Friday, June 26, 2015

Promoting Social Emotional Skills

By Guest Blogger, Jennifer Peck, Executive Director, Partnership for Children and Youth

(Note: Much of this commentary first appeared on EdSource on April 29, 2015. To view the entire article, along with others, please click here.)

Jennifer Peck
With the introduction of new Common Core State Standards, teachers and administrators can concentrate on helping students develop the ability to collaborate, create, communicate and think critically. There is growing recognition that strengthening students’ social and emotional skills is essential to developing those abilities, and thus critical to success in school, the workplace, and in life generally.

Further good news is that schools don’t have to do this work on their own. In California, a strong network of expanded learning programs – operating after school and in the summer – are already experienced at helping young people build social-emotional skills. Their practices are specifically designed to help children:

learn about themselves,
relate to other people, and
develop confidence about learning.

This work by California’s expanded learning community is guided by new Quality Standards for Expanded Learning. The state is using these standards to inform its decisions about program funding, and schools, program providers and parents can use them to identify high quality programs and practices.

A robust after-school and summer strategy helps ensure that all children are developing the social-emotional skills they need to function well in the classroom. It also adds at least 740 hours to the 1,080 hours of school year learning. That extra learning time is not a luxury. The research on summer learning loss, for example, documents that the failure to use this time well has significant negative impacts on children, particularly those whose families cannot afford to pay for camps, trips, and other enriching activities.

California has more than 4,500 publicly funded expanded learning programs, most of which are located in schools in our state’s lowest-income communities. These programs add great value to the work of schools, but too often work in isolation. As a recent Partnership for Children and Youth report documents, when schools think outside the classroom and develop partnerships that expand the day and the year and offer opportunities to learn in different ways, kids benefit.

Let’s use this additional learning time to make sure all children have the social-emotional skills they need to thrive in school, work and life.
Jennifer Peck was a founding staff member of the Partnership in 2001 and became its executive director in 2003.  Through her leadership, the Partnership has developed and implemented initiatives to finance and build after-school and summer-learning programs, and increase access to school meals and nutrition education programs in the Bay Area’s lowest-income communities. Jennifer leads a coalition of California organizations advocating for new federal policies to improve the effectiveness of after-school and summer-learning programs. To learn more about the Partnership and sign up for their e-newsletter, visit their website

Friday, June 19, 2015

Having a Conversation About Race in Expanded Learning Programs

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Several years ago, I sat in a circle of afterschool leaders across the country. This learning circle was hosted by the National Institute on Out of School Time (NIOST) and we met several times. Along with my friend, Greg Roberts, former Director of the Muhammad Ali Foundation, we insisted that it was important that we discuss the impact of race within our conversations and within our programs. 

The recent tragedy in Charleston follows many others and is a stark reminder that we must engage in a discussion of race with our staff and our youth. To this end, Temescal Associates and LIAS sponsored a number of film screenings of Finding the Gold Within for the afterschool community in the Bay Area. This is a documentary about young men in transition to college, the support they received from their afterschool program, Alchemy, Inc., and their confronting the issue of race. These screenings were followed by discussions led by the young men portrayed in the documentary and the film’s director. These screenings were very powerful and the discussions that followed were very important. If you are interested in screening this film and supporting conversation afterward, please email us, and we can share our learnings and loan you a blu-ray DVD of the film. 

Photo credit: NY Daily News
Below, we offer a statement from a leader from the Alameda County Office of Education, followed by a few comments from afterschool stakeholders.

“I was truly honored to have the opportunity to again work with and support this project.  I believe that this can be one of those rare transformative experiences, that allow youth and supportive adults to look both internally and externally at themselves and their environments and decide to engage in agency, for the betterment of themselves and their communities.  I thoroughly enjoyed meeting and getting to know Karina and I’m definitely interested in supporting getting this film and conversation/study guide into schools and afterschool programs.”  
- Joe Hudson,
Region 4 Lead & Program Manager
Expanded Learning Program Office

“I had been especially bowled over by Darius in the film, so imagine my delight that he was one of the representatives there. I was so impressed by how well articulated all their struggles were, and by the ways that Alchemy is working to shepherd these boys and young men through the dangerous waters of society and through the shoals of their own emotions.  Anyway, I just wanted to say ‘Bravo’.  This film goes a long way to expressing how imperative learning outside of the confines of school is.  And so much more.”

“Amazing vantage point for an issue that has exploded across America.”

