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Dorinne Dorfman interivew

Note: this interview included Jessica Villani, the afterschool site coordinator at Champlain Elementary School.

CW: What do you see as the role, function, or value of afterschool?

JV: I view it in a couple different ways. From the parents perspective, it provides them with reliable care so they can work. For the student, it provides a safe and consistent place for them to come. Also, I think that for the student it allows them to explore different interests that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to do. I think in afterschool, kids can dip their toes in a lot of different things and that can grow into something later on. To develop into a lifelong hobby or maybe a career path.

DD: I would say it’s very similar to public school, which is to close the enormous gaps that we have in our society. I think that having an enriching childhood should not be based on your family’s income or privilege. In summer, when kids are not part of afterschool or structured summer programs, the [achievement] gaps grow and during the school year they start to close again. Afterschool and summer programs can even out that divide by bringing lots of different kids together. I really see it as part of the mission of public education. Those outside gaps are what’s preventing children’s success.

CW: How do you work together to connect the school day and afterschool?

JV: Where do we start? [Laughter] I think we were in a unique position this year with it being my first year at Champlain and Dorinne’s first year as principal. We met in the beginning of the school year and talked about our visions for the program and how it would operate within the school. We collaborate on how to best support our students with the highest needs. This year we have done peer mediation programand that’s been a school-day and afterschool initiative that we started together. Any incidences that happen during the school day are passed on to us if the student is in afterschool. There’s communication around our shared student population.

DD: There are structural things in place. For example, our offices are right next door to each other so we see each other all day so that’s really, really important. What’s also really important is that we have the same kids and Jessica is very hesitant to expel students. You’ve got some really challenging kids in your program, so of whom have paraeducators or lots of supports during the school day who suddenly don’t have them in afterschool. For whatever reason, Jess and I started off with this foundation of trust. Maybe it was an early conversation. And that we always back each other up. We would tag team around difficult parents and always had each other’s back.

CW: How about staffing? Any overlap to the school day?

DD: I’ll just say that elementary school teachers are way overworked. The notion that me asking any of them to work in the afterschool is laughable.

JV: We have a couple paraeducators who work during the school day and afterschool. The challenge we come across is that they can’t go over 40 hours per week. I think with the staff communicating with teachers, I think that if the teachers have high needs students they come to my office and check in so that’s really helpful.

DD: The peer mediation helps a lot. The kids come into my office after school to have a peer mediation session usually with an afterschool program staff member. If a conflict happened afterschool, we can address it during the school day through peer mediation. And the actual peer mediation trainings for youth are part of the afterschool program. It feels like a successful match.

CW: What would offer for tips or advice on how to build the relationship between principal and afterschool staff?

DD: An important message is that neither of our programs really ever end.

JV: Yeah.

DD: So it’s not that at 3:00 Sammy is now “yours.” We share the kids and if some terrible tragedy happening, it would affect all of us. You have not stayed away from the hard stuff. That’s why I call you the principal of afterschool. You’ve dealt with some of the hardest issues.

JV: Thanks!

DD: I don’t know that other afterschool directors would have that level of confidence and expertise to know what to do. You’ve consulted with me and we have some procedures that help guide decision making.

JV: If I were to give advice to another director, I would tell them to try and be as visible as they possibly can during the school day. Because you’re already at a disadvantage because the perception is that you the afterschool person and only that. But if you’re able to integrate and help and be part of school community it helps to make the transition more seamless. It also has to come from the support of the administration, which I’ve had.

DD: Two other thoughts about that: the afterschool program has to be high quality and well managed. I don’t have to micro manage AT ALL. I don’t hear staff yelling or see kids wandering off. You guys run a tight ship. Because you lack the structure of the school day you have had to create it all. I can’t say that’s true for every afterschool program I’ve seen. Because of that, our afterschool program has earned my respect and admiration and it makes me feel all the confident knowing that whatever we’re working on will be handled well. The other thing I’ll mentioned is that Jess often presents to parents (i.e. incoming kindergarten meetings) or you’ll have an event and you ask me to come. So we have some shared opportunities.

CW: What are some areas where you are working for quality improvements?

JV: Academic support is one. It’s a need that we know needs improvement and we want to make sure its met with quality. The support has to be provided by a qualified person and that comes down to resources. In parent surveys, they don’t value it as much as when its delivered during school. That’s an ongoing conversation that we’re trying to manage.

DD: I’m hoping that we have a theater program next year. There’s a parent who is a theater director and we met a couple times. It would have to be in coordination with the afterschool program. I think afterschool theater should be in every school, everywhere.

CW: What do you think afterschool programs need to understand in terms of what is on a principal’s plate?

It’s the disposition and the belief system of the principal of understanding that everything that happens to my student is going to affect him or her when he or she is in my building. Whatever happens outside of school comes right into the school day and afterschool. That’s a lot of responsibility.

CW: What do you think principals need to understand in terms of afterschool site coordinator’s plate?

JV: I guess that we have a lot fewer resources than what are available during the school day. Knowing that we train our staff the best we can, but sometimes we just don’t have the resources available to fully support a student who might require more. When looking at the quality of the program and how we are manage to situations, it has to fall back on our lack of resources. For example, a one-on-one interventionist for a student. We have to manage the program the best we can given the resources we have.

CW: When you say resources, what do you mean?

JV: We don’t have a nurse, social worker, guidance counselor, behavior specialist, etc. Myself and the assistant director are the only line of defense.

CW: What do you hear from parents?

DD: No complaints! That’s the best thing.

JV: We have really supportive parents here. We try as much as we can to get their feedback and take into consideration their suggestions for activities or ways we can improve.

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