Barrett Takesian, executive director of Portland Community Squash, pictured here before the pandemic, has been chosen as one of 18 ambassadors by the Afterschool Alliance. File photo

PORTLAND — If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught Barrett Takesian of Portland Community Squash one thing, it is that after school programs are more important than ever.

Takesian, executive director of Portland Community Squash, has been forced to suspend after recreation and academic after school programming for 200 children at the squash center because of pandemic guidelines.

Takesian

For the next year, Takesian will be studying ways to increase access to after school and summer programs across the state and advocate for them as part of national Afterschool Alliance’s ambassador program. He is one of 18 ambassadors chosen nationwide.

The need for after school programming is great in Maine, Takesian said. For every student enrolled in an after school program, there are another five waiting for an opening compared to three nationally, he said.

According to a recent Afterschool Alliance survey of 30,000 families nationwide, Black and Latinx children were disproportionately without after school program opportunities.

The study found there are more than 82,000 Maine children who are in need of an after school program.

Takesian’s work with the Afterschool Alliance will coincide with that of his role as chairman of the Out-of-School-Time Workgroup. The group formed in 2019 when 40 youth organizations came together with Portland ConnectEd and United Way to look into providing more opportunities for students.

Current initiatives include working with Portland school officials on professional development, data sharing and student support, as well working to address financial aid and transportation issues student may have. It also is working on the launch of portlandyouth.org, a website that will list internship, after-school and summer opportunities for students.

“In normal times, after school programs help young people succeed in school and in life, and support working families throughout Maine,” Takesian said. “These days, we need to help children with academic, social and emotional needs created by the pandemic and support efforts to rebuild our economy. That makes these programs even more essential.”

Increasing opportunity locally, he said, isn’t about expanding the Portland Community Squash center, which pre-pandemic provided 200 children with squash instruction and support in academics, career readiness, and recreation and wellness opportunities. Rather, he said, it is about but finding new opportunities for after school and summer programming.

“This is about bringing other organizations together to scale operations and improve access,” he said. “I look forward to helping build support for the out-of-school-time opportunities all students need, now and over time.”

After suspending after school programming due to the pandemic, Portland Community Squash shifted that focus to an advisory program aimed at maintaining relationships. Each staff member is paired with 12 families to offer wellness check-ins and remote academic help. It also launched Rally Portland Academy to provide 40 students a full day of on-site squash, academic support and wellness when students are in remote learning days.

Takesian said the center’s programs before the pandemic were offered with the goal of bringing people together through squash. That is not possible now.

“The collective gathering has stopped,” he said. “That has been a negative of the current pandemic. We are doing the best we can, but we are missing that connection.”

He is the first Afterschool Alliance ambassador in Maine since 2016 when Amy Pichette, now the director of enrichment and aftercare at Breakwater Enrichment Center, was selected.

“With the pandemic increasing the need for quality after school and summer learning programs so dramatically, we need strong advocates who have their fingers on the pulse of their communities,” said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant. “Barrett will do a terrific job mobilizing community and business leaders, parents, policy makers, educators and others to send the message that afterschool programs are vital to our recovery from COVID-19.”

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