August 28, 2020

Take it from Someone Who Knows!

By Kristen Knoche |  

As summer comes to a close and a new school year begins, many are facing the same anxieties that summer programs faced just a few months ago. Challenges such as working with cautious community partners, aligning programming with new health regulations, and being flexible with ongoing changes have pushed programs to become stronger. Others' successes and challenges can sometimes be the best teachers in learning and adapting. In that spirit, UAN reached out to program staff from Promise South Salt Lake, Utah State University Extension in Sanpete County, and Cedar City Afterschool Allstars to glean valuable summer experiences in hopes of giving other programs a step up this school year.

Question: How have you adapted in order to create COVID-19 friendly activities and a safe learning environment for youth? 

Answer: Plan in advance, no material sharing, teach kids "zombie arms" to stay 6’ from each other. Kids all had their own bins/bags with personal sets of materials. The kids sat outside or in the gym in hula hoops on the floor that were placed 6’ from each other during snack time. Stick to ratios, have lots of outside time, and use signs on walls. A sanitization schedule was created (Note: It takes longer to sanitize materials than expected).

Answer: Creating a “house” for each child using tape on the floor has been so successful to ensure social distancing. We have also had to find ways to adapt our lessons and activities to keep the students socially distant and it has worked out really well. One example is the game “Captain’s Coming.” We only use commands that the students can do in their own space and we added a few new actions to make it fun. They love to have their own things and their own space. It has cut down on complaining a lot (we have lost the “sharing” factor of our program). For the most part parents appreciate and support all we are doing to keep the students safe. 

Answer: Our hand washing station was extremely helpful all summer long. A place where kids could wash their hands often and that was convenient for staff to monitor was a huge help. 

washing_hands.jpegQuestion: What protocols did you have in place if someone felt sick and what did you do when you had a positive COVID case?

Answer: Always take symptoms seriously. Do a symptom and temperature check at the beginning of program. Isolate kids with symptoms, call parents to pick them up, then call the Health Department. For staff, follow a decision tree and call the Health Department if needed. We had many potential COVID exposures and a number of program closures. Having a list of testing sites ahead of time was helpful so we could just send this to staff when they were notified about an exposure. We had a script prepared to read to parents about program closures or exposures. We did not allow staff to spend work time with staff working in another one of our programs to prevent cross-contamination.

Question: Have you been able to collaborate with principals, community partners, and/or families during summer programming and what was most effective? 

Answer: Families were not allowed in buildings, so there was minimal in-person contact. Programs used mostly text but in the fall, programs will be using “Remind” and “Class Dojo” to communicate with parents.

Answer: We worked closely with our community. We collaborated with the city to use the park as a base of operations, the library for academics, and we worked with Southern Utah University Outdoor Recreation Department for activities and for field trips. Since most places of business had a low capacity, outdoor activities such as hiking, soccer, swimming, kayaking or arts and crafts, such as paint day at the park, were key to keeping youth interested and excited for activities each day.

Question: What was the hardest thing about programming and what helped you overcome those obstacles? 

Answer: COVID exposures and trying to get kids used to social distancing. Social distancing was very difficult and required constant reminders/games to stay on top of it. Staff really needed to redirect kids every time they were too close. We did a brief meeting about COVID fatigue and how it was important to stay vigilant. The COVID exposures were stressful and scary for all of our staff.

reading.jpegQuestion: When hosting a virtual or hybrid program, what went well and what didn't? 

Answer: Having take-home kits was by far the most successful way to get students involved. We had activity kits at meal distribution sites for elementary kids, and for our teen clubs, the staff delivered special kits of supplies (i.e. yoga mats for Yoga Club, etc.) that youth could use on Zoom calls. We had other interesting teen clubs that had some participation, but still very few students. Virtual engagement was overall very difficult for us and one of the schools that held virtual summer programming.

Don’t let the lessons learned from summer slip away. Afterschool programs are successful because of their ability to be flexible, resilient, and collaborative and youth are really resilient. As programs worked hand-in-hand with schools, community partners, funders, and families, you will be able to push past the impossible. We hope that these tidbits of advice help your program confidently prepare for this school year.