Certified Staffing: A Formula for Success

by Martina M. Thompson

It is 3:30 p.m. in Topeka, Kan. The final bell sends children at several schools from their regular classrooms to the auditorium or gym. After a nutritious snack and visiting time, they spend the next 90 minutes in organized physical activities, completing homework, playing mathematics or reading games and getting help with schoolwork.

For the past three years, five Topeka-area schools have participated in the Topeka Academy for Leading Learners program, or TALL. A 21st Century Community Learning Center Project funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Mott Foundation, TALL serves approximately 300 students through an after-school program in four elementary schools and one secondary school.

The common thread among the five sites is a focus on academic enrichment through hands-on, student-driven activities with a well-trained staff. Instructional staff includes certified teachers, paraprofessionals and university students. Approximately 60 percent of the staff members are certified teachers, which raises the cost of staffing. (In Topeka Unified School District 501, certified teachers earn $17 per hour for working with students after the regular duty day; paraprofessionals and college students receive $8-$10 per hour.)

Do the benefits of staffing after-school programs with certified teachers outweigh the costs?

Seeing the Benefits

Employing certified staff has benefits.

Certified staff members have requisite teaching skills and are familiar with the students and academic curriculum. They can provide educational support as needed during after-school time.

Certified staff members with an understanding of school and district policies can establish relationships with teachers and administrators, have ongoing communication with parents and create a bridge between school, home and the after-school program.

Certified staff members serve as coaches and mentors to paraprofessionals and college students and often assume the role of principal on a smaller scale.

As site leaders, their expertise allows certified staff members to take the lead in developing programs, drafting schedules, maintaining attendance and activity-tracking procedures and managing conflicts effectively. The TALL programs are all directed or co-directed by certified staff members.

After-school instructors who are also classroom teachers commit to the program when they see the effect of after-school programs on children’s academic progress, interpersonal skills and confidence.

Learning and Growing

With the high percentage of certified teachers involved in TALL, professional development has not been a major issue. The job of site facilitator, in and of itself, provides ongoing professional development as Nicole Meier, site facilitator at Scott Magnet School, explains: “Joining the after-school staff has been a great learning experience for me. I have built a repertoire of skills, management techniques, activities and knowledge for every grade level instead of just the grades I teach.”

Valuable professional development opportunities are provided for certified staff as they see opportunities for growth, reflection and renewal. They, in turn, share their learning with colleagues during various meetings and informal conversations.

TALL site facilitators have participated in workshops aimed at building relationships and promoting student health through nutrition and exercise. They also have an opportunity to attend one conference per year. One of the most valuable was the National Afterschool Association conference, where site facilitators networked and discussed challenges and successes.

Survival Philosophy

Retaining certified staff members in the program poses problems such as funding for salaries, securing certified staff members who are not already involved in extracurricular activities and avoiding burnout. Teachers who come to work at 7 a.m. and leave their classrooms at 4 p.m. often have neither the energy nor desire to spend additional time working with youth.

Resolving these issues may require creative thinking about the school day structure. For example, administrators may negotiate an alternative schedule for teachers who are willing to teach in the after-school program.

Ultimately, the survival of after-school programs depends on creativity in programming and funding. In Topeka, the TALL program thrives because a dedicated cadre of certified staff members understands the value and meaning of extended learning opportunities to the children and families they serve.

Martina Thompson is project director of Topeka Academy for Leading Learners and Early Reading First, Topeka Unified School District, 624 S.W. 24 th St., Topeka, KS 66611. E-mail: mthomps8@topeka.k12.ks.us