Working in the after-school field has its difficulties. It is not all sunshine and rainbows as everyone thinks it is. The organization I work for has me based at a school site. Therefore, I work very closely with the school faculty and administrators on campus. I have worked at my share of schools and encountered very kind and not so pleasant people along the way. However, I was not at a school long enough to understand the benefits of building a strong relationship, until now.
Around 5 years ago, I stepped foot onto a school campus I knew very little about other than, the after-school program had a bad reputation. Here I am, a veteran supervisor of my organization, thinking to myself, “It can’t be that bad!” Well, I was surely wrong! Let me paint you a quick picture of what it was like 5 years ago. The teachers did not want us using their classrooms because they did not want the students to touch their belongings or have things go missing. My school Principal had very little faith that our program was doing any good for the students. The Parents of the school did not want to enroll their children into the program because they did not trust the staff and/or believe their children would succeed academically and/or socially. On the first day of school, I started with 60 students. Mind you, our average daily attendance is supposed to be 85 students. Recruiting potential Parents with fliers outside of the school was useless because as soon as I turned my back they threw it in the trash can. Talking to the teachers was intimidating because they would not give me the time of day as they are already stressed enough planning their lessons.
I was about to give up hope until I had an epiphany. These parents, teachers, and school administrators do not know me. They hear me speak about how passionate I am for after-school programming but I need to show them somehow. My monthly meetings with my Principal use to me boasting about how much fun the kids were having at the program. That may sound all great and dandy but that was not what my Principal wanted to hear. As the program supervisor, what can I do to make their lives easier? After my epiphany, I had a monthly meeting with my Principal and I asked her, “What can my staff and I do to help the teachers and parents?” That one question was the beginning to the end of this horrible reputation we had at the school. My persistence and passion shined through all the negativity that surrounded the program.
The district and school have goals that they need to meet weekly, monthly, and yearly. My program can help do that whether it be increasing homework completion, test scores, and/or accelerated reading goals. If my Principal said academics was what we needed to focus on, I made sure I focused on academics. Giving the students extra time to complete homework and providing my staff with necessary resources to better assist students with understanding their homework. I kept in close communication with the student’s teachers by providing positive and negative feedback. The power of communication is KEY to building a positive relationship. If my Principal said she wanted us to focus on emotional and social skills, we made sure we did that. We provide students with a place where sharing is safe because the trust was built. Friendships were made in the program because we instilled a sense of belonging within our students.
It took me 3 years to get my Principal and school faculty to buy into our program and become our biggest advocates. It took me 3 years to build a strong, healthy, and positive relationship with them because I had to show them the consistency in my work. The power of consistency is IMPORTANT for building a positive relationship. I am currently on my 5th year at the school and let me paint you a picture of what it looks like now. I have Parents calling and coming up to me daily asking when their child will be able to attend my program. I am at full capacity and with a waitlist of over 20 students. I have teachers providing classrooms for me when and if I need them. The Principal is now a dear friend of mine. She not only cares about the success of the program but she cares about my success and is helping me aim to reach my personal goals. Our program has played a huge role in the success of our school academically. Our school is a National Blue Ribbon School and this upcoming week I will be accompanying my Principal and two teachers to Kansas City to receive the National ESEA Distinguished School Award at the ESEA National Conference. My Principal personally invited me to attend as she feels through our partnership in supporting our neediest children helped us get recognized nationally.
Through the power of communication and consistency, I was able to build this strong foundation with my school faculty and community. It takes hard work and determination but the outcome will be substantially rewarding.