“Thank you so much for making this screening happen! It is a beautifully crafted film – great stories and great breaking down of stereotypes. I love the Alchemy program – myths and drumming, young black men, multi-generational.”

“Powerful. Honest. Painful. Real. Thank you for insisting we hear and see this rare perspective.”

“The film was very moving because of the strong sense of community displayed in the movie.”

“Well done. You can really feel the struggle and journey of the young men and get a glimpse of where they were at the time. Thank you for introducing us to Alchemy, it seems like a powerful program.”

“This film broke stereotypes of young black men; the need for society to set higher expectations for young black men and view them as the gold within.”

“A sensitive and authentic portrayal of the Alchemy program. I’d love to have access to this film in a medium for use with men’s circles.”

“Great focus on emotion and long-lasting impact.”

Friday, May 29, 2015

What it Means to be a Poor Child in America

Sam Piha
Many of our afterschool and summer programs are serving youth from low-income communities. We believe that poverty is a major issue affecting the learning of these youth.

Below, we repost a newsletter from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA) on the topic of children in poverty. The BBA has been a strong supporter of the afterschool and summer movement, and of LIAS, specifically. Read the BBA Mission Statement and Accountability Statement to learn more. Use the BBA short video and infographic to spread the word. We urge you to visit their website and reflect on this issue.

This month we explore what it means to be poor in America and how that affects students and their families and schools. Growing up in poverty often means not having enough money for rent or food, but it’s much more than that. We devote this newsletter to various perspectives on the issue. In doing so, we hope to underscore the urgent need for a multifaceted, sustained approach to addressing the barriers to success that poverty poses and reducing its prevalence. Such an approach is critical not only to improving our children’s academic future, but a brighter future for our democracy.

We begin with thanks to Robert Putnam, whose seminal 2000 book, Bowling Alone, documented the growing fragmentation of American society, and the dangers to a democracy when its residents no longer interact regularly with people who have different political, economic, and cultural perspectives. Fifteen years later, Putnam’s warnings have come home to roost, as he writes in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis:  

It’s the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in—a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing “opportunity gap” emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was.

recent commentary for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity shows that the US stands out not only for high rates of general and child poverty. We are also an outlier in how narrowly we define poverty. A “consensual” measure of poverty pioneered in Britain in 1983 and now employed across a range of nations – from wealthy Japan to Bangladesh – “measures poverty using the public’s views on what is an acceptable standard of living in contemporary society.” Based on the majority’s views of life necessities, poverty is defined as the point at which adults lack three or more necessities and children lack two or more, “a level of deprivation at which households are much more likely to experience a range of other significant disadvantages including poor health and serious financial difficulties.” The authors note that, while that standard “has support from all social groups, across classes, gender, age and, importantly, political affiliation,” the US stubbornly clings to an outdated definition laden with value judgments.

So while “the public endorses the idea that in a wealthy country such as Britain, no child should have to do without a decent minimum of essential clothing, or be prevented from going on a school trip because their parents can’t afford it,” a growing share of children in our even wealthier country grow up in exactly those deprived circumstances. Moreover, many politicians suggest that there is nothing we should do about it.

Indeed, music education, which many of us take for granted, isn’t a given among poor students, since “Music classes are usually cut first when schools reevaluate their budget.” This is especially upsetting given a new study showing that music classes enabled low-income students who would otherwise lose ground in reading to maintain their skill level. As the study protocol illustrates, children in low-income communities must rely on private organizations to fill that critical gap: “Forty-two children between the ages 6 and 9 were recruited from the waitlist of the Harmony Project, an organization that offers free music education to children from low-income communities. Children were then randomly placed in a music place or not, with none of the children having previously received music education.”

Last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation looked back on its 25 years of investments in  documenting what it means to be a poor child in America.  In 2003, Casey popularized the term “the high cost of being poor,” spurring a host of federal, state, and local policies to address problems from predatory lending to food deserts. Perhaps most critical, the Foundation has provided advocates and policymakers with detailed state-by-state information to advance policies that help families avoid and stay out of poverty. Indeed, Casey President and CEO Patrick McCarthy joined The Hill to “explore policy ideas aimed at expanding opportunity for low-income children and their families -- from early childhood education and children's healthcare, to expanding the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, to strengthening food assistance programs.” Check out the April 29 event summary here.

