Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Looking Ahead: Perspectives from California Expanded Learning Program Leaders

By Sam Piha


Sam Piha

In an earlier post entitled, Expanded Learning Leaders Look to 2017, we shared the views of national expanded learning leaders regarding the upcoming trends and challenges facing the field. We wanted to get the thoughts on expanded learning leaders in California who work closer to the ground who run or oversee youth programs. Below are some of their responses to our questions. 


EMERGING TRENDS IN EXPANDED LEARNING PROGRAMS

Frank Escobar, Program Manager
Visalia Unified School District
Frank Escobar: I do see school climate and culture elements as a continuing trend in 2017 for expanded learning opportunities (ELO’s) since it continues to be a significant initiative in districts under local control accountability plan (LCAP). This would/could include social emotional learning (SEL), positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), School Safety models/professional development (PD), etc. (Note: Frank Escobar and his colleague, Rico Peralta, created a Facebook page that provides helpful information, tools, resources and inspiration to the afterschool site lead community.)

John Fuentes: Emerging trends in expanded learning programs include safety around immigrations rights for students, families and staff; more literacy support for 9th graders; and intentionally working closely with school admin to design programs using the school performance framework (SPF) data.   


Selena Levy, Program Manager
CalSAC
Selena Levy: There are a couple of emerging trends in expanded learning programs in 2017. I think given this current political climate, programs will need to increase their support to families as well as become stronger and more vocal advocates for their programs. The students and families in expanded learning programs are under serious attack from all different angles. There is going to need to be increased support to the students as well as their families from the expanded learning programs. I think given the unknown future of funding for programs on the state and federal level makes  it even more important that programs take action. The expanded learning programs are the best ambassadors and advocates for their programs as well as for the families and students they serve. The time to speak out and take action is now.


MOST SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGE FACING THE FIELD OF EXPANDED LEARNING 

Frank Escobar: Connected to the obvious budget issue is the aspect of quality staffing.  This is multi-layered in impact on quality.  Whether its budget to hire and retain quality staff or budget to “train” low-mid quality staff or budget to pay for subs with the high absenteeism rates across programs.  Some organizations are better suited to support absences and vacancies and others are left to 1-30 and 40 ratios at times because they don’t have any other options.  In many cases, Site Leads are having to directly supervise students during program just to cover for absences and vacancies which is a recipe for poor program quality and outcomes.  I am aware of districts that are managing these scenarios regularly and constantly in “survival mode” rather than “thrivival mode” which is what we are hoping for all programs. 

This is obviously a direct impact on “quality” and programs’ abilities to pursue goals and aspirations.  In many cases, sites may be fully staffed but with mid to low quality staff (little experience, no training, lack of passion for educating kids) and little to no professional development opportunity due to budget restraints.  My programs are an example of that.  I’ve had to fly positions 2 and 3 times to access a pool of 2 to 3 applicants for our positions whom have no experience, no training and are not considering education as a career but would prefer to work after school vs. fast-food.  We then have no funds to provide training and it all falls on our Site Leads to coach and support while managing the day-to-day.  It’s a daily struggle, which then wears and tears on people over time, particularly those who are not overly passionate (like myself) about this work. 


John Fuentes, Program Manager
Bay Area Community Resources
John Fuentes: The most significant challenges facing the field of expanded learning include staff retention in the Bay Area as the cost of living continues to be a challenge; funding as the demographics change here in the Bay; and more support and training/coaching for direct service providers. 

Selena Levy: The most significant challenge facing the field right now is both funding for programs to stay open and continue to serve the young people in their programs as well as the challenge of supporting staff who work in the expanded learning programs. Staff are coming to program each day with their own pain and trauma in this political climate and need to be supported as well. Expanded learning programs need to continue to invest in their staff and help them strengthen their own competencies around social-emotional learning and character development to ensure they can continue to support the young people they serve every day.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Youth Development 2.0

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Not that many years ago, we defined young people as “problems about to happen”. These problems included juvenile delinquency, drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, gang membership, school failure, and on. Youth programs presented themselves as able to prevent these problems and program providers chased funders that were structured around these categories. Research focused on “risk factors” - family and environmental factors that could predict future youth problems. 

Then, for those of us at the ground level, we noticed two important things: 1) We found that most of the kids that had these risk factors were not showing problems; and 2) Regardless of the categorical funding focused on preventing problems, we tended to attract the same kids and successful programming was based on providing safe environments, forming positive relationships, and offering activities that were meaningful to young people. We moved away from deficits and began seeing young people as assets. Soon, the focus was positive youth development instead of prevention, thanks to the pioneering work of people like Michele Cahill, Karen Pittman, James Connell, Sylvia Yee, Carla Sanger, Sue Eldredge, and others. 

