After-school programs and heart work

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Sheronda Fleming wants people to know about after-school programs.

Not only for the benefit of students and parents, but also for people passionate about helping children who may never have thought of pursuing a career working with young people outside of school.

“We had other aspirations. But we may have volunteered to some extent working with kids, or were in college working at the Y[MCA], or there was something we did by chance, and during that experience we fell in love with working with children, ”she said of herself and her colleagues extracurricular workers.

It’s a common story for people who work in the pre-school, after-school, or summer learning arena, according to Fleming, director of the NC Center for Afterschool Programs at the Public School Forum of North Carolina.

To promote awareness of the field, from October 5 to 28, the Center released videos as part of The Journey Series. Every day, a video features someone from the extracurricular field who talks about their experience and the path they took to enter the profession.

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One of those people is Amy Franks. She started out as a teacher, but realized during her second year of teaching that the extracurricular field might be for her. She was a sixth-grade language arts teacher in Durham in the 1990s when a principal spoke about an opportunity to volunteer for a new teacher-led after-school program.

“I raised my hand excitedly and said, ‘I’m going to do it,’ she said.

She spent the rest of that semester doing both her classwork and her after-school work. She realized that the extracurricular space was where she really wanted to be.

“Growing up, I didn’t know it was a job,” Franks said. “I didn’t know it was something you could aspire to.”

But thanks to Durham’s after-school program, she realized that it was possible to establish a different relationship with students.

“By magic, I became someone different from them after that last bell of the day,” she said, later adding, “They were more willing to talk to me. More willing to open up. to me.

She never looked back.

Now Franks works with Book Harvest, a nonprofit children’s literacy organization in Durham. The organization has so far provided more than 1.5 million books to children. Her experience working with children outside of schools, Franks said, has made her think differently about what education can be.

Of course, schools have things to do. But what if it could somehow blend these demands with the freedom and more open relationships developed during after-school programs?

“If we could combine that with the satisfaction of those things that fuel their dreams, their curiosity and their need to explore… then that would definitely be magical,” she said. “I don’t think it’s impossible. I think the good spirits around the table could make it happen.

Emily Neff is another person featured in The Journey Series, graduating from Appalachian State University with a degree in child development. She was looking for a job and came across a job with WAMY Community Action, which says on its website that it is “breaking the cycle of poverty by partnering with families and communities to provide disadvantaged people with support and tools. they need to become self-sufficient. enough. ”The job was as a director of youth development for their after-school programs. That was in 2014 – and she’s been there ever since.

“I never even thought of the extracurricular field or summer programming as an option. I just knew I wanted to work with the kids and their families, ”said Neff.

Her job is in Watauga County, and she loves how, even though her riding is small, there is a diverse group of scattered students that she can raise.

The Journey series will end on October 28, which is this year’s After-School Day of Lights, described as: “A national advocacy day where after-school programs across the country hold events to celebrate their programs. and raise awareness of the importance of after-school.

Fleming said this field is “work of the heart” and while it’s not something that many people have traditionally aspired to do, she wants to change that so that it is a career sought after by future generations.

When schools closed at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fleming said after-school programs never stopped. And as the pandemic lingered, workers in this field persevered. So she also wanted to get this message across to everyone who works in space.

“It can be a thankless job at times, and personally I just want to thank everyone in this area across the state for their commitment on the ground,” she said. “We are always in it and it is sometimes difficult. But the work of the heart is hard work.


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