Playing to Learn in ESE


You know you’re at the right job when you look forward to going to work every day. While mentoring kids and changing their lives is by far the best perk of the job, working with a great team and being in an atmosphere where we can enrich youth while having fun and taking ownership of our program makes it that much better.

Communicate. Ask questions. Gain a different perspective. Try something new. Own your mistakes. Apologize. Speak your mind. Take charge. Take a break. Try again.

These are some of the big, enduring ideas we instill in the kids at West Clay’s Extended School Enrichment (ESE) before and after school program. They are the same guiding principles we follow as a team. Whether we’re interacting with the kids or with one another, as role models, it’s important for the kids to see us following the same guidelines we ask of them. And as supervisors, it’s crucial for the staff to see us holding ourselves accountable the same way we do them. When there’s something that needs to be done, we make sure everyone takes a turn. Everyone. Whether it’s helping at another school, cleaning up after a sick child, assisting some of our more challenging students, or stepping in to help run a club, every member of the team takes initiative and helps out.

That being said, each team member also has their own area of expertise that allows them to take over an activity for the day. This builds confidence and skill sets individually, and creates a more willing support system for the team overall. And of course, we do this with the kids, as well, by asking them to help a fellow student with homework, or read a book to a younger child. Everyone loves the opportunity to lead and shine!

For example, Ms. Davis is in charge of homework hotlist, where students that need extra help learn to find their strengths. Mr. Mott is the expert for Kindergarten Club, a place for our youngest students to practice all the new skills they’re learning. Being responsible for a part of the daily program is a great way to build buy-in, as well as give each team member an area to be a leader. We all help out in these areas as needed, so no one feels completely lost if they need to Honest communication, even when it’s hard or personally challenging, has been the crux of our tight-knit team. Acknowledging a mistake to a child or fellow team member, no matter who you are or what you did, is one of the most powerful things you can do. Speaking your mind, and allowing others a safe place to speak theirs, as well, is hard, but leads to genuine connections and authentic teamwork. The kids and the staff both practice solving problems by discussion. Which means both talking and listening. And as we watch the kids learning and growing, we find that we are, too.

We teach the kids how to be safe and responsible, and they remind us how to have fun. Both sides learn ownership not only for our own behavior, but how important connections are to one  another for all of us. Some of our favorite memories, kids and staff alike, are our Pajama Jams, where we stay until 8pm, bundled in jammies, spread out on the floor with treats and a movie. Or our random dress up days, where you might walk into the program in March and find the room full of Halloween costumes and superheroes.

You know the proverb, “all work and no play…”? Well at ESE we don’t have to worry about that. Through work we get play and that occurs with our team and our amazing students on a daily basis. As an ESE staff member, we have the opportunity to have buy-in with what we are teaching the kids, work with a great group of co-workers, and have fun in the process!