The bell at Fiske Elementary school rings at 3:15. Within 2 minutes, nearly 60 Kindergarten through 5th graders children clamor down the street to get into the Sunshine building. They run into the building to grab a snack, throw a football in the multipurpose room, and excitedly chat with their friends. “Having sat for most of the day, it’s critical to allow them space for 30 minutes to get their energy out,” Co-Director Lauren Hamernick says.
Following play-time, the children gather for announcements. This is a favorite time of day as staff often highlight accomplishments, birthdays, and groups of students who are excelling behaviorally and academically. Hamernick shares, “Students love to be acknowledged for their accomplishments and we try to focus on positive choices they are making.” Students are also given the opportunity to pray in the group. Co-Director Chuck Harris adds, “We have really made a concerted effort to personally engage all of the parents this year. Coming alongside what they are already doing and acknowledging the positive choices the kids are making to the parents has proven very effective. We’ve seen more than triple the numbers of parent engagement this year as compared to years prior.”
Additionally, the youth staff has been trained in Trauma-Informed Care Practices, a treatment framework that involves understanding, recognizing, and responding to all types of trauma. Through training, the staff has been given tools to use in interacting with the students as well as giving students tools to use to be self-aware of their own emotions and reactions. In the coming year, they plan to begin implementing and measuring developmental assets with the students that build resilience. The assets and strengths that are found among the students and families are profound. Being able to build on those assets and strengths alongside parents, while also encouraging academic and spiritual growth is showing great benefits for the entire community.
Students are split into 3 groups of 20, but they are not split by grade level, a unique approach for the program. Instead, Sunshine has found great benefit to pairing older students with younger students. “We give older students the opportunity to show leadership, maturity, and mentorship to young kids. In turn, the younger kids are motivated to achieve more academically and behaviorally as they try to keep up with the older ones,” Harris explains.
The groups rotate their time between academic enrichment, Bible lessons, and games. Hamernick teaches academic enrichment where she measures outcomes through testing the students 3 times a year. “Some days we will focus on homework help, other days we focus on supplementing math and reading skills, and on Thursdays, we teach life skills through cooking classes,” she shares. Sunshine serves snacks each day, Monday-Thursday, and a hot dinner on Thursdays. The students love to help prepare and serve the food and often parents will join for meals.
Sunshine employs 4 part-time staff to run the after-school program. With nearly 60 children enrolled and more on the waiting list, they have reached capacity both space-wise and staffing. “Our goal is to grow the elementary program to serve 125 students and partner with two other schools, Dulles and CICS Washington Park,” shares Harris. Currently, the bulk of students come from nearby Fiske, with a few also coming from Carnegie Elementary. However, with the volume of students, the current building is not laid out well for running multiple activities at the same time. “We hate that we have to turn away kids. There is a need beyond even the current waiting list,” Harris says. Across all the youth programming for Kindergarten through High School, Sunshine has a goal of reaching 500 young people. Throughout the coming year, Sunshine will share a plan to bring this goal to fruition.