Photo Credit: CNYD Youth Development Guide

In 2001, the Community Network for Youth Development, in partnership with the California Department of Education, published the Youth Development Guide: Engaging Young People in After-School Programming. This guide offers strategies for designing youth programs around the issues of promoting a sense of safety, encouraging relationship building, fostering meaningful youth participation, providing opportunities for community involvement, and creating learning experiences that build skills. You can download it here or view it in a magazine-style format by clicking here

Despite the fact that this was published 15 years ago, the framework is heavily aligned to today’s California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs. What was revolutionary about the youth development framework (created by James Connell and Michelle Gambone) was that it promoted shared responsibility of not just the youth worker, but the provider organization, as well as funders and policy makers.

In recent years, we have been introduced to new research and new terms - many of which are products of a positive youth development setting. They include growth mindsets, non-cognitive skills, social emotional learning, soft skills, 21st century competencies, grit, character building, pro-social behavior, and more. 

Many say that the new research and terms are an extension of positive youth development. We can call them Youth Development 2.0. 

Monday, January 2, 2017

Social Emotional Learning: How Do We Best Communicate What We Do in Expanded Learning Programs?

By Sam Piha
Sam Piha
There has been a great deal of research and conversation about the importance of social and emotional learning (SEL). There have also been a number of terms and lists that are close cousins to SEL: non-cognitive skills, grit, growth mindsets, and others. How can practitioners sort all of this out and how best should we communicate with our K-12 colleagues and parents?

The Wallace Foundation recently commissioned Edge Research, Inc. to examine “the linguistic landscape of the many terms used to describe non-academic skills and finding some familiarity with ‘social and emotional learning.’” The primary goals of this research included:
  • Understanding the landscape of terminology from the perspective of key stakeholders
  • Understanding what motivates K-12 public school, Afterschool and Policy leaders to be interested in the topic of SEL
  • Helping the field develop a common vocabulary on the topic of SEL
They conducted a review of the literature, gathered surveys, and held focus groups with K-12 educators, afterschool leaders, and parents.

Photo Credit: Edutopia.org


The key findings of this marketing research were:

1. There is no “silver bullet” term, but across the research phases, “social and emotional learning” emerges as one that is familiar and clear for Policy, K-12 and Afterschool leaders. It also tests well in parent focus groups.

2. Over the course of research, we moved away from terms that had strong, ancillary or even negative connotations (21st Century Skills, Whole Child Development, Soft Skills, Character). We also eliminated familiar terms deemed too generic for this topic (Youth Development, Success Factors).

3. In framing this issue, a concept that speaks to “Gains” for children has traction. Specifics about SEL skills (i.e. building positive relationships, navigating social environments), plus positively asserting that all children benefit, make this frame popular across stakeholder and parent audiences.


4. Other frames include language that resonates. Consider the right time to weave in themes and ideas about: all adults having a role, the learning equation, children realizing their potential, future citizens and the opportunity gap.

5. Despite agreement that SEL should be a priority, challenges exist for the future. The field identifies training and professional development as much-needed. Parents are wary of school and afterschool overstepping their bounds.

Edge researchers, Pam Loeb and Stacia Tipton, presented their study in a webinar sponsored by the Wallace Foundation. We urge field leaders in expanded learning to give it a listen by clicking here.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How Race and Class Influence Student Learning Outcomes and Development

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We have been following the work of Dr. Pedro Noguera for several years. Dr. Noguera is now a Distinguished Professor of Education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences and Director, Center for the Study of School Transformation at UCLA. Dr. Noguera has been a speaker at past How Kids Learn conferences and has shared his thoughts on the relevance of the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) learning principles. This video can be viewed here.  

In partnership with LA's BEST, we recently hosted a Speaker’s Forum in Los Angeles on September 13, 2016 featuring a presentation by Dr. Noguera entitled, How Race and Class Influence Student Learning Outcomes and Development. He was introduced by LAUSD Superintendent of Schools, Michelle King. 


You can view his presentation by clicking on the video below.  


