When Out-of-School Time Comes Home: Variations within an Extended Family

Opportunities to support young people’s learning and development are normally shared and spread across various spaces, places, and delivery modes in schools, community organizations, and families. But a month ago, most of those places were abruptly shut down, thrusting families into the lead coordinating role. Learning and development didn’t stop – these are natural human processes.  But the unevenness of supports became a lot more apparent, even within extended families.

My own family is a microcosm of this unevenness. My husband and I are as prepared as any two parents could be. He is an educator. I am a former frontline youth worker. Both of us have extensive training in youth development and engagement methods. Between the two of us, we’ve taught in classrooms, run summer camps, staffed OST programs, and trained youth workers. We have preparation, support, and resources. We have flexible jobs and a large, well-stocked home. But our learning curve, without the familiar community and collegial supports, has still been significant. And the contrast to the stories unfolding with family members and friends just a short drive away is sobering.

Here’s the report from our house, where we’re taking our “easy wins.”

  • We have on-boarded e-learning with minor snags.
  • We’ve adopted a structure of “rhythms and routines, not strict schedules,” and feel comfortable following our state’s educational guidance for structuring a reasonable learning plan under “the new .”

    Illinois State Board of Education Remote Learning Recommendations

  • We have ideas and energy to facilitate what else might fill developmental space – activities that are typically the provenance of out-of-school time.
  • We have almost nightly “balloon four-square” tournaments, weekend science experiments, a 50-day board game challenge, 3-D printing projects gleaned from online maker spaces, and “quarantine quests” (self-development mini-projects) posted as ideas on our kitchen wall.
  • We’ve been able to bring aspects of afterschool activities, like music lessons, online.
  • We end each day with “highs,” “lows,” and “learnings.”

Making lemonade out of lemons is easier when you have enough lemons, have some tools to squeeze the juice, containers to serve it up, and the time to enjoy it .

Limited lemons, no tools. A cousin who lives 20 minutes away received a printed packet for two kids, a pick-up time to receive Chromebooks from the local school, and the promise of more e-learning supports on the way. But as one of the thousands of Chicago Public School families with no previous regular online access (though Mayor Lightfoot did negotiate 60 days of free access for low income families), they had to be quickly identified and brought up to speed on an e-learning model that will possibly extend for months – one that will likely be rolled out inequitably. Some students receive curated content via Google Classrooms and Zoom, while others get “minimal assignments” (as one CPS parent friend noted via text).

No containers, no time. My cousin’s oldest son, the age peer to my own 14-year-old, has to spend portions of the day focused not primarily on his own learning, but watching younger siblings to ensure adults can go to work. There isn’t really a backyard for their two-bedroom apartment and, even without a pandemic, going to the park was an infrequent occurrence, enforced by my cousin under a different definition of safety.

Taking on additional household responsibilities in the care of siblings and learning how to entertain and keep younger siblings safe for stretches of time with less than 800 square feet is out-of-school time learning as well. But it is learning that lies a bit more under the radar, harder to support and credit – despite everyone’s best efforts.

When we have moved past this crisis, what will we – families, schools, civic, faith, and youth organizations – have learned about learning? What will get counted as learning? Will the skillsets and mindsets that my cousin’s son is honing under quarantine – those required of “essential workers” for which the entire country is finally gaining a new-found appreciation – be recognized and credited? Documented in an essay for a summer program or college application? Hopefully but not likely.

We have a grand opportunity to use this time to rethink what’s possible to do, what could be counted as learning (particularly with more targeted support), what can be adapted to evolving circumstances, and reaffirm what matters. We will need our most creative and expansive thoughts and our fullest, most present hearts when we finally reemerge.

Conversations are already underway about how classrooms will need to be different to address the social and emotional needs that this crisis will surface, asking us to learn from this time of development in the age of coronavirus. Let’s be ready to inform and partner in those discussions, having checked in with as many kids (and parents) as possible to understand their developmental experiences and learn from what kids say about their own development in these times. Let us be ready to turn the cancellations of the current moment into commitments that rise to the occasion that the post-COVID developmental landscape will present.

My cousin expresses general satisfaction: “the teachers give them assignments to turn in through the internet” and CPS “has been feeding kids pretty well” – large bags are sent home for each kid (and, agreed, the speed at which districts turned around food distribution plans has been commendable).

However, the landscape of what happens when out-of-school time is all the time stretches farther than the physical distance of the 10 miles between us.