blessed that I was able to be a part of it, even if it was a lot of hard work.