When the (Official) Day is Done: Discovering “WHAT ELSE” After School

The word is FUN.  There’s not a whole lot of chance for kids to just have fun . . and let it be their choice, because they are being driven to this practice and that practice, doing homework in the minivan.  All three of us offer and do things with the kids that parents say “NO” to at home, like melting soap to make bath bombs. We’re doing stuff you do at your grandparent’s house, not at your parent’s house. (Patty Wolf)

 I went with the carbon snakes where we were burning things, flames shooting up  . . . ; they want something exciting and they go “THIS IS SCIENCE?!” yes it is . . . “(gasp) what else can I do” And that’s what I like . . the WHAT ELSE . . . in small groups you CAN do the what else! . . .let’s find out . .  (Kathy Vial) 

Yeah I think we all do [after school enrichments] that [we] would want to do.  If I was little, I would want to do, and I STILL want to do it. I taught woodworking one time because I wanted to learn woodwork.  It’s kind of like living through them by doing it. (Kim Sewell)

Fog rising from the grass, I stepped out of the car and wrapped my black, spit-up stained Moby around a half asleep three month old Alianna Rust, securing her to my torso. My husband and I were touring St. Andrew’s (just for fun, not for serious) while on a weekend marathon of house-hunting.  (We had left five year old Lucy and two year old Zander in Indiana with the grandparents.)  I had just recently accepted a gig at Millsaps College in the oh-so foreign land of Jackson, MS.   This school visit was happening courtesy of a recommendation from an admissions-counselor at an Ivy League buddy of mine; she thought we should at least check out the school because of my research interest in K-12 education.  But about 30 minutes into the tour, I felt a distinct sense of home.  My mind began spinning with questions: (1) Is this place for real? (2)  Could we possibly afford this place?, and (3) Do they have high quality after school programming? 

For many working parents with children of a certain age range, finding safe and enriching opportunities for their babies between the hours of 3pm-5pm can become a Herculean task.  St. Andrew’s established After School Care Programming and enrichment auxiliary classes was one large reason my husband and I decided to take the leap into the world of independent school. So perhaps it’s about time we zoomed in on all the goodness that happens after the official school day ends.  Jay Losset and his crew of enrichment faculty and after school staff know that meeting students’ diverse needs after the day is done (right about when exhaustion and hunger can set in) is no small order.  Nevertheless, they do so with a spirit of fun and ease that could serve as inspiration for us all.  

I sat down with Jay Losset (Director of Auxillary Programming), Kathy Vial (Science faculty and long-time teacher of After School Science),  Kim Sewell (PK4 faculty member and Enrichment teacher of classes like Tinkerlab; Emerging Engineers, Slimes, Doughs and Crazy Concoctions), and Patty Wolf (Teaching Assistant and Enrichment teacher of Happy Panda Yoga, Mindfulness, and Glow Girls) to learn more about the magic that makes it all work. (See them all pictured from left to right below.)

Jay, you are an enigma to me with all you manage as director of all of this after-school business for the past nine years! Under your leadership, our camps and after school programming has blossomed beautifully. What is a day in the life like?

Well it depends on the time of year.  I oversee camps when school is out (throughout the school year on specific holidays and teacher work days); enrichment classes (we’re up to 60+), and Saints Summer Experience (Lord willing, registration begins Feb 27th!)   Right now I’m trying to hop to summer because they go live in 20 days, but I can’t tell parents their concerns have to wait until I’m done with that. It’s the day-to -day stuff.  Lynn Davis, Auxillary Programs Associate, keeps the trains of ASC running;  I don’t know how I did it before her!  I’m either getting ready for fall/spring enrichments or summer as well as the constant churn of ASC. (Jay)

I know that After School Care is quite distinct from Enrichments, so let’s start there.  It’s a bit more affordable of an option, more play-based, and less structured.  I know my three Rusts have spent many an hour doing homework in the Commons, playing outside, and watching the occasional movie inside before we can get them at the end of the day. What’s it all about?

Jay: It’s a place for kids to play after hours that’s safe; I think a lot of parents miss that. There are all of these nostalgic Facebook posts about “what I did when I was growing up in the 80’s.”  Some of it was great and some of it was horrible–rose tinted glasses and all that.  We were doing things that we shouldn’t have done.  It’s nostalgic and there were no screens back then, but some of that was not great.  In ASC we have guard rails in place to keep the worst stuff at bay.  We let multiple grades play together; a 1st grader and a 4th grader can look at Pokemon together. It’s sort of a good experiment of sorts.  It gives modern working parents who may lack the neighborhood or don’t feel safe letting them run wild from 3-5 or they can’t get the kid or they have to work.  The number of kids that use it, [not having it] would affect a lot of working parents. After school care is sort of a wild, necessary beast.  I can’t imagine St. Andrew’s existing without it.  

Thanks for that, Jay.  I see you’ve invited three fabulous and experienced enrichment teachers to join us today.  Why did you choose Kathy, Kim, and Patty today?

Jay: Ya’ll came to mind because yours are some of the programs that have multi-year track records of success. For new/prospective teachers, I want to say “go talk to these guys”- they have it down to an art, a science.  Thanks to ya’ll for what you do and being so self sufficient because a lot has changed.

What compliments! And of all of the veterans, I think Kathy wins the award.  I’ve learned just today that she’s been doing after school science for 19 years; when she began, our after school programming just consisted of her science class and basketball. What keeps you going, Kathy?

