Reopening the doors to your program will take effort, flexibility, and collaboration with parents, school leaders, and other community partners. Here are a few helpful tips for delivering enriching learning opportunities in a way that maximizes safety.

There’s no denying the value of after-school programs, especially during these challenging times. Many students have experienced learning loss, social and emotional challenges, and other effects of the global pandemic. Fortunately, after-school programs are well-positioned to help fill the gaps to support students and their families.

Reopening the doors to your program will take effort, flexibility, and collaboration with parents, school leaders, and other community partners. Here are a few helpful tips for delivering enriching learning opportunities in a way that maximizes safety.


Develop and Implement a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan

If your after-school program is providing in-person learning, the risk of spreading COVID-19 will increase. For this reason, it’s important to develop a preparedness plan to keep everyone protected in the event a confirmed case enters your program. The plan should answer the following questions:

  • How will you communicate with families about the possibility of COVID-19 exposure?
  • What actions should staff, students, and families take once a case has been confirmed?
  • How will your program ensure continuity of learning, meal programs, and other services?
  • What actions will program leaders and staff take to slow or stop the spread of the disease?


In its guidance for child-care programs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends working with local health officials, school districts, child-care licensing boards/bodies, child-care accreditation bodies, health consultants, and other community partners to determine the most appropriate plan and action. The CDC guidance also includes general preparedness and planning strategies to protect students, staff, and families from the spread of COVID-19.


Provide Remote Learning Options

Many schools are opting to begin the year with remote or hybrid learning in response to COVID-19. Similarly, after-school programs can provide remote learning opportunities to deliver flexible, engaging, and quality programming to students.

There are a number of ways to leverage remote learning. You can lead a yoga class, conduct a science experiment, invite an expert to host a workshop, host a book club, and try kid-friendly recipes. With the tools available to facilitate virtual learning, program staff can teach and engage students where they are.


Emphasize Social-Emotional Learning

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on children’s social-emotional health. They’ve likely experienced trauma, anxiety, loss, and economic strain over the last few months. But after-school programs are well-equipped to provide much-needed social-emotional support for students.

Two leaders in the after-school field, Alison Overseth, CEO of PASE, and Jen Siaca Curry, CEO of Change Impact, share ways after-school programs can provide additional social-emotional support amid the coronavirus crisis. They recommend the following tips to ensure staff are well-prepared to help rebuild children’s social-emotional skills and address more serious mental-health issues:

  • Offer high-quality staff training on social-emotional learning
  • Hire professional staff, such as social workers
  • Build referral systems with partners to handle more severe situations


Partner with Schools

After-school programs can play an important role in meeting students’ needs during this time, and collaboration between schools and out-of-school-time programs are critical. There will be an increased need for academic support—both in-person and virtually—and after-school programs can help bridge the gaps.

As a program leader, make sure your after-school program is involved in planning discussions and reopening strategies. Connect with school and district leaders to share information about how after-school can support schools for reopening and throughout the year.

The Afterschool Alliance provides a step-by-step plan for engaging in conversations about school reopening plans. In this resource, the organization helps after-school leaders identify and communicate specific ways programs can help schools as they make plans to reopen.


Create a Safe and Healthy Environment

If you’re opening the doors to your program, it’s important to provide a space where students feel safe and protected. In addition to taking simple precautions, such as requiring face coverings and maintaining social distancing, there are other steps you can take to keep students and staff safe.

In the guidance mentioned earlier, the CDC recommends the following tips to ensure a healthy environment for students:

  • Encourage staff to take daily preventive actions, such as washing hands properly, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces, and covering coughs and sneezes.
  • Require sick children and staff to stay home.
  • Stagger drop-off and pick-up scheduling to limit direct contact with parents.
  • Screen students for signs of illness upon arrival (if possible).

Check out Reimagining After School Spaces | How to Maximize Safety Amid COVID-19 for tips on redesigning your program space.


Analyze Your Staffing Needs

Reopening successfully includes assessing your staffing needs. Does your current staff have the skills and competencies to deliver virtual education? Do any staff members have severe illnesses that increase their risk of contracting COVID-19? Is your staff comfortable with the plans to reopen, such as the required student-to-staff ratio?

Take the time to gather their feedback, make a few accommodations, and determine hiring needs to fill the voids. Your staff will play a major role in effectively meeting students’ needs during this time, and making the right hiring decisions is critical.


Dedicate Time to Increased Cleaning

Schools and child-care programs are often considered “germ factories” because it’s easy for germs to spread from child to child in these environments. That’s why it’s especially important to develop a schedule for increased cleaning and disinfection when you reopen.

One of the best ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other illnesses is to clean and disinfect using products that meet EPA disinfection criteria. Pay particular attention to frequently touched surfaces:

  • Door handles
  • Sink faucets
  • Playground equipment
  • Desks and tables
  • Chair arms
  • Shared objects, such as gym equipment, toys, and art supplies

Aim to clean and disinfect surfaces daily, or in between uses, as much as possible. Communicate your cleaning schedule to staff, parents, and students to help ease their concerns about potentially spreading the disease. Just as important, make sure cleaning and disinfection products are stored securely away from children at all times.


Check out the CDC’s Considerations for K-12 Schools: Readiness and Planning Tool for more tips on safely reopening your after-school program. While designed for schools, the information can be tailored to help programs protect students and staff from COVID-19.