Blending Education, Recreation, and Socialization
I had the pleasure of kicking off our interview series with Jenn Faber, Director of the Florida Grade-Level Reading Campaign (FGLRC) at the Florida Children’s Council and R7CC Advisory Board Member, representing the parent population. Jenn offers a unique and valuable perspective to our advisory board, not only as a parent, but with over 30 years of experience providing technical assistance to early learning and after school programs. Jenn led the development of many parent and provider resources, including the FGLRC EarlyCare text messaging service, parent and provider tip sheets on reading, public service announcements featuring best practices in early language development, the FGLRC Summer Learning Toolkit and mini-grants, the Supporting Literacy in School-Age Programs online training module, and the Sound Beginnings Early Language Development Training. Jenn noted that her time with the U.S. Air Force Family Services was one of her proudest accomplishments–with good reason. She provided 28 K-5 trainings on various topics at military installations across the U.S., as well as in Germany and Japan.
I wanted to know what led Jenn to these accomplishments and what inspired her current path.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you got to this position? Where did you start? Where did you study?
Sure, so I have a little bit of a diverse background. I grew up in Pittsburgh, and I went to Robert Morris College, now Robert Morris University. I was studying sports management, and my internship in my sophomore year brought me to Florida. So, I came down here, did a summer internship, worked in a beautiful resort on Captiva Island, and had the opportunity to work a lot with corporate events. At the resort, they have companies coming into the property, and we planned all of their social events, their business events, and of course we ended up engaging with the kids at these events.
Jenn went on to explain the various positions that inspired her shift into education while still preserving the recreation element.
I’ve always been around children, whether in the recreation element or through working at schools in Cape Coral. I really lucked out and found my way to working at Child Care of Southwest Florida. So, Child Care of Southwest Florida was our central agency down here that handles all the subsidized childcare for eligible families to send their kids to before and after school programs. I ended up working for them, and my title was a SAFE Coordinator. SAFE stood for school-age facilitated education, and basically, what that meant was we had a huge grant that allowed us to go into before and after school programs and work on educational improvements, whether it was Boys and Girls Club, or a YMCA, or a school-operated program. We would go in to monitor their quality and make sure they were doing the right thing. That’s what really opened my eyes to what quality education in a recreational setting can look like…
She commented on her own need for that hands-on engagement when she was in school.
I was not captured by my teachers unless they were doing something really engaging and interesting to me. I would get easily distracted if not. To this day, that really leads me to the way I think about education…
I had the opportunity to work for several different agencies up in Tallahassee. But, I eventually accepted a job with the Florida Children’s Forum, and for 10 years, I was their State School-Age Specialist. I basically helped everyone around the state that worked within our early care system, making sure that they did quality programming at their before and after school programs. So, people looked at me as “the after school person” because we weren’t in the school day classroom, but we made sure that when those schools-out programs–after school, before school, summer camp, teacher duty days, all those days that kids are in a program outside of a teacher’s classroom–we made sure that they had quality elements and good things happening for kids. It was a much more relaxed atmosphere. I like the recreation element and the socialization element.
You keep mentioning quality programs. To you, and with your experience over the years in these after school and recreational programs, what are some of those high-quality characteristics that you look for or work to implement?
In thinking about quality, it’s just making sure that there’s education embedded in everything. If we can preach one thing to every staff member that we hire–if we can focus on the fact that education is an opportunity that’s there within anything you’re doing, whether it’s in arts and crafts, or a game of kickball, or the traditional things that you think of kids doing… If the staff member knows how to make it educational or bring some educational components, they should. If you’re doing an art project, you can learn the history of where that style came from. What materials are they using? Learn about the color spectrum, you know? But often we don’t have enough time to train our staff at those types of programs to know how to ask children those questions… If there were only a course on how to engage the children and take your lesson plan, which might look a little bit more like recreation and socialization, but build in those educational elements, I’d love to see that.
Jenn and I talked about how this type of engagement relates to the concept of multiple intelligences.
My brother, I think, is a great example of the musical element of that. Everything in his world is music. He just, he can hear a song and play it on an instrument. He was given that gift… Every child has the ability to learn; we need to figure out how to bring that out in them. Are they a kinesthetic learner? They might be interpersonal or intrapersonal. Kids that are quiet and shy–we call them quiet or shy. Well, guess what? They’re just self-learners.
OK, let’s switch it up a little bit. I know you’re probably tired of talking about COVID, but how do you think the impacts of COVID manifest in your work?
We’ve really seen the need for the adults in a child’s life to appreciate the benefits that digital learning platforms can provide, because I know we tend to preach endlessly, “no screen time for kids,” and then voilà, all of a sudden, this whole past year it’s been nothing but screen time… it can be done right. I think the whole learning curve around using digital platforms, engaging children online, and being safe online, I think that really came to light through our experience with COVID this past year. It’s important too for our older populations. I know that’s not our normal audience, but a lot of the children we work with are raised by grandparents. Engaging with technology is important for all audiences.
Do you think a lot of these practices that were necessary due to COVID–as far as technology is concerned–do you think we’re going to keep a lot of these virtual learning opportunities as things kind of “go back to normal”?
I hope that there’s a blend. I hope that there’s a productive blend and even an opportunity for children to decide what works for them. We hear the stories of how it just didn’t work for certain children, and understandably so, but then there’s the flip side to the kids that really adapted to it wonderfully and are having no problem. They even may have excelled because they had the wealth of information that’s available, you know, through your computer. It’s a whole lot more than they can get sitting in a classroom. So, for those kids that it really works for, I’d hate to see it go away completely.
Jenn wanted to stress the importance of providing resources and support to those who are with our children outside of the classroom, especially in these times when preventing learning loss is critical.
Not every child loves going to school, but a lot of them like to go to parks and rec programs where they get to run around and play. So, why not build education into those elements.
I think we all have to embrace education as being bigger than just the school day. Parents/caregivers can be educators. We can learn in the grocery store, through running errands, hearing stories from our grandparents, exploring our neighborhoods. Education is everywhere.
We would like to shift our focus from the quantity of stuff being put out there to the quality of what’s being put out there–and by quality, what we mean is the actual reading instruction interventions that enable us to find to a child’s deficit. Are they struggling with comprehension, or struggling with vocabulary, or fluency? Getting them the support that will help them build back skills–that’s going to increase proficiency.
We wrapped up the interview with a conversation about Jenn’s personal life and how she finds balance when investing so much time and mental/emotional energy into her work. She said that while she focuses on her early education programs having a nice mix of education, recreation, and socialization, she translates that concept into her personal life as well.
I want to get better at planning my social calendar because COVID really made me look at how much I was working. Reconnecting with all of your friends and socializing…. I just spent the weekend at the beach, and I could walk forever and pick up every shell, look at every tree and every bird flying by. I enjoy nature and staying active: canoeing, kayaking, paddleboarding. All of those types of activities are right up my alley. This balance of education, recreation, and socialization is important, not only for our kids, but for ourselves.
Jenn is currently reading Me: Elton John Official Autobiography.
Photo of Jenn Faber (2021)