By Sam Piha
We began tracking the spread of the Coronavirus several weeks ago. After seeing discussions in educational literature we grew increasingly concerned about the implications for afterschool. We had an exchange with national afterschool advocates, and decided that we would wait for schools, districts and public health officials to share their thoughts. We chose to follow their lead because it is imperative that we all speak with consistency.
Nobody really knows how much the Coronavirus will spread in the U.S. Below are some thoughts and resources that may be useful for afterschool providers. Please note that new information and resources are appearing daily.
Know the Facts & Follow Developments: It is important that everyone understands the real facts about COVID-19, and not be influenced by rumors on the internet. It is also important that program staff are knowledgeable about prevention strategies which can be employed in the program. We recommend the following resources:
Coordination: For school-based afterschool programs, it is important to coordinate with schools and school districts on plans for responding to COVID-19. We recommend that program leaders are involved in these plans by meeting with principals and following developments on district websites. This includes any plans for school closures. Program leaders should also be aware of any efforts of the janitorial staff regarding cleaning and disinfecting the program space, especially those areas that are more likely to spread the virus.
For community-based afterschool programs, it is important for organizational leaders to ensure that staff are properly trained and informed, that the space is being cleaned properly, and they are in contact and coordinating with local health departments.
How to Talk With Kids: It is best when programs have a regularly scheduled “Check-in Circle” where participants can bring up things on their minds, such as a fear of the COVID-19 virus. If programs do not have a regular check-in, they can call a “circle meeting” to discuss.
First, it is important that the adult staff know the facts. It is good to answer any questions truthfully, while communicating reassurances that adults are doing everything to keep children safe. We suggest that adult staff need not to offer detailed information that goes beyond young people’s questions- especially for young children. Second, empower participants with strategies to prevent infection, like staying home when ill and washing hands frequently. It may be helpful to demonstrate effective hand washing (20 seconds or 2 verses of “Happy Birthday”) and include hand washing as part of the program, especially before snacks.
“Youth workers should bring up that there is currently a heightened awareness of the importance of good hygiene to support everyone's health. For example: ‘It's flu season, and cold season anyway, plus a new virus going around which has prompted health officials and doctors to ask people in communities to do better about keeping themselves and everyone else healthy. Your school and this program are each a community and we're making that effort here too.’ Then teach hygiene. Beyond that, my sense is that youth workers should only talk further about it in response to questions or concerns that kids raise.
Here is one useful resource- How to Talk to Kids About Coronavirus. You may also find this comic book format useful.
Stigma/Bullying Reduction: It is important that afterschool staff take measures to ensure that youth do not stigmatize or bully other youth. COVID-19 is not a “Chinese” virus.
“I request your careful attention to recent challenges that have been reported in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19). There has been an increasing number of news reports regarding stereotyping, harassment, and bullying directed at persons perceived to be of Chinese American or, more generally, Asian descent.”- Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, Kenneth L. Marcus
Communication With Parents: It is normal for parents to be concerned about the health of their children. Reassure parents that afterschool staff are well-informed and working closely with their host school. Similar to afterschool staff, it is important that parents have the right facts about the COVID-19 virus and that they and their child stay home if they feel ill. (For school-based afterschool programs, check with your school to see if they already have “communication with parents” literature.)
In communicating with parents, afterschool staff could say something like: “The coronavirus and issues surrounding it is in the news and on the minds of many; we are leaving it to parents and classroom teachers to address it in detail; as a community, our afterschool programs will take on the relevant health/hygiene aspects of the issue in an effort to raise students' awareness and provide training about staying healthy; youth workers are being informed and trained to respond to any questions or issues that the kids bring up; we will, of course, notify parents of any issues that arise that affect the health or social-emotional well-being of your individual child or the group.”-Sheri Glucoft Wong, LCSW
For more information on this topic, we recommend this resource- What Parents Need to Know About Coronavirus.
Afterschool Program Finances: Many afterschool programs receive payments based on average daily attendance. If attendance is down or schools are closed, how will this affect afterschool programs? Will they have to permanently shut down? Will staff have to be laid off? Ask funders (state, federal, city, or philanthropic) if there are provisions for this. For instance, in California, the Department of Education has a process by which programs can apply for Attendance Relief funding. Additionally, it is important that afterschool staff do not come to work if they feel ill. This works best if the provider organization provides staff with sick time benefits, which may have financial implications.
"I do think it reminds us that we should all stay home when sick, adults, kids etc – and that requires support financially; paid sick days for staff and paid sick days for parents/guardians to care for sick kids." – Jodi Grant, Afterschool Alliance
Sheri Glucoft Wong, LCSW is a family therapist, parent educator and consultant. In addition to her clinical practice, she has led workshops and seminars for public and private schools and childcare centers, medical centers, and private industry for over 30 years.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.