The summit, held from Jan. 9 to Jan. 11 in Athens, was sponsored by the Georgia Department of Education, Georgia Department of Human Services and the Governor’s Office of Children and Families.
“To me it says something that we have three state agencies working together to improve education for children, particularly during the critical afterschool hours,” attendee Jean Dudley, who serves as director of the Hands of Christ After School Program, said. “One of the highlights of the conference was these three organizations had worked together over the past year to come up with [Georgia Afterschool Quality Standards] for afterschool programs and they unveiled these eight standards at the conference.
“[Unveiling the standards] was very exciting for me because now we finally have guidelines for evaluating our programs, for making sure we’re doing the best of quality programming for children in that out of school time. And [what is] particularly exciting for the Hands of Christ program is we are already meeting all eight of those quality elements, so that was very affirming that our afterschool program in this community is serving children in an outstanding way, according to state standards.”
The conference included multiple breakout sessions during the day.
“It covered everything from culture and diversity in afterschool programs to classroom ideas, activities and best practices,” Dudley said. “There were breakout sessions on growing gardens and promoting health and physical education and nutrition in afterschool programs, there were sessions on volunteer recruitment, on working with other organizations within the community — just tons and tons of valuable information.”
According to a press release, the event was “geared towards the leaders of these programs and services in an effort to increase their reach, quality, collaboration, and overall impact for preparing Georgia’s youth to make successful transitions into adulthood.”
“We were thrilled that we had approximately 600 attendees and 100 workshop presenters, exhibitors and staff who joined us, too,” spokesperson Jessica Andrews said. “Our planning team, made of up individuals from each of the funding agencies, felt that the conference was a huge success.
“Between our dynamic keynote speakers, our 70 breakout sessions and the rich networking that took place, we feel that the attendees were able to have a high-quality conference experience.”
Dudley said she most appreciated sessions dealing with the application of the quality standards through hands-on activities.
“We’re actually teaching the skills they are behind on in school, but are doing it in a fun, creative way — the things that the teachers in the school systems want to do every day, but have very little time to do,” Dudley said.
She said the conference also addressed the unintended consequences of children and youth spending afternoons unsupervised and without any activities, citing 3 to 6 p.m. as the prime hours for risky behavior of adolescents.
“When you’re providing a child with a place that is not only safe and away from these negative social influences, you’re also providing lessons, as our program does, in character education and teaching the value of education and making sure that they can be successful in school in the hopes that we can decrease the dropout rate,” Dudley said. “The difference afterschool programs make is just stunning.”
The Hands of Christ After School Program held at First Presbyterian Church is available for kindergarten to third-grade students and the sister program at Douglas Street Methodist Church continues for fourth-grade to 12th-grade students. For more information, call 770-382-4403.