My first week as an AmeriCorps VISTA with AOSN has been a wonderful introduction to my year of service. Though my supervisor had warned me the week would be busy, I had not quite expected to be traveling all around the state to help set up for several special events. In anticipation of Summer Learning Day which was June 20th, a number of presentations were being held to raise awareness for out-of-school time needs. While my first few days have been busy, they have also been exciting and insightful.
On my first day, I had an opportunity to tour PBS’s AETN station in Conway where they were hosting a week-long Production Camp for children ages 12-16. The students in the program were learning how to shoot, produce, and edit ten-minute documentaries which they would later show in a big red-carpet celebration. I had the chance later on that week to shadow the students for a day. The whole environment was brimming with fun, creativity and a prolific array of Clifford the Big Red Dog memorabilia. I recognized that the camp was a wonderful example of a successful out-of-school time program. The program allowed the children not only to develop practical and teambuilding skills but also exposed them to creative careers.
On Thursday and Friday, I attended events in the Jonesboro Public Library and the Family Life Center with Life Skills for Youth in Southwest Little Rock which promoted out-of-school time programs like AETN’s Production Camp. Our office and partners handed out free books and book-bags to the children with the pledge that they would keep reading throughout the summer.
While my position does allow me to interact with children, my real task is to work with adults to help develop and sustain out-of-school time programs in our state.
On my second day, my supervisor and I attended an open-discussion event in Springdale. Several policy makers, educators, and advocates attended the meeting to discuss the issues they faced in expanding out-of school time programs. Transportation and lack of funding were only a few of the issues mentioned. I quickly gathered that we, as a community, face several, complex challenges in our vision of providing a safe and educational out-of-school time environment for our youth.
I have learned plenty of things during my first week at AOSN, not least of all the purpose and direction of the office and its numerous partners. Throughout the week’s events, I was impressed by the dedication and passion of all the people I met who wanted to support the future of our children. I look forward to helping achieve this important goal in my year of service.
The Arkansas Out of School Network (AOSN) is a sponsored initiative of Arkansas State University Childhood Services and is a network of Out-of-School Time (OST) programs and youth development professionals from across the state. The mission of AOSN is to ensure that children and youth ages 5-19 have safe, healthy and enriching learning experiences during the out-of-school time hours. AOSN seeks to provide opportunities and supports to program leaders and policy makers as they work to strengthen and expand the OST field. AOSN recognizes that building and sustaining an infrastructure of quality programs is essential to providing access to high quality, age-appropriate OST opportunities.
Formulating an operational definition of OST Program Quality is also essential to strengthening programs at the point-of-service (POS). Current research suggests that quality programs develop and implement intentional strategies for providing comprehensive educational and developmental learning opportunities (Peterson, T. K. 2013). According to the Afterschool Alliance’s 2012 publication entitled Principles of Effective Expanded Learning Programs: A Vision Built on the Afterschool Approach, those intentional strategies and practices include: School-Community Partnerships, Engaged Learning, Family Engagement, Intentional Programming, Diverse and Prepared Staff, Participation and Access, Safety, Health, & Wellness, and Ongoing Assessment & Evaluation.
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