Kathy: Well we teachers have a vested interest in these kids, and I can do things in my after school science class that I couldn’t do with a full load of kids; we can make sure it gets geared to them.. Of course, it depends on the day. If something has gone down during the school day, it is a little harder.  But as far as planning, I know my subject.  And I have fun doing it.  And I can do it with kids who are excited to do it because they want to, and they get to truly experiment.  They love it, and that brings me up.  Of course I still go home and say “we are ordering out”. For me, I love what I do.  Especially when they are going “GASP- can we do THIS?!” And you can’t do it in one [regular school day] class because if you do it in one class you have to do it for the whole grade.  And they get a whole lot of “I remember,” and that’s fun too and I say “Can you tell me what you remember, and let’s expand on it.”

Student Kimber Sanders created this as a 4th grader in Kathy Vial’s After School Science Class in April 2022.

What about you Patty? How do you find the energy after a full day at work to do enrichments?

Patty: It’s not a struggle or a drag. I love it. I look so forward to it.  This is my second side hustle. I sell real estate so my day ends at 9-9:30.  I have another job after this.  You know, what else am I gonna do? It’s a happy time.  As far as the planning, it takes place during weekends. I plan for the week; I theme lesson plans.  Valentine lesson plans, games, activities on a theme, exercises to go with each theme. I tweak it depending on how many students and the ages. And for Glow Girls I have 20-25 different things whether it’s making bath bombs or self portrait or art. Try to hit varied subjects each semester, each week and let them know what’s coming up the following week.  “See ya Friday at glow girls!” 

That’s amazing! Kim- do you also find this work rejuvenating, despite the added labor?

Kim: Yeah I think we all do things, like I do [after school enrichments] that I would want to do– if I was little, I would want to do and I still want to do it. I taught woodworking one time because I wanted to learn woodwork.  It’s kind of like living through them by doing it. It’s not a drag at all.  It gets harder for me when I have a lot of kids.  It’s more stress when you have 12 kids versus 8.  I remember when Inglish DeVoss left she asked if I wanted to do cooking, which was always packed, but I hate to cook.  Do I want to do cooking that I hate and make so much money and I was like, “no.” 

The theme of this month is teaching the students in front of us; knowing them and adjusting accordingly.  What could classroom teachers glean from something you’ve learned while facilitating enrichments?

Kathy: Since 2005 I’ve been doing after school science.  The one thing I’ve learned is that kids react to each other better and work together better if there is laughter and part of it is, “See where you want to sit” “See who you want to work with”; and “Remember there are other people who might not know you yet.” And I’ve never had a problem with that. Then the kids have their hand in planning it . . . [In after school science] we were identifying bases and acids and they said, “When are we gonna do some real science” and I said, “This IS real science”  . . . and of course they were laughing.  They said they want to do more science and I said, “What kind of science?” and they said “EXCITING!” I went with the carbon snakes where we were burning things, flames shooting up.   They want something exciting, and they go: “THIS IS SCIENCE?!” “Yes it is!”  “(GASP) What else can I do?” And that’s what I like . . the “WHAT ELSE” . . . In small groups you can do the “what else”! . . .”Let’s find out.”  As long as there is (1)laughter (2) they have a hand in guiding it, we can guide where their questions lead them.  They’ve got to come up with them.  And it makes me excited. . I like it so, what can I say; I have fun! 

It’s interesting your repetition of the word “fun”.  Does that resonate with anyone else? 

Patty: That’s it. The word is FUN- there’s not a whole lot of chance for kids to just have fun, and let it be their choice because they are being driven to this practice and that practice doing homework.  All three of us offer and do things with the kids that parents say “NO” to at home, like melting soap to make bath bombs, messy.  We’re doing stuff you do at your grandparent’s house, not at your parent’s house.  And I send home directions on how to do this or that so they can know the ingredients, but even making smoothies, it’s messy, and who wants to go buy 8 bags of frozen fruit to make one child a smoothie at home or whatever!  But it is a mess, but they are paying us to make a mess with the kids!

Okay so is it all just fun and games? Or is there serious “learning” that takes place? 

Kathy: When I was doing rocket science: “Ok you want your water bottle to go how high?”   “How are you gonna measure it?” And they have to come up with ideas on how to do finger measuring and estimates.  And baking soda versus vinegar and recording it. But they don’t get upset about it because it’s theirs . . . they have a hand in it.

Patty:  [Enrichment classes offer]  an opportunity for kids to talk about school with their parents; they will talk about it.

How does choice/interest play into the success of enrichments?

Kim: I think for the most part parents give the kids agency to pick [which enrichments they are in] . . I’ve hardly ever had a kid that didn’t get to choose their enrichments. 

What about the role of the social?

Jay: I think that’s important, because these [enrichment and after school care times]  are some of the few chances kids get to do intermingled activities with different age groups. 

Patty: Something I’ve learned from my work with enrichments: When we teachers are placing children for the following fall, [we should] pay attention more to how the children play, who they play with, who they are comfortable with.  It will draw more out of a child in the classroom when they are with children that they play with: comfort and confidence.

Jay- any final pieces of information you want to share with faculty members reading this?

Jay: Staffing, particularly in after school care, will always be an issue, no matter what.  Space is also a challenge – we are at capacity in the Early Childhood Center! I’m proud that we’ve been able to grow the program back to where we were pre-covid.  In some areas, we’re much bigger than we were before covid.  The breadth and depth of our enrichment offerings continues to grow.  Sidenote:  I’m always looking for someone to teach typing and chess!

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