As conversations regarding school reopening take hold and considerations are made surrounding lunch hours, class transitions, and transportation, one notable school staple is often excluded from the conversation -- what about after-school programs?
When the COVID-19 crises began to grip the US back in March, the conversation around safely educating our young people and ensuring that they are meeting all quantitative school measures immediately became front of mind. However, as the pandemic dragged on and students were still isolated in their homes, concerns shifted toward the long-term social-emotional health of our youth and left many with the question-- how do we exhibit hope to our young people, our communities, and ourselves during a global pandemic?
For decades, after-school programs became a haven from the stress of the school day and sports organizations have been in high demand. This “unstructured” time where young people chose to engage in activities with role models and teammates provided a space for students to learn and engage without the pressure of academic performance. With a focus on trauma-informed and healing-centered coaching at the core of ASNY programming, our staff and coaches have understood the role sport plays in the healing process. By fostering an environment where the classroom and the soccer field are safe spaces, we have been able to focus on creating a support system for our young people. These spaces for students to build relationships and exercise, express, and exist safely are more vital now than ever before.
For many sports-based youth development programs, like America SCORES New York, the need for that safe and unstructured outlet was understood and programming was shifted to a virtual platform in March. Connecting digitally with students was a new and exciting challenge, and ASNY embraced this new opportunity to work alongside our youth and adopted the mantra of safe, supported, connected, and hopeful throughout the spring and summer seasons. By connecting with our young people virtually through poetry sessions, soccer lessons, and weekly check-ins, our poet-athletes did not only hear about hopefulness -- they witnessed it first-hand.
The implications of COVID-19, particularly on the primarily BIPOC communities in which America SCORES New York exists, have been devastating and our ability to shift into programming that accommodated these particular circumstances became top priority. Despite the challenges that came with this adjustment, this time provided a refresh and restart to the way ASNY as an organization views youth programming.
This pandemic has continued to highlight the inequities that have always existed in our country and in New York City, and our young people have noticed. During daily sessions and poetry open mics, our poet-athletes have brought their frustrations and fears to the forefront, discussing social justice, race, and discrimination. Their eagerness to change their world has encouraged conversations about community, equity in all forms, and their role as leaders in sport and society. Throughout these conversations, they’ve given us something we ourselves have struggled to find — hope. By providing a safe space for our youth to express themselves, they have given us a space to start again.
As we approach our 20th anniversary, we are entering a school year that we have never experienced in the history of America SCORES New York, of after-school programming, of public education. With appropriate numbers of PPE, space to run socially distant soccer practices, and engaging students while abiding by the standards set by the Department of Education top of mind, we are actively working to provide the best quality program, whether in-person, online, or blended, for our NYC youth. Our ability to do virtual programming since March has largely been supported by the enthusiasm and contributions of our volunteers, Board of Directors and Junior Board, and all the friends and fans of ASNY that are always encouraging our poet-athletes. You can join them in your support here in the implementation of all safety measures and supplying all materials for our staff and students.
Despite whatever may lie ahead, America SCORES New York remains committed to standing by our young people and communities as we continue to prioritize racial equity, social justice, and safe spaces for the youth of our city. We’re eager to continue working alongside our partner schools and our poet-athletes and are hopeful that, in time, we will be able to join them on the fields once again.