By Derrick Hatch, National Afterschool Association Next Generation Award 2018 Winner
A Job Or A Career?
When I began working in the afterschool field, I didn’t quite know what I was signing up for. Sure, I was excited about the job; but at the time, it was a placeholder until something better came along.
Oh how wrong I was.
In the beginning, I didn’t think I was quite cut out for the work. Here I was, a white 23 year-old from suburban Southern California. Was I really qualified to be working with kids and teens in the inner-city? What if they laughed at me? What if they made fun of me?
Well, they did laugh, and they did make fun of me. And I joyfully embraced it all.
At first, the students thought I was kind of peculiar. (“Who is this guy and what could he possibly offer us?”) But over time, we began sharing our worlds with one another.
I would bring in my record player and teach them about music; they would teach me how to Whip and Nae Nae.
I would help them read chapter books; they would help me improve my basketball skills. I would introduce them to my wife; they would introduce me to their moms. And so the cycle went on and on. And after a while, it didn’t matter if I was cool or uncool, if I could dance or not dance, if I could make a basket or not. What mattered to them was that I was there, present, in their lives. I stuck around, and stayed faithful, even when I wanted to leave. And as a result, not only did they accept me for who I am, but I also learned to accept myself in the process.
One of my favorite moments was during Red Ribbon Week in 2015. I wanted to teach the kids about the power of their choices. So I decided to go out and buy a Spider-Man costume and host an assembly where I interacted with kids for the day as Spider-Man. Most of them figured out pretty quickly it was me; but in that moment, I discovered that sweet spot between being a professional educator and an incarnational mentor.
What I didn’t understand at the time was just how relational this work is. You see these students five days a week for three hours a day. You teach them valuable life lessons and show them what it means to be a better person. You speak into the inter-woven complexities of their life with words of encouragement, affirmation, and understanding. You meet their families and build connections with their parents and guardians. You laugh with them in the good times (even if it’s at yourself). You mourn with them in the bad, and pray with them as they grapple with life’s inevitable hardships.
I don’t know how else to describe, but there is this energy that is present when you stick around. And as a result, I found my lane, and grew not only as a professional, but also as a person.
My Work In Afterschool Programming
I work at an organization called Urban Youth Impact (UYI) located in West Palm Beach, Florida. Our mission is to love, equip, and empower inner-city youth to fulfill their God-given purpose. We serve a variety of children from ages 5 to 18 through various programs in three different cities. I serve as part of The Leadership Academy, an afterschool program that focuses on literacy, tutoring, life skills, behavioral coaching, the arts, and spiritual enrichment. My role there is twofold: I am the Youth Ministry Leader and the SMART Program Assistant.
As Youth Ministry Leader, my role is to oversee the spiritual growth and development of our students. How I approach this various depending on the age group. For our elementary students, I lead a 30-minute chapel each week where they can learn about Jesus and how to live like him. For our middle school students, we do chapel three times a week and separate guys-only and girls-only small groups once a week, teaching them how they can take ownership over their faith and lives. For curriculum, I design most of it myself with a few exceptions; I enjoy creating my own material because by doing so, I can better assess and integrate what my students need to grow. I also lead both small group and individual discipleship and mentoring where students can ask deeper questions and wrestle through the many tensions that life poses. In my less busier moments, I try to take time to go around to each classroom and pray with students.
I am also UYI’s SMART Assistant. SMART stands for Science Meets ART. It is our way of integrating subjects that often get sidelined in public schools. I teach, facilitate, and monitor a variety of classes such as videography and drumming. In videography, students created their own movies and TV shows (as see on our Youtube Channel UYImpact). In drumming, students learn how to play a variety of percussion instruments, including hand drums, djembes, congas, buckets, and drum set. In December, our drumline was invited to perform in Downtown West Palm Beach. The students felt so proud and accomplished as their hard work paid off in the form of a performance.
There are additional roles I play on the team. One that I am very proud of was during this past summer where we hosted a series of dialogues between our UYI families, police officers, and city officials called Cops and Kids. Much of my work consists of breaking down barriers where there is division so that unity can be fostered; these dialogue sessions were key in bridging the gap that is sadly evident in our country today.
For the last year, I have been responsible for managing our program’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB). YAB consists of eleven students ages 10 through 14 who have demonstrated remarkable leadership capabilities both on and off our campus. These students were nominated by staff members and interviewed to get in. They must also maintain their position by engaging in leadership training and maintaining good behavior. Each week, they gather together and conduct a meeting and take notes, they create monthly fundraises, and even maintain their own budget. YAB hosts various events that they plan, organize, and execute as a team, including our annual Fall Festival and End of the Year Party. They also partner with various organizations and participate in monthly service projects based on causes they are passionate about. YAB provides students the opportunity to cultivate their gifts and skills and use them for shaping the culture of UYI, thus taking ownership of their program.
My goal for this year is to create more time in my schedule for mentoring, to expand my drumming classes so I can enroll more students, to incorporate more social-emotional learning into my SMART classes, and to better equip more students on our campus to lead various events and activities throughout the year.
To anyone reading this who is in the afterschool field, I offer to you this advice:
This work is not always going to feel glamorous or rewarding. You may get tired and weary, you may even want to quit and find something less demanding. But afterschool programs are not temp jobs; rather, they are investments in the citizens of tomorrow.
So stick with it. Because when you are faithful, being intentional about making time for your students, you will find it incredibly satisfying. When you see the faces of your students mature over the years, incorporating bits and pieces of what they learned, you will find it deeply fulfilling. And when they come up to you and reminisce in laughter about the time you did the Whip and Nae Nae, or the time you lost to them in basketball, or the time when you dressed up as Spider-Man, even though they are still laughing at you, you will find yourself joyfully laughing right alongside them.
About the Author:
Derrick Hatch is a passionate follower of Jesus who resides in West Palm Beach, Florida with his wife Tori and his daughter Adeline. In his spare time, he enjoys teaching at his church, playing drums, and co-hosting the podcast Life In The Gray. He also blogs at dmhatch.wordpress.com.