Have you ever heard someone refer to afterschool as “babysitting”? Were you as offended as I am when folks say this? Do you wonder how they could be so uninformed about what you do in your afterschool program? Granted, in the beginning an afterschool program was seen as a safe place to be at 3:00 between the “school bell and the factory whistle”. But what we do today is so far beyond this noble pursuit. Who would argue against keeping kids safe—safe from poor decisions on their part and more importantly from the abusive decisions of adults? So safety is still a priority in afterschool programs, but so is homework assistance, physical activity, nutrition education, character and leadership development, conflict resolution, STEM education, support for English Language Arts and math, preparation for career and college, the visual and performing arts, hands-on, minds-on project-based learning, community service and service learning. You get the point, right.
We are no longer simply an afterschool program, and extended day adventure, or a place for extra-curricular activities. To be sure, all that still matters but most importantly the time between 3:00 (or the close of the school day) and the factory whistle is one that is a vital learning space. If you offer a 3 hour program each day afterschool you are giving youth another 540 hours of opportunities to learn! And we don’t just replicate the school day. We provide those learning experiences “afterschool style”, with the central focus being the learner.
So as we start 2014 let’s agree to transition our language from “afterschool” to “expanded learning opportunity” and insist that we are seen as an informal learning space rather than a holding tank between the two learning spaces of school day and home.