Back to School 2020

Back to WHAT?!?! BGCA’s Director of Youth Development Programs Susan Ciavolino is here to HELP!

What’s that sound?

Yep, that’s the school bell ringing. Soon! Lots of communities still don’t know if that’s a virtual bell or a real one. But it will be ringing. Very Soon. Or maybe it already happened in your community. If so, congratulations! For most of us in education, we can’t wait for the start of the new school year.

As a former schoolteacher, I have always felt the urge to buy school supplies throughout August. Even now I find it hard to resist a beautiful set of new Sharpies or a pack of freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencils. (The World’s Best Pencil! Seriously, IT’S A THING!)  But this year, when nothing is normal with no hope of being normal any time soon, I don’t quite know how to feel. And I haven’t even bought any Sharpies!

But mainly, as I anticipate this back to school season, I am wondering how our Club staff are feeling. Are you a little confused about where to go next with programming? A little overwhelmed at the uncertainties? And I can imagine you are tired. Club staff have been going full force since March, adapting and learning to meet the needs of youth in this new world. That kind of flexibility is both beautiful and exhausting!

One thing is certain, Back to School 2020 will be like no other.  Whether you are providing a learning support center for youth during the virtual school day, virtual programming to add connection to adults and other youth, or a traditional experience after school, youth will need you in new and more intensive ways. Kids are coming back to our schools, Clubs, and Youth Centers after having experienced trauma. And I remain convinced that one part of treating that trauma is to provide them with fun, engaging, youth-centered learning experiences.

Our goal in education at BGCA is to help kids fall in love with learning—to begin the lifelong journey of exploration about whatever is interesting or perplexing or intriguing to them personally. And that commitment hasn’t changed even during this pandemic. Sure, they might need some extra support on a new concept. (Especially if the internet went out right as their teacher was explaining the next step in a Math problem or what exactly iambic pentameter sounds like.) Maybe they will need some gentle accountability and coaching to complete an assignment. But their need to be at the center of their own learning experience hasn’t changed just because the mode of delivery or the location has changed. If anything, relevancy and cultural responsive programming is even more crucial than ever before.

With the start of the new school year, we have some time to reflect on and refine our approach. I just listened to Michelle Obama’s newest podcast today and we’re going to take her advice: “Don’t reach for normal, reach for better.”

Here are three recommendations for starting the new school year off right:

First, take a break now. Most years after a grueling Club summer, it is needed. But this year, for sure. Find a day or two soon to take care of you. There’s lots on the ClubX Blog to help with this—you might check out this one or this one.

Next, invest in yourself professionally.

Giving everything you’ve got can leave you depleted, without the energy or new ideas to address all the challenges. We’ve created a new series of webinars around Academic Success that we hope will not only inspire you, but will give you new strategies to support learning in your Club or Youth Center this Fall. We’ll start with the foundation of Youth-Centered Learning, address Power Hour in the age of COVID, and then offer some tips on engaging youth academically in a virtual environment. Be sure to follow BGCA Youth Development on Facebook so you learn when these and all of our other webinars are coming up.

And those aren’t your only option! Over the past few months, Spillett Leadership  University has been updated with an amazing array of training that you can take on demand. My favorite is Active Learning, because what’s not to love about helping youth take charge of their own learning!? But there are so many options! Many of the new Foundational trainings that are focused on staff practices are ready for distance learning. And the Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality training is available—Ask, Listen, Encourage and Building Community can both give you some new strategies to use this fall with youth. Just log into SLU with your info and check them all out. Not sure where to start? You can find the Youth Development catalog here.

Of course, all this (and more!) is on But definitely hard to find all that just browsing through our site! So, we created a cheat sheet to help guide you in your prep work for education programming this fall.   We included a strategy overview, training registration links, and curriculum options.

Finally, get help. You are not in this alone. When I first came to BGCA from working at a local Club, I really had no idea what to expect. Who were these people who sent emails checking on grant reports? Led webinars that sometimes helped and sometimes didn’t? Answered my questions about all those programs? Four years into my work at National, I can tell you who they are—creative, determined, dedicated people who are here for you. Totally. Whatever you need, people will push themselves and others to find it or create it for you. You can even sign up for a consultation with national staff through the Program Basics Planner.  If you have Education specific questions, you can also meet with any of our Education team. There are so many committed to learning with you how to best serve our members. The invitation is sincere: connect with us!

Don’t forget the Education Learning Community. Or the BGCA Youth Development Facebook Group. So much amazing information and inspiration are shared there daily. Ask a question. Answer a question. Support and be supported by others in the Movement. Nothing like this existed for us when I was in a Club, and it’s a beautiful thing!

The stakes are high for our members this fall. Whatever form school takes, it will impact their emotional wellness and academic success. We recognize you are on the front lines and we are working to support you! Our hope is that something in all these resources will lift your load . . . at least a little!

What do you have planned for Back to School? How are you fostering a love of learning in your Club? Share with us in the comments, on the BGCA Youth Development Facebook page, or email and your ideas may be in a future ClubX Blog post!

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