After-school programs play a critical role in a well-rounded education. Participating in after-school programs — whether school-sanctioned extracurricular activities or paid programming from a business in the community — has a positive impact on students, from their grade point averages and test performance to how often they attend school. Holding these programs during COVID-19, however, isn’t easy.
While running after-school programs as usual won’t be possible until a vaccine is widely available, there are a few ways you can pivot your after-school program to meet the current moment. Whether your organization is focused on volunteering, student leadership, hobbies, or even athletics, consider these tips to stay connected to your students and their parents despite social distancing restrictions.
1. Survey your students (and their parents) to understand their biggest concerns and priorities
It may be tempting to assume you know how your students and their parents feel about resuming an extracurricular activity or what they want to see from your program, especially if you have kids of your own. But why make assumptions?
It’s easy to collect real, actionable data using one of JotForm’s survey templates. Engaging your students and their parents in this way ensures you have an accurate idea about what solutions will be most appropriate. It also demonstrates that you’re invested in listening to and understanding all perspectives.
Ask targeted questions about what students like and what parts of your program they don’t find as valuable. Here are some questions to help you find out how students are managing remote, in-person, or hybrid learning:
- What are you struggling with most?
- How have you adapted to online learning?
- How do you feel about the social distancing restrictions your school district has implemented?
You can also ask similar questions of parents:
- What has been your biggest challenge while working and simultaneously managing your school-aged kids’ schooling and activities during the pandemic?
- What does your budget for after-school programming look like?
You can allow for multiple responses to collect quantitative data, free responses to collect qualitative data, or some combination of both. From there, you can use the aggregated data to form a high-level overview of the sentiment surrounding your after-school program. Any decision you make will be unlikely to please everyone, but at least with concrete evidence to support your decisions, you can feel confident that they will align with the majority opinion.
2. Engage with parents and students in your community on social media
If you’re not already active on social media, take this opportunity to connect with your community online. If going from no social activity to being active on all relevant platforms overnight seems intimidating (not to mention impractical), consider starting small by picking one platform and developing a consistent posting schedule. Then you can take baby steps to increase your followers and deepen engagement by searching for trending hashtags, responding to comments and questions, and commenting/engaging on posts from other profiles.
If you have an existing presence on social media, consider the fact that people are engaging on social media 61 percent more than they did prior to the pandemic. With so many people turning to social media for information, entertainment, and human connection, it might be worthwhile to invest more time and resources expanding your audience and engaging existing followers on a deeper level.
Of course, messaging is crucial right now — sincerity, sensitivity, and humility will go a long way toward presenting your brand in a way that doesn’t seem opportunistic.
Here are some content creation and engagement ideas you may or may not have already tried:
- Host a live demonstration or Q&A on Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok.
- Host a Twitter chat to spark conversation with your audience.
- Share a roundup of your favorite posts from your followers/students.
- Produce short video clips following a viral trend on Instagram or TikTok.
- Spend five minutes every day responding to comments or direct messages you’ve received and adding your own comments to posts from accounts you follow.
- Research trending hashtags on Instagram and Twitter that might apply to your organization.
- Use geolocation tags to find new people in your community to follow and engage with.
Regardless of your current social media strategy, a social media management tool like Hootsuite or Buffer will provide one place to manage all of your accounts. This means you can schedule the same post across multiple profiles with the click of a button instead of publishing them individually. Social media tools like this also make it easier to plan your content in advance, so you can spend more time focusing on engagement rather than publishing.
To determine which tool is right for you, share your requirements using TechnologyAdvice’s Social Media Product Selection Tool. You’ll get personalized recommendations from experts to help you find the right solution based on the features you need.
3. Look for opportunities to reach your students remotely
At the risk of stating the obvious, remote tools enable you to take your organization’s activities virtual. This might not be possible for every activity, but there are creative ways to reach your students despite social distancing.
One organization that has already started doing this is the Girl Scouts of America, which launched a Girl Scouts at Home program to offer video-based programming and resources to students and volunteers at home. Similarly, Beanstalk is an organization that hosts interactive camps, clubs, and classes for young children — and it’s entirely remote.
If you’re an athletic organization like a sports club, dance studio, or gymnastics center, consider hosting a live class or training session using Zoom or Google Meet. You can also build a library of on-demand video content so your students can access prerecorded workouts or classes whenever it’s most convenient for them.
For hobby-based organizations, brainstorm ways to package elements of your classes that make them accessible from home. This could be a PDF download with step-by-step instructions for a craft or maybe a series of prompts/challenges for more advanced students to use as inspiration. If resources allow, you might even consider creating take-home “kits” that include all the supplies a student might need.
Provide opportunities for your students and their parents to complete required paperwork ahead of time. This will reduce the amount of in-person contact.
Whether your organization requires formal registration, intake forms, waivers, or another form for each student, it’s easy to provide these documents using one of JotForm’s numerous form templates so that students and parents can complete them ahead of time. (There are also templates for payment processing and collecting feedback.)
4. Formalize your email marketing strategy
Creating a formal email marketing strategy means you don’t have to rely on signage or flyers to make announcements, thereby minimizing the risk of spreading germs. It also means your students and their parents can rely on one source for the most up-to-date information. Not only does this avoid miscommunication, but it also gives you the opportunity to send last-minute updates if your area’s social distancing mandates unexpectedly change.
If you don’t already have an email marketing strategy in place, it’s important to find email management software that suits your needs. To determine which tool is best for you, check out TechnologyAdvice’s Email Marketing Product Selection Tool. Like the Social Media Product Selection Tool above, all you need to do is enter your requirements in the form at the top of the page. An expert can match you with personalized options.
Most email marketing tools have a number of templates for newsletters, automated campaigns, or special promotional messages that might spark your creativity. Here are some ideas for content you can include in your email marketing plan:
- A student of the week (or month) highlight that recognizes a particular accomplishment
- A weekly challenge or note of encouragement that helps you stay connected with your students and their parents from a distance
- A small series of automated messages spread out over a few weeks to replace (or supplement) your new student orientation or kickoff meeting
- A simple end-of-month newsletter that contains the schedule and announcements for the month ahead
- A collection of the links, reminders, and resources that your students and their parents will find the most useful
What’s most important is to find the right balance of useful information at the right frequency so you can be helpful without becoming an inbox spammer.
With all of the uncertainty the COVID-19 pandemic has created, the prospects for your after-school program might seem grim. However, social distancing requirements don’t automatically spell closure for your organization.
Whether you’re investing more time in social media and email marketing or using survey and form templates to collect information, keep your eyes open for new opportunities to adapt your program in ways that comply with COVID-19 mandates and meet the needs of your organization as well as those of your students and their parents.