Monday, August 29, 2016

Quality STEM and Afterschool: An Interview with Dr. Carol Tang

By Sam Piha

Carol Tang is a long-time champion of quality STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) activities in afterschool and summer programs. She is the Executive Director at the Children's Creativity Museum in San Francisco, and former Director of the Coalition for Science After School. She is also a Board member of the How Kids Learn Foundation

She agreed to a video interview about the relationship between the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles and quality STEM activities, which can be viewed below. This brief video interview is a good resource for afterschool staff to discuss. 



More recently, Dr. Tang agreed to answer additional questions about quality STEM activities. 

Q: Can you list a couple of qualities that good STEM activities demonstrate? 

A: While some folks may believe that STEM activities need to have science facts or math formulas to be good, in fact, high-quality STEM activities may not look like a traditional science lesson at all! Good STEM should include open-ended questions where children have a chance to apply their existing knowledge and experience in a hands-on activity. The best STEM activities are ones where more questions are generated than answers and where children end up wanting more time to explore. All STEM activities should also have dedicated time for children to share their ideas with each other and work together to solve challenges. 

Q: Why do you think that afterschool and summer youth programs are a good setting to promote STEM knowledge and activities? 

A: I strongly believe that out-of-school time offers a unique opportunity to engage youth in STEM learning--partly because these experiences don't feel like a homework assignment. Afterschool programs and their staff are already aware of children's individual interests and learning styles and they are prepared for the daily challenge of delivering engaging programming. I find that afterschool staff intuitively value open-ended exploration, collaboration, and unstructured play and these are exactly the principles that should be applied to good STEM experiences as well.

Q: Are there certain populations that have less access to STEM experiences and are ones that we should target?

A: Many studies have shown that children in both urban and rural communities lack access to both classroom and out-of-school time STEM enrichments that are crucial for inspiring interest and building confidence in STEM. This means that even children who have an aptitude for STEM may never get the role models and encouragement they need to see themselves pursuing STEM in the future. Many studies have shown that if girls and students of color do not receive experiences that both spark and sustain their interest in STEM, they will no longer identify with STEM in their lives. In my eyes, this is not just a tragedy on an individual level, but it is a loss for our society that depends on the creativity and talents of all.

Q: In your work, what have you seen as the challenges to those offering STEM activities in out-of-school or informal learning settings? 

A: I am heartened to see that in the years since I started championing STEM in afterschool, the awareness of its importance has become more and more common across settings and programs. The challenge I still see however, is that there are not enough resources within programs to maintain a diversity of STEM offerings to keep kids engaged throughout their formative years. Even when programs do offer high-quality STEM, it's often based on just a few activities or an occasional visit by a partner. Even in well-resourced communities, there is still a lack of continuous experiences that can deepen a young person's budding interest in STEM topics. 

Q: In what way do you think STEM activities intersect with social justice? 

A: First, while all children can benefit from access to the economic stability that STEM careers can bring, wealthy children have safety nets that other children do not; thus it is more imperative that low income families have the ability to climb the economic ladder through STEM jobs. But my passion for STEM goes beyond STEM jobs. There is just no getting around the fact that the environmental, health, and technological issues we face as a society impact different communities in vastly different ways. If under-resourced communities are not armed with the knowledge about the impacts of pollution, lack of healthy food, loss of natural spaces, and climate change, they cannot protect their own interests. I strongly believe that STEM not only offers a good defense, but it can provide the way for positive solutions. Communities can use STEM and creative problem-solving to tackle the issues that impact them and not wait for trickle-down solutions.

These societal and community challenges can be harnessed and used to engage children's interests in STEM. The most powerful experiences are ones where young people design their own projects to address the issues they care most about. It's been well-documented that girls and students of color are more deeply engaged in STEM projects when they have real-world applications. That is when they personally see how STEM can be both personally satisfying and impactful for their communities.

Q: There is a lot of talk about the importance of promoting a sense of "agency". Is there any way this is related to quality STEM activities? 

A: As a former scientist, I think that a STEM "mindset" is empowering because there is no question or problem that I think is impossible to tackle. I have a set of skills and attitudes that allow me to understand that even the hardest challenge can be broken down into questions, variables, and experiments--it might be hard and complex but I have faith that creative and prepared people can solve it eventually. So ultimately, I think participating in STEM activities gives youth agency--the set of skills, abilities, and attitudes to think critically, plan, and successfully carry out a project. They develop agency through the one STEM activity in front of them that one afternoon--but more importantly, over time, good STEM activities will strengthen their sense of agency and ability to be successful in life.

