By Kaitlyn Ferree, National Afterschool Association Next Generation Award 2018 Nominee
The S&S Worldwide team is proud to be the sponsor of the National Afterschool Association Next Generation Award for Afterschool for 2018. We are honored to highlight the nominees and winners for their accomplishments and dedication to the afterschool community.
I graduated from Florida Southern College with a degree in Elementary Education and I went right to work teaching 1st grade and 2nd grade in Florida. I have always had a passion for working with children, which began when I was a freshman in High School and I volunteered at the summer camp in my hometown. It was through the rec league of Kennett Square and from there I was hooked. I went on to work at the camp as a counselor, and then after that I became the coordinator for two years before going to college. In college I wasn’t always sure what I wanted to do, but the one thing that I knew was I wanted to better the lives of children and make sure they are healthy and have the necessities to grow and learn. I ended up going into elementary education and I loved it. I got to learn new skills, ways to target different learning styles, and discovered that what works for some students doesn’t work for all of them.
Last year after teaching second grade, I moved to Buffalo New York. Finding a teaching job here to just jump into was nearly impossible coming from out of state. While I was looking up different opportunities online, I stumbled upon Just For Kids and their website. My aunt works for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, so growing up I was always very familiar with after school programs and the need for them, along with all of the positive benefits that come out of having a strong after school program available for kids. Once I started looking into Just For Kids, I knew that it was something I would like to be a part of.
Just For Kids Afterschool Program
After meeting with the staff and director, I accepted a position as a Site Manager at Maple East Elementary School, which is the largest Just For Kids Program that they have. Everyday, we average about 95 students and I have 10 staff members that work with the student’s daily. As soon as you get to the program, you are surrounded with the best group of students I’ve ever had the chance to work with, and it has quickly taken my heart and I am so excited to be able to give these students a program that offers them homework help, physical activity and social experiences that allow them to grow and learn.
Everyday after we get our kids, they have time where they work on homework. Our team leaders always make sure to check the kids’ work and allow them time to go back and learn where mistakes were made so they can correct them. We make it a priority for our kids to get their work done first before moving into other activities, and the kid’s love showing the team leaders and myself their work. Moving from a classroom to the after school field, I can really see how important these programs are. On a daily basis I communicate with teachers and parents regarding classroom performance and things we can do to make sure they are getting what they need during their after school time. We have a few students who get pulled for tutoring during the time they are in our program because they don’t have as much time during the school day. We also do projects that include STEM skills that our students really enjoy participating in because it challenges them to think and have fun at the same time.
Way Cool Kid of the Day
Also to make each day even more exciting than normal, we choose a kid that has shown great listening skills, respect, and all around just a model for others at JFK, and they are our “Way Cool Kid” of the day. They get a balloon, they write their favorite things on a board for everyone to see and they get recognized by the whole group of students at our daily announcements.
Local & Community Support
We participate in activities throughout our community, including a local food drive where our site alone collected 300 cans to donate for the cause. Our kids also adopted a family this Christmas that has a daughter with cancer, so we helped fulfull their family wish list. It’s amazing to see a group of kids put their heads together and come up with ideas and fun ways to meet those goals.
Just For Kids also allows us to recognize 3 students each month that exhibit our monthly character trait, such as patience or honesty. We hold the kids to high expectations and they know that. As well as those activities, we hold Kids Colleges each month where we have a professional or a student at the local college come in and teach our students about a particular subject or talk to them about a career.
The Importance of Afterschool Programs
JFK has truly shown me the importance of after school programs and I have never loved being a part of something as much as I do here. When a parent comes in and thanks me for keeping each day different, keeping them moving, keeping them on track with homework, I just thank them for allowing us to be a part of their child’s daily life. Many of our students will ask their parents to come back in an hour or two if they get picked up “early” from our program. It’s one of the best feelings you can have as the manager of a program like this, because these kids do stay at school longer than all their friends everyday, sometimes until 6:00 pm, but if they see it as the best part of their day then we have done our job.
Seeing the way that our program impacts the families in our community is honestly bigger than I ever could have imagined, and giving parents that comfort in knowing their child will be safe, have fun, get physical activity and better themselves while they are at our program is the most rewarding job in the world. I believe that the power after school programs have in making students successful is limitless, and for those families who really count on us everyday it is something that we need to maintain for them because their children are at school more than they are at home during the week.
To learn more about the National Afterschool Association (NAA) visit naaweb.org. S&S proudly supports their mission and dedication to the afterschool community.
S&S Worldwide is also committed to the career development and support of our afterschool professionals. We have partnered with the NAA to bring quality online courses to the industry. You can find them at our S&S Worldwide Online School.
About the Author: Kaitlyn Ferree
I am 24 and I am originally from Kennett Square PA. I attended college at Florida Southern College in Lakeland Florida where I played women’s lacrosse. I now live in Buffalo New York where I am the manager of Just For Kids at Maple East Elementary School in the Williamsville School District. I am a huge fan of working out and fitness and I love getting to share that with kids in our program. I am new to the after school scene but it has quickly become my passion. I can’t wait to learn more about the opportunities to grow as an afterschool leader and advocator. Leaving the classroom for after school wasn’t something I knew I would do but I believe that it is where I belong and I love getting to challenge myself in this field.