• Adria de Stefano

Outdoor Innovators: Lights On Afterschool! The Resiliency of After School Programs

Oftentimes when after school programs are referred to their importance can be overlooked. When the global pandemic hit, after school programs across the nation shut down, and like so many other essential businesses, our society began to have a deeper recognition of how crucial they really are. Nearly 14 months later, as we approach the 2021 Lights On Afterschool event, we’d like to take time to reflect on the creativity, innovativeness and resiliency the educators and children of BACR after school programs have shown, and where it’s brought them today.

During COVID-19, nearly everything was put on hold, however the children and families’ need for support only increased. Sherman Elementary’s After School team listened to stories of struggles from their community, and adapted to the changing times by building a new program from the ground up. Their new idea would provide a service to support families and their children in a safe and innovative way - Outdoor Education.

Outdoor learning is something that has become more well known and popular over the years. Sherman ASP took this concept of nature learning and ran with it during the pandemic. With outdoor learning, kids were able to finally engage safely and in person, and grow their social emotional learning skills. Parents were able to have a safe space for their children to go while schools were closed, and the ASP employees were able to keep working with fewer cuts needing to be made. As the after school teachers and students explored the new concept of Outdoor Education nature learning together, invaluable lessons were learned by all. The team faced many challenges along the way, and came out stronger than ever.

Many studies have shown that children who learn outdoors develop a better sense of self, more independence, increased confidence and creativity. Outdoor education also has shown to help develop better decision-making and problem-solving skills, more empathy towards others along with self-discipline and initiative. While the students learned outside in nature, rain or shine, the ASP educators were able to watch these new skills develop every day.

From what began as a program needing to adapt to the unprecedented times to support their community, concluded in valuable lessons for all involved. Though now we are back in the classrooms, and times have returned to somewhat “normal”, outdoor learning isn’t something that Sherman has left in the past. After seeing all the benefits, Sherman’s ASP has continued to incorporate outdoor learning in their day to day programming. Their program takes advantage of their school garden and offers multiple nature classes and clubs. The students get to independently explore, plant, garden, build, make art and more. Activities range from planting seedlings and learning about butterfly life cycles to drying out herbs from the garden to make different types of teas.

From what we’ve seen at Sherman Elementary, both educators and children can always find a way to come out of a difficult situation stronger than ever. What are some ways you have seen your local ASP programs excel in challenging times?