More than 100 skilled and talented Jamestown After School Program staff, representing JPS and a dozen community-based organizations, serves nearly 1,000 K-12 students and families every day during the critical out-of-school-time hours between 3 and 6 p.m.
With the growth of the number of after school programs that serve increasing numbers of children and youth, greater attention has been paid to the benefits of quality after school experiences and it's widely acknowledged that the quality of after school programs depends upon the quality of their staff. Jamestown After School Partners understand the importance of investing in the people who invest in our youth, and have a common goal of continually increasing the knowledge and skills of the caring professionals who serve as positive role models throughout our district. But there are challenges: afterschool program staff represent a wide range of skills and backgrounds, including pre-service, active and retired classroom teachers, paraprofessionals, career-bound college students, special interest area instructors, and community members. Front line staff - Activity Group Leaders and Assistants - are dedicated part-time workers who often must balance their afterschool program commitment with simultaneous career and/or academic pursuits. Expectations for afterschool programs and their staff are continually being raised including providing academic support to help boost student's performance on state and local tests, especially reading and math, offering a wide array of youth development experiences that support common core learning standards and extend and complement the regular school day program, and fostering an innovative, responsive, supportive environment that contributes to successful transitions from youth to adulthood.
''All our applicants are well-screened before they begin training. Our training is very comprehensive and ongoing. It covers topics from planning activities to character education, and most importantly, safety and supervision. Knowledgeable professionals, who work hard to make sure our staffs are ready and able for our positions, always present trainings,'' said Dianne Merchant, acting site coordinator at Rogers ROK After School Program.
The Jamestown After School Professional Development team - comprised of JPS, Chautauqua Striders, YMCA and YWCA staff - sees challenge as opportunity, and works creatively to align its comprehensive staff development program with the evolving needs of funders, licensors, staff and the students they serve. Throughout the course of a school year, staff typically receives more than 30 hours of training on a variety of topics, including child development, safety and security procedures, child care regulations, nutrition and health, standards-based lesson planning, 40 developmental assets, and family relationships. The Jamestown After School staff development team, by peer staff educators and by district, leads trainings and/or community experts who provide specialized insight into high-interest youth development topics.
In response to staff request, an upcoming training session will be co-presented by Tina Currie, JPS CSE department chairperson, who will describe strategies and techniques to help staff work optimally with special needs students, and by Denise Pusateri, JPS math department curriculum coordinator, who will help familiarize staff with the new district K-5 math curriculum and coach them on ways to support students' learning during out-of-school time. As budgets allow, After School Program site coordinators, tutors and group leaders are tapped to attend local, state and national afterschool professional conferences, where current information on research-based initiatives, resources, trends, theories and best practice can be gathered by attendees and later shared among colleagues. An emphasis is placed on developing a culture of professional development, of seeing and conveying us as skilled childcare professionals who must constantly stretch, grow and evolve in our roles.
It's working. This spring, two Jamestown After School Program staff members, representing Chautauqua Striders and the YWCA, plan not only to attend the 10th Annual Western New York State School Age Training Institute in Rochester, but also intend to be workshop presenters.