Written by Davide Carozza, Development Coordinator at After-School All-Stars DC
When DC Public Schools ended in-person classes on March 16th to combat the spread of COVID-19, After-School All-Stars DC (ASAS DC) was ready to help students stay connected with their learning communities. Working with trusted partner Enjoy Your Life 365 (EYL 365), a non-profit comprised of local artists and focused on harnessing the “power of art as an instrumental tool for social and environmental change,” we transformed our after-school services for the virtual classroom setting. Offering a rich variety of classes like visual arts, digital photography, music production, spoken word, fitness, cooking, dance, and mentoring services, we supported over 300 middle-schoolers from April 6th to June 26th.
The majority of our programming happened live, with students joining secure Zoom sessions led by specialized instructors and overseen by ASAS DC staff. Some content was also published to the ASAS DC Kids YouTube channel, available at any time for students and families looking for safe and engaging opportunities for recreation and learning from home. We were able to use this virtual teaching experience as a test bed, refining quality online programming, safety protocols for students, and new recruitment strategies while offering professional development training in online teaching to our staff members.
Our quick pivot to virtual classrooms reflects our deep ties to the communities we serve. We knew that disadvantaged families would need all the support we could give them, so when schools closed we immediately reached out to conduct a basic needs assessment and lay the foundation for virtual after-school. We connected families with the resources they would need in order to participate in online learning and maintain healthy social lives. We also assisted the school system in ensuring the delivery of their academic programming; as much as possible, we sought to give our families the structure of a regular school schedule. This experience will be invaluable as we prepare for a fall semester that won’t resemble anything we have seen before.
Our efforts made a real impact on the lives of the families we served, as evidenced by the parent testimonials we collected. Nassar Sanogo, mother of two of our All-Stars, wrote in her testimonial that our virtual programming was a “daily reminder there is kindness” in the world, and praised the “emotional support” ASAS DC offered “by always supporting my family. They really understood what it felt like being stuck at home with little kids. I am truly grateful for the virtual sessions, for dropping the materials, the gifts, and physically and emotionally supporting my kids and me at ease. You don’t how much it meant when you dropped the supplies for the kids. It made them feel great and focused less on COVID-19.” Another mother, Tabitha Bates, wrote that having her son “participate with the online creative sessions was a great way for him to express himself creatively with all the things going on in the world today. Jayden was given the opportunity to think outside the box which is good for him. He was also able to communicate with peers which is good for him being an only child. Ms. Candice and all of the teachers were wonderful and very dedicated in making sure Jayden was learning as well as having fun. I’m very happy that Jayden had a chance to experience this new virtual way of learning.”
As the new semester kicks into high gear, the need for our services has never been greater. DC Public Schools have decided not to offer any virtual after-school activities, leaving non-profits like us to fill the gap. This fall, ASAS DC will continue to provide the enrichment activities that proved so successful in April, May, and June. In addition, we are developing a strong tutoring/homework support component with the help of Federal Work Study college students and incorporating trauma-informed care into our mentoring services through a tele-therapy partner. Our corporate partners have been working with us to brainstorm ways to deliver career exploration experiences to students, with some professional contacts joining our enrichment classes to talk to students about careers in related fields. Finally, in our discussions with them about fall programming, principals stressed the importance of keeping students connected to the school. One-time virtual experiences, events, and showcases can be as valuable as ongoing services for disadvantaged communities, helping to keep them in the fold during difficult times. We’re arranging a host of attractive options, including guest speakers from the sports world, virtual visits like “a night at the museum,” music concerts, classes based on popular platforms like TikTok, and science experiments.
In closing, we’d like to highlight one recent virtual experience that was organized by the National office of ASAS, in partnership with TikTok, Sony/ATV Music Publishing, and the prestigious Bandier Program in Recording and Entertainment Industries at Syracuse University. This past summer, ASAS chapters across the country were asked to nominate students for an online Songwriting Academy that lasted for five weeks. Thirteen All-Stars were chosen, and ASAS DC is proud to say that our own Tayvaughn S. was among them. Tayvaughn has long been part of our music programming, and his passion is infectious. After being nominated, he wrote an essay for ASAS National describing his love for music and earning a place in the Academy.
Tayvaughn and his fellow All-Stars worked with a star-studded cast of industry experts, including Timbaland, Jozzy, Tiagz, Jack Harlow, JetsonMade, DJ Dahi, Ilsey Juber, Tainy, Anitta, Melanie Martinez, Mikey Keenan, and featured guest will.i.am. Virtual sessions consisted of both one-on-one work in which students were paired with a music industry professional and group discussions in which songs and lyrics were analyzed and refined. Tayvaughn relished the chance to be formally recognized as an artist – which is exactly how he sees himself. Reflecting on the experience, Tayvaughn said, “The program has helped me by expanding my field and giving me the constructive criticism I needed. I enjoyed how the team was hands-on with us. They gave me the ability to experience what other musicians go through before they’re successful. Through this experience I have tapped into resources that better my own talent. Thank you for teaching us how to comprehend the language known as music.”
Jemn Napper, a Teaching Artist at EYL 365 and Tayvaughn’s longtime mentor for ASAS DC music programming, joined him for these virtual sessions and was impressed by the music he produced. As Jemn put it, “Not only did Tayvaughn remind me to have important conversations about social justice, especially police brutality, but he was brave enough to talk about things from his own perspective. To simply say his words were moving is not enough. By coming out of his comfort zone I believe he inspired everybody to dive into the deeper parts of their subconscious; creating even more dialogue for change. When will.i.am took the moment to break down his lyrics, I knew that Tayvaughn had something special to share with the world.”
At ASAS DC, we strive to ensure that all of our programming is driven by student voice and choice, so we were thrilled that out work with Tayvaughn helped bring that voice to a wider community. Like Jemn, we think this is just the beginning for him. When we learn of and share in Tayvaughn’s successes, and when we hear from our parents that our efforts have a real impact on their lives and the lives of their children, we are reminded of the power of what we do, and the promise of those we help. If we can work to give our All-Stars and their families opportunities for learning, growth, recreation, and self-expression, there is no telling what they will accomplish. What we do know is that they will repay our efforts many times over, becoming leaders in their community and in the struggle for a brighter, more equitable world.
If you would like to learn more about our work, find us at our website, which includes links to all of our social media, or follow us on Facebook. To learn more about the Songwriting Academy, click here.