Beyond School Bells (BSB), Nebraska Children and Families Foundation’s afterschool network, and partners continue to create quality expanded learning programs (ELOs) throughout the state.
Luckily, we aren’t alone in our work. On September 19, hundreds of afterschool learning leaders gathered in Kearney for GetConnected, our statewide conference designed to support educators and youth development workers creating quality ELOs for K-12 students across Nebraska.
The BSB team is thankful to their partners, the Nebraska Department of Education (NDE), NDE’s 21st Century Community Learning Center, and Nebraska Extension, for making this dynamic day happen!
GetConnected started on an intentional and responsive note. The good news is that most parents want and need quality afterschool and summer programs. The bad news is that there aren’t yet enough. Together with their fellow experts, BSB is making quality ELOs a priority throughout Nebraska; GetConnected is one of the many ways to spread this awareness.
Approximately 300 statewide afterschool learning leaders gathered virtually and in person to attend cutting-edge workshops, network and exchange ideas, and engage in Walk N Talks to inspire and learn from one another.
The data continues to show that ELOs matter for a variety of reasons. The national advocacy organization the Afterschool Alliance’s data shows that afterschool keeps kids safe and engaged, especially during afternoons and evenings when they’re left alone and the likeliest to get into trouble.
Jeff Cole, BSB’s Network Lead, said the need for quality afterschool programming constantly drives him; GetConnected is one of many reminders, especially with all its spirited colleagues and speakers.
Jeff said he was especially struck by one of his colleagues’ main speeches.
“The keynote by Andrew Norman and Mike Smith of The Bay / Rabble Mill remind[ed] us of our mission to serve kids and challeng[ed] us to step up to the plate and find creative ways to meet the needs of all youth,” he said.
According to Jeff, this year’s conference came with a special mission.
“We [were] a co-host for GetConnected (alongside NDE / 21st CCLC and NE Extension),” said Jeff. “Our goal in attending these conferences is to provide Nebraska’s afterschool professionals with opportunities to connect with peers, learn new tools to engage youth in ELOs, and create a supportive, appreciative community across the state.”
Jeff said that despite the struggle to stress the importance of ELOs, there’s good news, too. Jeff noted that at GetConnected, he learned that ELO programs are coming back across the state but remain challenged by the labor shortage affecting all segments of the US economy.
“I learned that in response to staffing shortages there is a growing movement across Nebraska to engage more young people as staff and that a large percentage of staff are relatively new to the field,” said Jeff.
In addition, Jeff said he was reminded of the importance of flexible learning environments for students and conference attendees, too!
“[The event] reminded us of the value of blended learning environments – this conference had about 230 in-person and 70 virtual [attendees]. Especially in this time of staffing challenges, it is good to have options,” Jeff said.
Jeff said that BSB and their partners would continue to utilize technology creatively moving forward as they prepare for their next event, the Nebraska ELO Innovation Invitational, which they will host at UNL Innovation Campus in March.
Although the conference is over, BSB’s work is far from done. Like all of Nebraska Children’s experts, Jeff and his team remain committed to their cause – to spread passion and awareness for quality ELOs throughout the state.
Jeff said, “We want all Nebraskans to understand what parents and teachers experience – that afterschool and summer programs are an important part of our educational system. However, they should and do look different than educational experiences taking place the school day,” said Jeff.
But, according to Jeff, all ELOs share one thing in common.
Jeff said, “They’re places for creative, exploratory play that help youth identify new talents and foster lifelong passions. We also want Nebraska to know that they’re a critical part of the strategy to reengage youth in learning post-COVID – and beyond.”
As we move farther into a new world, we move farther into a new afterschool landscape. However, no matter what the changes, one thing remains consistent: Nebraska Children and BSB’s longstanding dedication to creating learning experiences so that children can thrive long after the day is over.
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