This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week, and April is Autism Acceptance Month. These occasions give us an opportunity to “challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences.” I want to take a moment to share about my own autism diagnosis. At 35 years old I have confirmed, through a formal diagnosis, something I have suspected for years. I am autistic. Here’s what I need you to know…
For educators in a pandemic, our greatest priority is not academic progress, but social and emotional well-being. You have likely spent the last year under intense pressure trying to do anything you can to make a difference. Have your efforts closed the achievement gap? Should they be expected to? No, of course not. In everything you do, you have shown kids that they belong, that someone cares for them, that they are worth all your effort, and that you want them to be safe. That is the primary mandate of the educator. Only then will academic progress follow.
While many schools cannot provide in-person classes, afterschool programs are delivering in-person enrichment on school campuses – and all is not quiet on the education front. The coronavirus pandemic continues to have devastating effects across the world and has become a divisive political issue in the United States. This virus has laid bare our society’s injustices, including inequity in public education. Distance learning has potential, and I hope we figure it out.
Leadership in times of crisis reminds us how challenging it is to manage your own stress while supporting others. While much of the world is sheltering in place or physically distancing themselves from others to prevent the spread of COVID-19, many people are finding themselves unemployed or facing incredible uncertainty. How we lead in moments like this can significantly impact the lives of others. How do we manage our own stress and anxiety with the weight of this responsibility? Here are a few things I am working on:
I recently had the opportunity to spend time with some students from our after school program on a field trip and they truly impressed me with their generosity. We were walking to our bus in San Francisco’s financial district – where we had just finished our visit to one of our corporate partners.
As I emerge from the train station in the heart of San Francisco’s Mission District, my senses are overwhelmed with the sights, sounds, and smells of a bustling neighborhood. I’m in the Mission to provide coaching support to a program director at one of the community-based organizations in the neighborhood.
The Mission District is changing. The effects of gentrification and the housing crisis are visible everywhere. All my coaching clients in the neighborhood frequently mention the fears, vulnerability and active resistance of the immigrant community here. They do important and challenging work, and I’m painfully aware of my status as an outsider. So I step lightly, listen carefully and avoid giving any advice too quickly.
I’ve been in the after school and summer learning field for more than 15 years. I started with internships and line staff positions. I eventually became a Site Coordinator and continued to advance in the Expanded Learning field. I’ve been an advocate and a technical assistance provider, and now I’m privileged to be fundraising for an advocacy and capacity building organization focused on Expanded Learning. In each of these roles I’ve observed the opportunity provided by public moments. Like the Expanded Learning time equivalent of Back to School Night, “Lights on Afterschool” provides a powerful public moment for after school programs.