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Carol M. Tang, Ph.D. is the Executive Director at the Children’s Creativity Museum and former Director of the Coalition for Science After School. She is experienced in non-profit management, strategic planning, envisioning, meeting facilitation, team building, fundraising and public speaking. She also has extensive experience in teaching, organizing, and leading science education efforts including out-of-school programming, exhibitions, teacher professional development, public programs, volunteer management and higher education.

Carol is active in professional service through grant review panels, Board membership, advisory committees, technical working groups and conference sessions.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

SEL and the Challenge of Context, Culture, and Focus

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Dr. Shawn Ginwright is Associate Professor of Education & Africana Studies, College of Ethnic Studies at San Francisco State University. He has been an important voice for understanding how we address the needs of youth of color within our youth programs. Dr. Ginwright was a speaker at a recent How Kids Learn conference on the topic of how we view social emotional learning in our work with young people of color. His brief presentation is worth a second look.



We also asked Dr. Ginwright a couple of questions. We offer his responses below.

Q: People sometimes remark that youth development principles are color blind. However, in your presentation, you spoke to the importance of context and of young people’s understanding their own racial identity and experience. Can you say why you think this is important? 

A: Conventional youth development models rarely consider racial, ethnic, gender, sexual identity as an important marker, and pathway for development largely because the models aim at overgeneralizing young people. However, for young people of color who experience racism, homophobia, and other forms of oppression identity is a critical element in the developmental process because it builds healthy self reflection, growth and collective esteem.


Q: We hear a lot about the term “agency”. Can you briefly describe what this is and why it is important that we promote a sense of agency? Is there an issue of equity when we talk about and look for opportunities for developing a sense of agency? 

A: Agency is critical for young people of color because it opens a pathway toward action to address issues they find important. Research also has demonstrated that agency, the ability to act and have a sense of control over one’s life is a critical (but often understudied) developmental component. Researchers have also concluded that agency fosters hope among young people. In communities, schools and neighborhoods bereft of hope, agency opens possibilities to act to create the communities young people want to see.

Q: We hear about the achievement gap and the opportunity gap. Can you share your views on this? 

A: The achievement gap is a misused term that tends to place academic performance entirely on students.  However, a more apt term is “opportunity gap” because it more accurately calls into question the structure of policies that make it incredibly difficult for young people of color to perform in schools. The responsibility is on schools, and school systems to foster an environment for learning. To say “achievement gap” presumes that the responsibility for learning is only on students.

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Shawn Ginwright is a leading national expert on African American youth, youth activism, and youth development. He is an Associate Professor of Education in the Africana Studies Department and Senior Research Associate for the Cesar Chavez Institute for Public Policy at San Francisco State University. In 1989, Dr. Ginwright co-founded Leadership Excellence Inc. with his friend Daniel Walker. Leadership Excellence is an innovative youth development agency located in Oakland, California that trains African American youth to address pressing social and community problems. In 2002 he also created the Research Collaborative on Youth Activism, a network of scholar activists who study, advocate and support youth organizing efforts around the country. Dr. Ginwright currently serves on the Board of Directors for the California Endowment and other boards.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Character Day is September 22, 2016



By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The idea that we should help young people build strong character traits is not new. It dates back to the origins of youth programs in America in the late 1800s. The importance of character building has seen a resurgence due to the research and literature on non-cognitive/social emotional skills, grit, growth mindsets, and the success of charter schools such as those managed by Kipp and the Harlem Children’s Zone. 

We believe that afterschool and summer programs are uniquely positioned to focus on the character building of their youth. All youth programs can celebrate character building by participation in Character Day on September 22, 2016. 

Let It Ripple has developed short films for young people and lesson plans for program leaders to support the offering of character building activities on Character Day. They have made participation very easy. You can click here to review their materials, which are suitable for children of all ages. 



They have created a “periodic chart” of character traits which includes: 

Wisdom 
  • Creativity
  • Curiosity
  • Love of Learning
  • Perspective

Courage
  • Bravery
  • Perseverance
  • Honesty
  • Enthusiasm


Humanity 
  • Love
  • Kindness
  • Social Intelligence

Justice
  • Social Responsibility
  • Teamwork
  • Fairness
  • Leadership

Temperance
  • Forgiveness
  • Humility
  • Prudence
  • Self-Control

Transcendence
  • Appreciation of Beauty
  • Gratitude
  • Optimism
  • Humor
  • Spirituality 
The Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project is working to enlist the commitment of youth programs to participate in this important day. LIAS staff will review available materials and assist programs in selecting those that are most appropriate. You can contact LIAS by going to www.learninginafterschool.org