Finding a way to continue serving families and communities has been a common goal for many community recreation facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. This goal is what led Geordie Emmanuel, the assistant recreation director for East Longmeadow Recreation in East Longmeadow, Massachusetts, to create the department’s first-ever after-school program.
“When we found out the schools weren’t going to offer in-person learning, we wanted to do something where the kids were still able to socialize with their friends, get out of their house and not stare at a computer 12 hours a day,” said Emmanuel. “That’s when we started thinking about what type of program we could offer.”
The result was Afternoon Escape, a program that runs from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., where kids ages three to 12 can go to engage in outdoor activities, do arts and crafts, learn about STEM, have help with their homework and more.
Emmanuel said, overall, the response has been very positive and there has been a lot of interest in the program, and could see the program lasting after COVID with some modifications.
“We think something like this is very unique and very helpful to parents,” said Emmanuel. “I know one of the biggest aspects behind this is the transportation aspect. If they could get their kids here, then they would definitely send them. But, in a COVID world we aren’t allowed to provide transportation, that’s something we have to think about in upcoming seasons and years.”
Despite transportation issues, Afternoon Escape has started off strong and Emmanuel credits that to the 12-week summer camp they ran. He explained they transitioned a lot of their successful policies and procedures that were implemented at camp to hope for the same results for the after-school program.
One of these procedures was keeping an open line of communication with the town manager and the health director to make sure the recreation department was doing everything they could to keep children safe.
If your community recreation center is looking to offer an after-school program, Emmanuel said it is vital to gauge interest, because every community is different. There could be other organizations or the schools that are running an after-school program, so there might not be a need for your facility to offer one.
However, if your facility does offer one, Emmanuel recommends continually checking in with your group leaders and directors to make sure all the procedures and policies are being followed, and kids are wearing their masks whenever they can’t socially distance.
“I think making sure the kids are safe, continuously doing check-ins and then also having as many outdoor activities as possible would be the best way to go about running an after-school program,” said Emmanuel.
You can learn more about Afternoon Escape, here.