October 16, 2020

Our Lights Are On For Learning, Digging Deep, and Celebrating

By Ben Trentelman |  

This is one big month for afterschool in Utah with Lights on Afterschool, programs completing their Quality Self-Assessment Tool, and once again, UAN’s own Jump Start Conference taking place in October. This year the Jump Start Conference is taking place online, and as we ramp up for it at UAN and see registration forms come in from so many new and old afterschool friends, we’ve all felt some of the same loss about the interactions we get to have with all of you that I’m sure many of you have felt about so many other gatherings. Getting to see all of you so hungry to learn about how you can provide a better experience for the youth we all serve makes my heart swell with pride. I end the marathon weekend feeling reinvigorated about the work we do, inspired by your passion and love for what you do, and proud to be a part of so many opportunities and joy.  We will meet this year, and we’ll still get to see your faces, even though those connections will blast through our combined wi-fi networks and routers around the state, we will still feel your passion. I’m sure this year, as hundreds of us log on, there will be a particular electricity pulsing through the air from San Juan county to St. George and all the way up to Cache County, leaving all of Utah in a mysterious fog of afterschool positivity. 

These three big events converge around a common theme; we all strive to better ourselves in order to continually serve youth as best as we can. It can be hard to reflect on things you can change about yourself, it takes a particular vulnerability and honesty to acknowledge that something you are doing isn’t perfect and you have room to improve. This time of year I like to reflect on the timeliness of these events and what the process of going through all of them means to the youth we serve. As afterschool providers we are mentors, and in doing so we model positive behaviors. We encourage every program in the state to go through the humbling self-assessment process, which means you are all taking a good look at your programs and where you have room for improvement. Where are your blemishes? What would you like to change? We ask you to be honest and straightforward with your teams about what you are doing and if you are really doing something as best you are able. Like the youth we all serve, we at UAN hope that every program strives for greatness, and greatness only comes with honest reflection. We model this through our willingness to look inward and make change to be better.

We don’t want the quality improvement process to be painful, but we do hope it is eye opening and informative. At times you may be forced to have hard conversations or to step out of your comfort zone, but that is how we all grow. 

Lights On Afterschool is literally about letting your lights shine bright, and despite your newly exposed blemishes, you’ve also aimed a spotlight on everything you do so well, and now you get to celebrate that. Speaking as the parent of afterschool kids now, I can say that I greatly appreciate the value the program serving my own kids puts into being their very best (shout out to Alivia and the North Star Navigators crew!). As you embrace your reflections, do so knowing that every step you take is worth celebrating and that this reflective practice is so important to the families you serve. As you highlight your program, highlight this process, your willingness to look inward, and how you share that with the youth in your programs.

Lastly, Jump Start, which happens to fall the same week as Lights on Afterschool, October 19-23, gives you the opportunity to come together with your peers and expand both the reflection and celebration of all you do in one big learning frenzy. In all that you’ve celebrated you have experience and successes to share and inspire others. In your areas of growth, you have a wealth of experience and knowledge at your fingertips. In your own passion you have hundreds of other passionate individuals who get it. They get the relationships, the struggles, the fun, and the challenges. Similar to the programs you all run, you are coming together to have a good time, learn, build relationships, and hopefully stay out of trouble.

So, in this big and busy month, we at UAN look forward to being vulnerable, celebrating, and learning with all of you. Happy Lights On from all of us, enjoy Jump Start, and have fun digging deep into the Quality Tool with your team.