Return to school is on every K-12 educator’s mind. Who is returning? What does the schedule look like? How will the students respond? Do we have enough staff? What will summer school look like? The list is endless. Of utmost importance is the well-being of our whole school community, from the students to the staff, the parents to the bus drivers; everyone matters. So, carefully planning and putting the right resources in place is fundamental to a successful return.

Since the pandemic began, CASBO Associate Member Sports for Learning (SFL) has been providing school districts with exactly that: the resources needed to get kids back to school. And the most important resource? Staff! This looks slightly different for each district, as there is no one-size-fits-all here. From our child care program at Lynwood Unified School District to our safe play rotations at Berkeley Unified School District to our afterschool assistance program at Davis Joint Unified School District, we cover all the angles.

SFL coaches support school staff with both COVID-19 safety protocols and outdoor safe play activities, including conducting temperature checks, assisting with sanitizing equipment and hand washing, and leading safe-play activities that ensure students are physically distanced while having fun and keeping active.

SFL has partnered with colleges throughout California over the past decade, so we have a large student recruitment network in place, enabling a fast turnaround for recruiting high numbers of staff. This has been crucial in an ever-changing landscape where prompt planning and implementation have been needed.

But, it’s not just about having enough staff in place to enable the return to school. We need to address whole-child wellness and ensure students are being supported holistically. The school environment is not the norm for kids now, so how they are going to respond is in question. Will they feel scared, excited, unfamiliar? Now is the time to focus on social-emotional wellness and structured play to support kids’ mental and physical wellness.

SFL programs blend social-emotional learning (SEL) and physical activity with a curriculum specifically designed for the pandemic era. Kids participate in safe-play activities, all of which are six feet apart with no shared equipment. Using CASEL’s five core competencies, coaches lead activities and discussions around topics such as responsible decision-making and social awareness. By using physical activity as a vehicle for SEL, it makes the activities fun! Districts planning their summer school programs are incorporating SFL programs as they prioritize whole-child wellness as part of their lost learning plans.

SFL has been running in-person programs throughout the pandemic and has been able to monitor the impact on students and administrators. Behavioral issues have decreased and 81% of students feel happier after learning with SFL. Administrators say that 91% of students are more engaged in learning and 98% say the program has a positive effect on a student’s social-emotional wellness.

For school principals, the program has alleviated behavioral challenges, assisted with COVID-19 safety protocols and supported staffing shortages. It has meant that teachers don’t have to do it all and can focus on ensuring their lessons are well prepared with more ready-to-learn students.

“Sports for Learning has been an integral part of our reopening process here at CVUSD,” said Karen Minshew, assistant superintendent of educational services at Cajon Valley Union School District. “Our students are responding in a very positive way to the coaches who are on-site each day. We have really appreciated their blended curriculum of social-emotional learning and physical education. It’s exactly what our students need.”

One thing we have all learned through this pandemic is the value of schools for much more than academic learning alone. It’s a place to socialize, to eat well, to be safe, to play! And all this takes effort, teamwork and collaboration with all stakeholders involved. SFL is proud to be partnering with over 75 districts in California and to be part of this journey together.

Serving school districts throughout California, Sports for Learning blends PE/PA and social-emotional learning with a curriculum that is grade-level appropriate and aligned with California physical activity and health standards. With 300 coaches and 30 full-time staff, SFL continues to grow and provide schools with an invaluable educational experience for students, striving to not only improve, but broaden their mission of bringing happiness and success to all kids, as well as support teachers and schools during challenging times.