When this school year finishes next month, I will have completed working at an after school program for 10 consecutive years, 5 of those years with Care Fresno. I’ve learned a lot, but after 10 years, I still struggle when it comes to disciplining kids and there are crazy days when order is not fully maintained, not everything on the schedule gets done, and homework pages remain incomplete. Sometimes I get complacent and tired of being at after school program. What keeps me going is the recognition that what I do is about much more than programming; it’s about relationships and investing in a young person’s life.
Through homework help and enrichment activities, I strive to help kids succeed academically. As I’ve provided academic support, I’ve come to see the need to invest in social, emotional, and mental health as well. I have learned about “trauma-informed care”, to consider that a kid is not giving me a hard time, he’s having a hard time; to ask what happened to her as an answer to the question of why is she misbehaving. This influences how I approach kids who struggle in various ways or are having a hard day and has made me more compassionate.
I view after school program as a platform for relationship building, not an end in itself. I get to spend regular time with kids, which allows us to grow relationally. The days that I find the most meaningful are days like the one where instead of finishing a math activity, two kids told me about their families and I learned about deportation and imprisonment from the perspective of a 9 and 10 year old, or the day where I witnessed a kid tell one of our volunteers that he is her best friend. I have the opportunity to weep and rejoice with my kids, to allow these and other stories to both wreck and inspire me. Working with kids has changed my life and my desire is that the kids that come to my after school program feel safe and loved, establishing a foundation on which significant learning and life change can take place.
“No significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.”
Dr. James Comer, Yale University, Child Study Center
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