By James Doyle, National Afterschool Association Next Generation 2017 Award Winner
As a sponsor of the National Afterschool Association Next Generation Award for Afterschool for 2017, we are recognizing the nominees and winners for their dedication to afterschool.
It’s an average Tuesday morning in Pittsburgh. I’m up and off to work early in order to prepare for the day I have in store. I work as the Out-of-School Time Coordinator for Pittsburgh Public Schools, overseeing a team of three District central office employees and a number of OST programs, partnerships, and initiatives for our over 25,000 student population.
“Out-of-School Time,” I think aloud to myself as I drive in to work this morning. “Ten years ago, I would have never thought I’d be doing the work I am today.”
As I continue my uneventful morning drive to the office, I ponder more about my journey that has led me to this point in life.
As a youth, I had always been fond of participating in activities outside of the regular school day: in Elementary and Middle School I had engaged in Science and Engineering clubs and camps; in High School and college I had participated in extracurricular writing and journalism activities. I never imagined, though, that a career path existed for those that managed these types of experiences, nor had I even heard the term ‘Out-of-School Time’ until much later in life! These experiences had always been characterized to me as, while beneficial in their own way, “extra” to my overall and much more important primary educational pathway including K-12, college, and graduate school.
So, I continued my intermittent engagement in extracurricular and OST opportunities while primarily focusing on my education. Four years after graduating high-school, I had completed college with both a Bachelor’s Degree in Communication and Political Science and a MAster’s Degree in Public Administration, and was ready to take on the workforce full time.
A passion I developed through my participation in OST activities early on was in supporting and positively engaging the Pittsburgh communities in which I grew up, and specifically engaging in community-based volunteering. My first full-time job after college was as an outreach and volunteer recruitment director for a small nonprofit crisis hotline: CONTACT Pittsburgh. This work involved connecting willing Pittsburgh-area caregivers to persons in need via the telephone and also educating the region on preventative mental health care and active listening. A significant aspect of this role also involved training high-school aged students in suicide awareness and prevention strategies which they could use to support peers. This was my first official experience as an employed out-of-school time professional, and I really enjoyed it.
Through this work, I came to realize that K-12 education was an area for which I had another passion, one that was not as apparent earlier in my life. But alas, the traditional pathway to teaching required at least another two years of graduate school and, at the time, I wasn’t ready to pursue additional education. After CONTACT, I found a new career pathway in education through The New Teacher Project (now TNTP). At TNTP, I worked in Pittsburgh Public Schools as an Operations Manager for an Alternate-Route Teacher Certification Program and soon after found my way to a staffing manager position with the District Human Resources department. I thought that supporting schools through the staffing of essential personnel in order to positively impact student achievement would fulfill the newfound passion I had for education…and it did! But, something was still missing…
A couple years into my work in Human Resources, a position opened within the District to coordinate the work of after-school partnerships and programs. Pittsburgh Public Schools engages between 70-90 community-based organizations through a formalized partnership process and directly manages OST programs that support thousands of Pittsburgh-area students year-round. I applied for and was hired into this after-school coordination role following my experience with human resources. For me, this work bridged the passion that I had for both supporting Pittsburgh communities and community-based organizations and serving as a K-12 educational leader. In serving as the District After-School Coordinator, I was able to strengthen and enhance the District-community partnerships by improving and streamlining student data sharing, with a particular focus on partners using data to inform programming and improve student outcomes. I also led a twice-successful application submission process to secure funding through competitive statewide grant request for proposals for the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program to support after-school programming across 5 of our school buildings. Two years into my employment in this role, the team was restructured and the District Summer Program, the Summer Dreamers Academy, was moved into my scope of responsibility, leading me to where I am today.
Before long, I pull into the parking lot, exit my car and walk to our District administration building.
“Hi! Happy Tuesday!” I cheerily greet a colleague as I enter the building. I always try to set the example of positivity and friendliness daily. Happiness is contagious! And, I always say, if we want our kids to be excited about school and learning, we have to be just as excited (if not more so!) to wake up and support them each and every day!
I walk up the stairs to the 4th floor and stroll down the hall to my office. Walking through the hall of our out-of-school time corridor, I always make it a point to take notice of some of the photos we have posted in the hall of our youth participating in OST programming. These always serve as a great reminder of why we do what we do, each and every day.
I step into my office and open my calendar to prepare for my first meeting of the day: a check-in with my OST team. I spend the next hour or so orienting myself around my team’s big goals and action items planned for this week. Once I feel well oriented, I head to our meeting room to begin the check-in.
“Hello all! How we doin?!” I say as I enter the room. “OK, everyone have their updates? And we all remember our meeting norms? Great! Let’s begin.”
I listen intently and take notes as my team members give updates on their areas of responsibility within our office. Asia, a team program assistant focused on curriculum development and programming gives an update that our 21st Century Community Learning Centers After-School Academy program has been operating well since the start of the school year: all three school locations have begun to implement our initiative to provide personalized learning plans to the over 250 enrolled students. Kristen, a team program assistant focused on office operations and logistics gives an update that all interviews for our Summer Dreamers Academy leadership team members have been scheduled for next week, and that we are ready to implement a new online enrollment process for Summer Dreamers in order to enroll our over 2,000 student participants. Tylor, a team program assistant focused on partnerships, data, and evaluation gives an update that our over 80 community partner organizations will soon receive student data including academic performance, behavior, and grades for the first quarter of this school year, and during the next all-partner meeting we will be providing training on data literacy and student-focused data analysis.
“Great work, team! Sounds like we have an exciting week planned. I appreciate you all!” I end the meeting with.
In Pittsburgh, we aim to situate out-of-school time learning as equal to the importance of in-school learning by establishing an intention focus on whole child education and development. Analogous to the right to traditional education for all, we believe that all students have a right to out-of-school education, and our work in Pittsburgh helps to normalize these types of educational experiences for every student, every day.
I leave the meeting with my team feeling even more energized than before. I’m ready to take on the rest of my day!
To learn more about the National Afterschool Association (NAA) visit naaweb.org. We proudly support 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:
James Doyle is the Coordinator of Out-of-School Time for Pittsburgh Public Schools. He has worked for Pittsburgh Public Schools for over 5 years supporting after-school programs, summer programs, and in human resources. Outside of work, James enjoys sandwiches, traveling to #random places, and volunteering in and around Pittsburgh. E-mail him at [email protected] to say hello!