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Student Video: Afterschool Life Before and During COVID

video by afterschool participants at M.S. 283 Preparatory Academy for Writers

Afterschool Participants at M.S.283 Preparatory Academy for Writers get real.

When students at M.S. 283 Preparatory Academy for Writers wrote and produced a song about their afterschool experience last year, they never imagined their music video would end up with students performing in face coverings and standing six feet apart.

The video debuted at their virtual Lights on Afterschool event last month, and viewers were moved by all that the video captured — not just by how COVID had changed their lives, but also the sense of joy and learning that remained throughout the changing times.

The high-quality afterschool program, affectionately nicknamed “Play After Work” (PAW) by M.S. 283’s Principal Charles Anderson, is operated by The Child Center of NY with funding from the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development.

When NYC public schools went remote in March due to the pandemic, students and their families worried that PAW wouldn’t be able to function remotely — or at all. But the dedicated staff at PAW, led by Program Director Carolyn Johnson, kept it going.

“We kicked into gear without hesitation,” Johnson. “My staff and I, together with the administration and faculty of Preparatory Academy for Writers, have continuously kept our bond going with our student-participants since the beginning of quarantine, making daily calls and working through Google Meets and Google Classroom. We helped families with technological needs and with troubleshooting issues. We made sure to be there for them — and we continue to be there for them this year.”

Seventh-grader Damian participates in drum line.

The student-created video features clips from the last two years. It begins with students together pre-COVID, in close proximity to each other in full classrooms. It ends with students in face coverings, six feet apart. While the resulting video might look different from what the student moviemakers originally pictured, it succeeds in highlighting what afterschool is all about: a dedicated staff and student body, working together to create an enriching experience that will stay with participants well beyond their time in the program.

“The video captures the idea that no matter where you are — live or remote, close together or six feet apart — you’re going to be engaged and have a great time, as well as learn new things in afterschool,” Johnson says.

The song itself is set to a poignant melody and lyrics such as, “Come see what we do/in afterschool… I’m here with my crew” and a line that truly encompasses what PAW stands for: “Positivity, that’s where it’s at!” The video provides a window into the varied enrichment activities at PAW, from homework help and music and video production to sports and drum line — all of which are still being offered this year. PAW began in-person programming at the beginning of October and now has 72 participants, with combined live and remote participation on a hybrid schedule.

“My staff has a unique relationship with those we serve that is based on both love for our participants and a genuine passion for the fun activities we offer,” says Johnson.

That affection and passion are felt by participants.

“I love afterschool,” says sixth-grader Hope. “I made a new friend. My favorite activity is the Friday night ‘Family and Friends’ movie. And I’m so glad I still get to dance!”

A student at Preparatory Academy for Writers

Sixth-grader Hope in pre-COVID times.

At first, Hope says, she didn’t like to be home so much, but, in keeping with PAW’s positive outlook, she began to see the benefits. “I got to spend more time with my family, and I don’t have to wear a mask on remote days. But the mask is a cute fashion accessory!”

“School year 2020-21 differs from any other school year in that our participants and their families have been traumatized by separation anxiety, distancing from loved ones, and, at times, barriers to academic assistance that they have a right to,” Johnson says. “I’m glad we could be there for them to make this time a little easier, and offer programming and guidance that fills our participants with an enormous sense of accomplishment and leadership. The pandemic can’t take that away from them.”

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