Expectations at After-School Programs
Operating after-school programs that take place at a school can be a challenge for youth-serving organizations. The kids spend their entire day at school and tend to assume that the school rules apply to the after-school program. It’s important for staff to know that your organization’s protocols still apply, regardless of where your after-school programming takes place. And this needs to be clearly communicated to the kids in your care.
In other words: Your program, your rules.
Establishing authority, setting expectations and creating routines are all important practices that must be carried over from your day time programming to your after-school program. Key priorities in an after-school setting include:
- Keep a line of sight and sound at all times. The kids may be tempted to wander to a teacher’s classroom, or to the playground. This is an environment that they know very well and may try to “take the lead.” Let them know that they must stay in the after-school programming area, unless otherwise advised.
- Maintain control of your environment, including sign-in and sign-out procedures, as well as supervised bathroom breaks at all times. It’s best to take the entire group to the bathroom to eliminate one-on-one time. If someone asks to use the bathroom at another time, ask the group if anyone else needs to use the bathroom. Have one staff member take that small group—never send a group of kids alone.
- Maintain appropriate supervision ratios and have a plan in place for times when there’s a lack of staff.
- Remain extra vigilant during high-risk times, like during transitions or at the beginning or end of programming. During key times when programming has less structure and youth have more freedom, we tend to see incidents occur.
- Work together with staff, spread out and rotate positions so that all children are observable at all times, paying particular attention to blind spots. Communicate frequently with other staff members, so that everyone is aware and on the same page.
- Know your environment and environmental risks associated with the facility, like folding tables that could fall on the children—and inspect playground equipment carefully. Search for sharp objects, torn nets, and wet or slippery equipment.
- Review rules and expectations regularly, especially any that may differ from regular school hours. Post the rules in a central location where all kids can see. Make it clear from day one that the rules at the after-school program may be different, but they are expected to follow them.
- Plan activities to make supervision easier, keeping children positively engaged at all times. All activities at your after-school program should be structured, so you are actively engaged with the kids. This also minimizes any opportunity for bullying or peer-to-peer sexual abuse to occur.
- Follow all of your organization’s protocols on abuse prevention and bullying prevention. These include, but are not limited to, enforcing rules such as “no alone time”, “no favoritism,” and reporting all rule breaking and red flag behaviors. Train all staff on your organization’s emergency action plan and practice it regularly. This will make sure staff are prepared in the event of an emergency.
- Build relationships with the youth in your programs. Youth don’t always have the skills to manage their emotions, so their behavior becomes a way that they can let others know how they are doing. By building authentic and long-lasting relationships with the youth in your care, you can better understand what causes them to behave the way that they do. This is key to effective behavior management in your programs.