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. 


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
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.


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.