Finally, educators have weighed in on what education policy would look like if we were to take seriously the need to address these aspects of poverty and their impacts on students and schools. The Education Opportunity Network touts the California Build-and-Support model, and the Opportunity Dashboard advanced by Linda Darling-Hammond, over what it terms our current “test-and-punish” model. Targeted support for teachers is critical if school improvements are to succeed, given the difficult conditions teachers face every day in high-poverty schools, and the resulting low morale and high rates of turnover. In her recent YEP-DC Recess blog, a DCPS elementary school teacher agrees, pointing out Congress’ failure to include teachers in requests for “expert” input, and resulting wrongheaded policy choices.
About the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA) 
The BBA is a national campaign that acknowledges the impact of social and economic disadvantage on schools and students and proposes evidence-based policies to improve schools and remedy conditions that limit many children’s readiness to learn. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Digital Badges in Expanded Learning Programs

By Sam Piha
Sam Piha
If the expanded learning movement is to continue to prosper, these programs must be recognized as important places of learning. The use and awarding of digital badges to recognize the learning that takes place within these programs represents an excellent strategy to accomplish this. Digital badges can be used to recognize exemplar programs, staff trainers, program staff, and volunteers who have completed professional development and youth who have acquired new knowledge and skills through participation in expanded learning activities. 

What is a Digital Badge?
“Digital badges are an assessment and credentialing mechanism that is housed and managed online. Badges are designed to make visible and validate learning in both formal and informal settings, and hold the potential to help transform where and how learning is valued.”[1] 

What are the Benefits of Digital Badges?
The Center for Digital Badges (CDB) and our partners believe that by using digital badges to acknowledge the learning of staff and youth participants, these programs will benefit in the following ways: 
  • Because program leaders must think through and explicitly state what learning will take place in program activities or clubs that are to be recognized by a digital badge; this specificity raises the bar for learning accountability. 
  • The awarding of digital badges defines the learning that goes on within a program for outsiders, which is vital if expanded learning programs are to be recognized as important places of learning. Badges can become important, visible evidence that expanded learning programs take learning seriously and apply rigorous standards to learning outcomes. 
  • The adult program staff members often acquire important knowledge and skills through professional development and years of experience. Youth acquire valuable skills and knowledge through their participation in specific expanded learning activities. Both deserve an artifact that documents their learning and—importantly—can be shared with peers, future employers, and those allowing admittance to higher education. 

What are the Steps in Creating a Digital Badge System?
  1. Ask “why?”;
  2. Determine which activities will be included in the first round of digital badges;
  3. Determine the specifics - learning goals, criteria, and evidence;
  4. Determine how the badges will be awarded and managed;
  5. Determine who will create and how the badges will be created;
  6. Design the badge by considering image, shape, color, etc.;
  7. Deliver the digital badge to the recipient using a “digital backpack”; and
  8. How recipients can make use of the digital badges.
For more detailed information, go to

What Expanded Learning Programs Are Using Digital Badges?
California School-Age Consortium 
CalSAC awards digital badges to their trainers and the afterschool staff that participate in their professional development training and programs.

Given the breadth, scale and depth of training and leadership development opportunities that staff and programs access from CalSAC any given year, it seemed clear that there should be a way for them to capture the investment they’re making toward providing quality services for children and youth.” 
- CalSAC Executive Director, Ruth Obel-Jorgensen

Central Valley Digital Badge Project 
This group used digital badges to recognize high school afterschool programs that are exemplar in demonstrating the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) learning principles.

“Based on anecdotal evidence, the digital badge program assessments assisted program leaders and youth identify strengths and weaknesses in activity content and delivery.” - Lori Carr, Fresno County Office of Education

Youth Institute (YMCA of Greater Long Beach) and Replication Sites
 The use of digital badges by the Youth Institute acknowledges the learning of their program alumni and newer youth participants who complete program courses, projects and experiences.

“We saw digital badges as a perfect opportunity for our youth to be recognized for their knowledge and expertise in digital media and the ability to demonstrate mastery of skills in a workforce setting. Every activity in the summer and year-round is product-based; the youth need to show expertise of a subject matter by completing the project. Our program and curriculum model blend perfectly with the badge system.”  – Les Peters, Executive Director, Youth Institute

Other Expanded Learning Programs Awarding Digital Badges
The Center for Digital Badges serves as a clearinghouse for information and research on digital badges. It also offers a number of case studies on the use of digital badges by expanded learning programs. It was created by Temescal Associates and offers badge design and implementation support for expanded learning programs. 

[1] Digital Badges; MacArthur Foundation; []; April 2015