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Steve Cone interview

CW: How do you help Director Tami Stagner and her staff at All-4-One run a strong middle school afterschool program?

SC: It’s a partnership that we’ve had in place for a long time. I’ve known Tami for years and years as a co-worked, colleague, parent, and she’s had kids come through the middle school. So we can share ideas and we constantly are looking for ideas from the kids to make sure the programs work for kids. Our site coordinator here is also our life skills teacher is a big support person in the school. We’re a PBIS school and it’s a huge part of our school community that we’ve focused on. It’s really hard to help people understand how much energy it takes to create a positive working climate and energy it takes to sustain that year in year out. We try to carry [the PBIS focus and training] into the afterschool programming as well, and because most of the staff from the afterschool are also school day staff, it does carry over that way.

CW: What are your common goals?

SC: What we do with Tami is to create enrichment opportunities for kids. My piece of it is mostly supporting it. We’ve had really good luck working with Tami and she supports our ideas of what we want for kids. Which is twofold: first we offer academic support after school (i.e. the Homework Cafe). Having the Homework Cafe piece is gigantic, especially when you have lots of families that are struggling, people aren’t home at night, and sometimes kids’ environments aren’t conducive to studying. We want them to be able to go home and not have the extra stress of getting homework done. Then we also do lots of enrichment activities. I’ve done mountain biking in the fall and spring, and we offer anything from robotics to book clubs to gaming to you name it! It varies from year in to year out, and new staff offer new ideas. It’s a huge deal because we couldn’t provide those without the partnership with All-4-One. It’s a little scary right now, thinking about potential budgets and what it would mean if we take the hit that our current president has suggested. This would be wiped out. We would lose it all and it’s really worrisome.

CW: How often do you and the program leader communicate and what does that look like?

First of all, Tami is right here on site. It’s very easy because I see her daily. We’re lucky in many ways because these circumstances lead to an easy partnership. Tami has a built a beautiful program. We invite her to our safety meetings and lots of other stuff. We’re frequently checking in with her because we share our space with her. We communicate all the time. She’s been absolutely fantastic to work with because she wants her program to grow and she also wants it to be aligned with what’s going on in the middle school everyday. It’s easy to work with her in that way. She’s never been an obstacle. She’s a supporter to the point of us coming up with ideas and going to her because she might have funding that will make it work. If it aligns and makes sense for us all, she’s happy to contribute which is really cool.

CW: What are some of the benefits that afterschool and summer programs offer your kids?

I was just checking on the summer program first thing when I got here. It’s made up of a lot of kids that don’t have a lot of opportunities in the summer and because of Tami’s open-mindedness and people we’ve recruited to run the program–called “Not So Summer School”–they were just heading out today to go kayaking. We try to get kids off site to the ocean. Those kinds of experiences happen for them in the summertime. I was just checking in with a student who’s been in DCF custody for a good portion of his life and he’s here. I was really excited to see him. He basically lives in the YouTube video game world but here he is having this experience which is just awesome. Those kinds of things. The more opportunities we can give our kids, especially the low income kids, the better.

CW: Given your focus on equity and access, how do you think we can work together to increase outcomes for kids?

To me, it’s about offering as many opportunities to kids. The more we can get kids to them, the better. That’s a huge question. It’s really hard wanting that as a school leader when you’re told you have to get rid of opportunities and make cuts. This is what we’re faced with every year. Budget cuts. That’s a sad state of affairs to me.

CW: What does a new afterschool coordinator need to know about what’s on a principal’s plate?

I think the angle I would come at would be that person would need to know the importance of developing a positive learning climate and how you go about doing that. How critical relationships are. No matter what your mission and direction might be, being able to develop the relationships with the administration, community, parents, and students will take you a long way. Being able to develop positive relationships is the start of everything.

CW: What do you think is the principal’s role in the afterschool program?

It’s really to support and sustain it if it’s going in the direction you want it to. Hopefully expand it in terms of opportunities offered so that you’re reaching as many kids as you possible can.

CW: How about the role of afterschool in general?

Again, with middle schoolers it’s really about exposing them to new things. You have to be open minded to all the possibilities it has. For some families, it does provide child care and when you think of the different circumstances families are coming from, you have to be open to the different things it can provide from child care to closing the achievement gaps. Making sure kids are doing things and have positive opportunities, so they not out floundering on the street and making poor choices by themselves.

CW: Where do you see room for improvement?

I would say just continuing to offer new and different types of opportunities for kids. That’s more about who you have for staff and what they can offer. There’s not much I can be critical about with Tami’s program. She does a great job reaching out to families. I hope we can maintain and sustain these hugely important programs across the state and country. It’s hard to have a vision beyond holding to what you have when you have to make cuts every year.

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