The Fayette Citizen-News Page

Wednesday, November 14, 2001

After-school program seeks new accreditation standards

When people think about the Fayette County School System's After-School Program, the program's staff wants "quality" to be the first descriptor that pops into their heads.

In an effort to help the program maintain the highest quality standards, the program is now following the guidelines of the National School Age Care Alliance.

NSACA sets standards based on best practices in out-of-school-time programs for school-age children and issues accreditation for programs that meet the standards. Prior to adopting NSACA standards, the program followed the Department of Human Resources guidelines for day care workers.

One the biggest differences between the two governing bodies is the number of training hours that staff members are required to complete each year. Under the new standards, site coordinators must complete 24 contact hours, site coordinator assistants complete 21 hours, group leaders 18 hours and aides/workers 15 hours, compared to the 10 contact hours required by DHR.

Receiving NSACA accreditation for an after-school program is no small accomplishment. There are approximately four programs in Georgia that have met accreditation standards. Fayette hopes to add two more schools to the list as North Fayette Elementary and Hood Avenue Primary begin their accreditation process this year. According to After-School Program director Julie Simpson, the process thrives on community involvement, self-study and continuous program improvement.

NSACA has outlined six elements of quality that after school programs must meet: human relationships, administration, activities, indoor/outdoor space, safety and health/nutrition. Under those elements are 144 keys that determine whether or not the quality indicators are being satisfied. Before accreditation is granted, each school is graded on all 144 keys. It takes about two years for a school to complete the process.

Once North Fayette and Hood Avenue receive accreditation, they will serve as mentors to two more schools going through the process. This will continue until all schools offering after school programs have received NSACA accreditation. Accredited schools go through reaccredidation every two years.

Simpson said she believes Fayette's after school program's greatest strength is its human relationship factor. She says her staff is dedicated to engaging students in activities that will help them experience positive academic and social growth.

"We have employees with a mission and a vision to enrich the lives of students, not to just be babysitters. We service the entire county by offering activities that our student population needs instead of doing what is convenient for us and we support our staff by providing training so that they can continue to meet student needs," says Simpson.

Approximately 1,400 elementary and middle school students are enrolled in the county's after-school program. Daily attendance records indicate that about 1,200 students are taking part in the program on any given day. With such a large number of students in attendance at different levels of development, training is essential to help staff members learn how to best meet the needs of each age group.

Site coordinators, assistant site coordinators and many other employees from Fayette's after school program were among 67 staff members who recently participated in a seminar led by Simpson on the effective strategies to use in order to enrich the lives of school-age children at various levels of development.

Techniques learned during the seminar will assist employees in planning activities and in guiding typical behaviors of children at various stages. Simpson offered helpful tips concerning the growth children experience physically, emotionally and socially. The information provided was intended as a guide for the staff to develop age-appropriate activities for the children.

"It is typical for children to exaggerate. Younger ages are not ready for competition. These facts are important for those working with children to know so that they can better relate to the child and keep down frustration. We want to offer the best, positive environment possible and the way to do that is to understand why children behave the way they do," said Simpson.

In order to maintain quality, there are enrollment caps for the after school program. Although some schools are currently at capacity, Simpson says she encourages parents to fill out an application form and turn it into their school in order to be placed on a waiting list for vacancies within the year. Parents are also invited to make an appointment to visit the program.

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