Being a parent is a challenging job in itself, but adding to it with the stress of a long work week, or doing it alone, can make it even more difficult. Many parents and families rely on child care or afterschool programs so their child can participate in quality programs while the parents work. Since child care is an essential tool for the healthy development of children, it is important to have the communication at child care programs be as efficient and effective as possible in order for children, staff, and parents to enjoy the many benefits associated with the program.
An Afterschool Program (ASP) is a safe, structured, and supervised setting with well planned programs, trained and professional staff, and a large quantity of activities and materials (Park, 2017). One place that provides early childhood education and afterschool programs is the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The YMCA, also known as the Y, is a nonprofit human service organization, who is committed to strengthening the community while providing a safe space for learning, physical activity, and teaching good morals. It is a staple for those whose parents may not be able to pick them up after school, or for those who need more work in their development outside of the classroom. The YMCA provides opportunities to make friends through after-school programs, which builds a sense of community among people of different neighborhoods.
The local YMCA in Worcester is the Central Community Branch, which is a part of the YMCAs of Central Massachusetts. This particular YMCA is located at 766 Main Street in Worcester, MA, and is a very important staple in the community, given the diverse ethnicities and people of many different economic backgrounds. The Y is committed to meeting the needs of all its constituents while having to overcome everyday obstacles such as language barriers and finding the best way to communicate with both staff and parents.
There are so many barriers, such as language, to developing effective communication between the YMCA and the participant families. These barriers can be overcome through creative solutions such as implementing technology. Throughout this project, our team was able to accomplish this and much more. In the methodology chapter, we discuss the methods we used in order to accomplish our over-arching goal for the project.
Our group completed this project in collaboration with the Central Community Branch of the YMCA. The main goal for our project was to collaborate with the YMCA to assess and enhance forms of communication amongst staff, and between staff and parents of the afterschool program. In order to achieve this goal, we developed and completed the following five objectives:
1. Assessed the current communication methods used amongst the YMCA staff
2. Assessed the current communication methods used between organizations’ staff and parents
3. Developed new and improved forms of communication at the YMCA
4. Evaluated developments and pilot the new form of communication at the YMCA
5. Developed and propose recommendations for the YMCA about communication and membership
We conducted surveys with the YMCA staff and parents of the YMCA afterschool program. We analyzed the survey data to determine how efficient the pick-up process was at the YMCA afterschool program, and to see which method of communication was the most effective for both parents and staff. Following this, we conducted interviews with other non-for-profit organizations to investigate what methods of communication worked best for them that might also be effective at the YMCA. We compared certain software for mobile applications to develop a new form of communication at the YMCA afterschool Program. This application will be used for tracking the location of the students while they are in the YMCA. We then narrowed down the selections based on criteria from the comparison chart, and piloted and tested the software with the features that the YMCA staff felt were necessary. This application has since been developed, and is now in use at the YMCA. We also piloted and tested a bulletin board in the waiting area in order to create a more comfortable environment for parents waiting for their children. Following the testing, the group developed findings and recommendations for the YMCA to improve the app, and the waiting area. We made slight adjustments to the quick menu functions, and took pictures of the children in order to give them a profile picture on the application. We made the YMCA staff informational video tutorials and user guides in order to fully understand the capabilities of the app, as well as to troubleshoot any problems that may arise. The user guides can be found in Appendices I, J and K.
Initially, the YMCA was looking for a way to enhance communication amongst the staff in order to improve the time of the pick-up process. We found that the parents tended to get frustrated while waiting to pick up their child. Upon further observation and data collection, the group realized that the wait time was not the main cause of the parents’ frustration at pick-up. We found that parents just feel that they are waiting much longer than they actually are. This feeling can be attributed to a combination of pick-up area environmental factors, such as a lack of sitting area and reading material. We suggest that putting a few chairs in the pick-up area, shown in the above pictures, would allow parents to sit and wait after a long work day, which will make the process seem faster. Also using digital frames to display pictures of the children can add an engaging aspect to the process.
After observing pick-up at the YMCA several times, we also determined that YMCA pick-up and transition times would benefit from an easier to use and more efficient method of tracking children in the afterschool program. The transition time occurs when the group of students is moving from one place to another. According to the staff, the pick-up time and the transition time were the two most hectic periods during the day. The delay of transition times and lack of communication between staff can cause confusion when it comes time for the parent to pick up their child.
Our group then conducted several interviews with other nonprofit organizations to understand how they communicate amongst their staff, as well as how they communicate with the participants’ parents. The form of communication each organization uses is shown in the above table. No specific type of communication always worked for every parent and staff involved. Many other nonprofit organizations have similar issues with communication, and therefore use a combination of communication methods to ensure that information is received.
Following the interviews, we determined that a mobile application would help with tracking the students in the YMCA Afterschool Program. After doing online research for different tracking applications, we chose and compared several different options using the above comparative table. The options include: Google Sheets, Tadpoles, Roll Call, ScanTrakk, App Machine, My Attendance Tracker, Kinderline, and Jackrabbit Care. We assessed each one of the applications as a group, and presented the options to the staff. After much discussion and feedback with the YMCA team, it was determined that the Google Sheets application would make the most sense for YMCA tracking purposes. We suggest the staff continue to use the mobile app, as it will help with tracking the children and cause less communications errors during the pick-up process.
Following the development of the application, an additional finding was that most parents do not have a membership at the YMCA because of the cost, and they do not have time during the day to come use the facilities or attend the programs. We surveyed 18 parents of participants in the afterschool program and only 3 of them had a membership at the YMCA. Of the 83% that do not have a membership, 47% said the reason they did not purchase a membership is because of the cost. Additionally, 47% said they do not have enough free time to use the facility, and 13% said they are members of other gyms. The two outstanding reasons that parents do not have memberships are because of the cost and lack of free time. The YMCA knows it is a fundamental component in the lives of many of the families that participate in their programs, and they want to make sure they are providing the families with all means necessary to succeed.