SOARING HIGH AT SATURDAY ACADEMY
A breakthrough training program called Saturday Academy accomplishes what other programs aspire to: It overcomes the two biggest concerns statewide regarding after-school programs; drives their quality upward; and commits to ongoing and long-term excellence.
Saturday Academy is dedicated to ensuring that after-school site staff learns how to operate at their highest levels as leaders and youth development specialists. It is held on the second Saturday of the month at the Fresno County Office of Education and its teachings are so monumental that every single person hired by the California Teaching Fellows program attends the monthly training. The academy serves approximately 400 after-school leaders, who implement their sharpened skills at about 40 local sites.
Building Youth Leaders
Content varies in this new experientially-based training and topics have included classroom management; lesson design; activities involving team building, trust and unity; and assets-based youth development. The results of building strong youth leaders are stellar. Regular student attendees of 120 days or more in Fresno County’s F.R.E.S.H. after-school programs achieve significantly higher CST scores in language arts and math in contrast to students who don’t attend afterschool.
“Additionally, we have eliminated the ‘revolving door’ employment line by retaining our best and brightest,” said Randy Mehrten, director, Safe and Healthy Kids. This marks a milestone achievement in successfully addressing and conquering California’s biggest after-school program concerns – retaining qualified staff and adequate staff development. It is not uncommon for Teaching Fellows who train at the academy to stay in local after-school programs for up to half a decade.
Proof of Success
Besides test scores and staff retention, proof of success is in the air and school halls. Site principals marvel at how the academy-trained workforce has exciting, new ideas to implement each week. Impressively, those ideas are accompanied by lesson plans that articulate and embed the California Content Standards throughout the activities.
As if these highlights weren’t enough, the academy’s significance increases exponentially because it uniquely focuses on finding the right staff rather than simply training existing staff. “You’ll notice that our Teaching Fellows staff matches the demographic makeup of the school, including gender,” Randy said. With an eye toward current and future needs, the academy operates on the premise that it is imperative to place competent college men in mentoring roles for children.
Valuable Training and Discussion Opportunity
In preparation for sending the most qualified staff into after-school programs, the academy reinforces competencies and productiveness so that staff members feel equipped and industrious, and are likely to stay longer. It also offers them time to debrief and discuss ways to further improve their site programs.
Understanding that training never ends is critical to Saturday Academy’s ongoing success and this component raises the program to normally unattainable heights. Regular monthly staff development is a commitment to training that few programs have. Altogether, “we are able to drive the quality of our after-school programs upward as we professionalize the field,” Randy said.