By Natalie Gallegos, National Afterschool Association Next Generation 2017 Award Nominee
S&S Worldwide sponsored the National Afterschool Association Next Generation Award for Afterschool for 2017, and we are very proud of all of the nominees and winners! This is a great opportunity to highlight these afterschool professionals and the dedication they have to their programs. Natalie Gallegos shares her story.
Facing Obstacles with Today’s Youth
The Rawlings Library serves an interesting population. Although our county stretches over a good sectiion of southern Colorado, our patrons fit a more urban profile. This includes our youth. Kids frequent the library on their own from a young age. They are independent and expect not to be acknowledged or respected by adults. But they regularly stay at the library every day after school until close.
This created a tricky situation for those of us who served them in the youth services department. The social hierarchy they created through a complicated algorithm of Minecraft expertise, age and pure coolness (something I will never fully understand) was at odds with our services and ideas about programming. They weren’t interested in rules – I can only assume this added to their coolness quota. They wanted to be online the whole time they were here without interruption. We had a clear line with us on one side and them on the other. We identified behavior issues. They had too much energy and their food consisted of school-provided lunches and vending machine “dinners.” We knew there had to be something we could do to help.
Hangouts Afterschool Program
Eventually, two of the youngest members of this afterschool crowd began to engage staff in conversation. Once they felt comfortable talking, we couldn’t get them to stop! Even when we were busy on-desk and didn’t have a ton of time to talk. They needed something to do – something interesting, designed for them and socially engaging. I volunteered for the job. Thus, our afterschool program was born! I called it Hangouts. The goal was simple: give them a space to act their age and activities to keep them occupied.
Tips for Afterschool Success
Part of the Hangout success comes from food. We knew they weren’t eating afterschool because they were on our computers: a strict no-eating zone. And let’s face it, provide snacks and they will come. But how to get them to stay and keep them coming back? That’s harder. The first step is finding the right staff for the job. Working with them requires patience, the ability to listen and support without being condescending and willingness to hold them accountable. Make sure there is a space and time just for them. It’s so important for them to feel ownership at this point in their lives. Ask them what they want to do! It seems so easy but, it’s also easy to overlook. They are still young and need some guidance but they know what they like. Our Thursday Hangouts are sometimes as easy as perler beads or Mario Kart and as complicated as Cupcake Wars and Escape Room challenges. If you have the space, time and the right adult, they will support whatever you offer.
Importance of a Successful Afterschool Program
Providing this program has been positive for all involved. Staff, including myself, are now more aware of the way the library can provide a positive afterschool space for youth. We now have hangout-style programs offered at two other branches and are hoping to have a dedicated staff member for this age group in 2017. Other community organizations have been able to use the Hangout foundation to support their programs because we have grown a consistent following. Listening to what the youth ask for has improved behavior and relationships with this age group, and it means that they are more engaged in planning future programs, more interested in promoting activities that they helped think up and more willing to take responsibility for their space in the library. They see themselves as leaders, and they are helping us to build a program that engages youth of all ages.
To learn more about the National Afterschool Association (NAA) visit naaweb.org. S&S proudly supports their mission and dedication to the afterschool community.
Natalie Gallegos lives in in Pueblo, CO. She is works in the Youth Services Department at The Pueblo City-County Library District