Whether virtual or in person, after school spaces will need to be redesigned to accommodate students safely during the pandemic. Take a look at the following recommendations to help you reopen your program in a way that maintains social distancing, limits contact, and reduces everyone’s risk of contracting the disease.

As many after-school programs reopen, program leaders and staff will have to adjust to a new normal. And that includes reimagining the program space to provide a safe learning environment for students. While some programs may opt for remote learning, others may choose a hybrid model that includes virtual and in-person learning. Whether virtual or in person, these spaces will need to be redesigned to accommodate students during the pandemic.

Like schools, after-school programs will likely have to comply with their local health and safety laws, rules, and regulations. As the program leader, you also may want to incorporate additional protective measures to keep staff and students protected and to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offer a few considerations for schools and child-care programs to do just that. Take a look at the following recommendations to help you reopen your program in a way that maintains social distancing, limits contact, and reduces everyone’s risk of contracting the disease.


Modify the Layout for Social Distancing

The CDC recommends that students remain 6 feet apart, when possible, while in both school and after-school programs. That means you will need to space seating in a way that creates this distance. If you’re in a small space, you may need to plan for lower occupancy in order to meet the guidelines.

The CDC also suggests that desks be turned to face the same direction (rather than facing each other). Or, if you are using tables, that students sit on only one side, spaced apart.


Stock Your Program with Adequate Supplies

Keep the necessary supplies on hand to help protect students and staff. Place the items throughout the after-school space so they’re readily available for use. According to the CDC, these supplies should include:

  • Soap
  • Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol (if safe for use)
  • Paper towels
  • Tissues
  • Disinfectant wipes
  • Cloth face coverings (if available)
  • No-touch/foot-pedal trash cans

Check out these germ-science experiments to teach students about preventing the spread of germs.


Display Signs and Physical Guides

Similar to most public spaces, you can display signs and guides that promote everyday protective measures in after-school. Hang signs that encourage proper handwashing in the sink/bathroom area and signs that remind students to put on their masks outside the classroom door.

You may also want to provide physical guides, such as tape on the floor that indicates “one-way routes,” to help maintain social distancing. This is especially important when students are lining up to get supplies, to use the restroom, or to go outside. The guides will ensure that staff and students remain at least 6 feet apart when transitioning from one activity or space to another.

Find free print resources on the CDC’s communications resources main page. You can also check out these COVID-19 graphics designed for classrooms, child-care centers, administrative offices, and more.


Close and Avoid Shared Spaces

Most communal areas, such as cafeterias and playgrounds, will likely be closed. You’ll also want to avoid small shared areas inside the after-school space. For example, if you have a small library or designated learning centers, it might be helpful to display a sign that reads, “One student in this space at a time,” or close the area altogether.


Provide Easy-to-Clean Objects and Supplies

While you’ll likely clean and disinfect the area frequently, it’s difficult to ensure objects such as markers, books, toys, learning aids, and other high-touch items are cleaned daily. To reduce the risk of spreading disease, you may wish to avoid sharing these items and to assign each student their own supplies instead. The supplies can be kept in the students’ individually labeled cubbies or containers to keep them separated from others’ belongings.


Utilize Outdoor Space

When the weather permits, take learning outside as much as possible. There’s growing evidence that we’re significantly less likely to contract the coronavirus while outdoors; yet, while being outdoors lowers the risk of spreading the disease, students aren’t completely safe. It’s still important for them to remain 6 feet apart at all times and to wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible. Being outside, however, does make it easier for students to spread out and learn in a safer environment.


Even in the midst of a pandemic, after-school programs can provide crucial learning opportunities for students. How are you redesigning your program for the new school year? What tips and tricks could you share with other after-school program leaders? Share below to help programs safely get back to serving students and their families in this challenging time.