Contributed by guest blogger Hanna Pendergast.
As a new afterschool program coordinator, I’m desperate for new ideas. Jumpstart came just in time—just as I was starting to get lost in the many everyday challenges of this line of work and forget the bigger picture. Thanks to some wonderful speakers, enlightening breakout sessions, and awesome organization on part of UAN, I was able to refocus and remember why I do what I do.
The conference began with my boss, Erin Florisbello, receiving an award for Director of the Year! That was awesome. She does so much for so many people and changes the lives of our kiddos at work. Nobody deserved that award more.
We enjoyed a delicious breakfast while being enlightened by the first key-note speaker, Erika Petrelli. Her address was based on this quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupery: “A rock pile ceases to be a rock pile the moment a single man contemplates it, bearing within him the image of a cathedral.” I needed that! I’d become stuck in focusing on the negative attributes of both myself and the teens I serve (I need to be more organized, I’m not creative enough, the kids are so disrespectful, they don’t clean up their messes, etc.). Erika started a shift in my thinking that the rest of the conference only strengthened.
The break-out sessions this day were good; I’ll just mention my highlights. I chose to forgo some of the more “fun” sessions in favor of sessions I thought would really benefit my site. I wasn’t disappointed (and I even had some fun too)! I learned how to navigate “fake news,” and now I find myself pointing out fake news to my family all the time. My boss and I went to a session on delivering learning opportunities disguised as nothing more than fun activities. We’ve since given our kids at work an in-depth interest survey so we can plan activities that they’ll actually enjoy. I also enjoyed visiting the vendor’s tables—I was so thrilled to see Planned Parenthood there. We were able to connect and develop a potential partnership that will hopefully really help our kids.
Day two was full of much of the same as day one; the sessions somehow worked out perfectly to provide me with tools make program effective and help both me and the kids actually enjoy being there. The key-note speaker, Alvin Irby, reminded me to consider the culture of the kids I’m teaching in order to reach them best. But the real game-changing session was titled The Keys to Social Emotional Learning for Teenagers: Resilience, Grit, and Connection. I feel a little bad because I can’t remember the name of the presenter, but he was amazing! I admit, I was a little nervous that it would be too cheesy (he was dressed in a Pac Man suit, after all). It wasn’t too cheesy. It was everything I needed to know and remember: being a teenager is hard! The things mentors do for kids affect them for a lifetime, and the best thing we can do is be there for them. I went back to work and printed off a list of risk and protective factors and have been trying to more deliberately focus on providing those protective factors to our kids. It’s totally changed the way I think about my job and I’m SO glad I went to his session. All of Jumpstart was great, but if this session would have been the only one I attended it would have been worth it!
As I’ve typed away at this blog post, I realized that I’ve already been able to implement so many little changes in our program and it’s made a big difference! I’ve been less stressed, the kids have been more engaged, and I feel like we’re realizing our purpose as a teen afterschool program. And if that wasn’t enough, I got to enjoy great food, good company, AND a trip to the Dinosaur Park at the end of the day. Thanks UAN.