Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Trauma-Informed Practice, Part 1

Photo Credit:
By Sam Piha

It is very difficult to promote social emotional learning and character building among youth who have suffered trauma. We know that many of the young people we serve have been affected by trauma - trauma through abuse, through violence in their community, bullying, the threat of deportation, discrimination against LGBTQ youth, racial oppression, and other experiences. How can we be sensitive to and better serve the needs of these youth? We asked Dr. Marnie Curry (UC Santa Cruz) to help us answer these questions by presenting at our upcoming How Kids Learn VII conference on December 5, 2017 and being interviewed for this blog post. Below are some of her responses to our interview questions.

Q: How do you define trauma? 
Dr. Marnie Curry

A: Trauma occurs when an individual or community experiences physical or emotional harm or serious threats of such harm. Stressors like community violence, domestic violence, child abuse, chronic neglect, hunger, traumatic loss, severe bullying, household substance abuse, police brutality, homelessness, and racism can by themselves or in combination have lasting adverse effects on children’s development and wellbeing. 

Trauma can be acute (resulting from a single incident), chronic (occurring repeatedly over prolonged time periods or generations), or complex (involving multiple kinds of trauma).

Q: Is being part of a group that suffers oppression included in your definition? 

A: Members of oppressed, nondominant groups, who daily confront racism and discrimination, who are surrounded by media images that criminalize and demonize black and brown people, who are mistreated and marginalized by the education system, justice system, immigration system and economic system, face persistent and toxic experiences that impair their health and wellbeing. However, because trauma is a subjective phenomenon and people respond differently to stressors, I do not assume that membership in an oppressed group automatically translates to trauma. I do, though, believe that many oppressed groups suffer from chronic, complex trauma. 

Additionally, I think the impact of trauma is experienced differently due to the intersectional nature of oppression. Trauma-informed practitioners need to be sensitive to how being, for example, an LGBTQ person of color or an undocumented immigrant woman inevitably involve unique contexts that differently shape a person’s response to trauma.

Q: What is trauma informed practice that is appropriate for afterschool workers? 

A: In some ways, I resist the notion that after-school workers, school-based teachers, hospital clinicians, social workers, etc. each have a different set of trauma-informed practices. For me, the compartmentalization of children’s lives into after school, home, school, community, etc. suggested by these silos, is antithetical to the holistic approach that trauma-informed care demands. 

Instead, I prefer to focus on trauma-informed practices, which prioritize an integrated and coordinated approach to youth development. Within this frame, trauma-informed practice involves adults recognizing the high likelihood that some (or many) youth participants have or are currently experiencing trauma. Skillful adult mentors possess a basic understanding of how trauma can impact children’s behavior and development and they strive to organize a program that is sensitive to the vulnerabilities and triggers of trauma survivors. They focus on providing a safe, supportive environment to promote healing from trauma and healthy development so youth may not only survive, but also thrive. They orchestrate activities and form networks of care aimed at restoring a sense of belonging to young people, their families and communities.


Marnie W. Curry is a researcher at the Center for Educational Research in the Interest of Underserved Students at UC-Santa Cruz. Her areas of specialization include: urban schooling; teaching and learning to support culturally and linguistically diverse learners; and teacher professional communities. She is deeply committed to bridging the worlds of research and practice and promoting educational equity for youth who have been historically underserved by their schools and districts. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

WINGS For Kids: Promoting SEL in Afterschool, Part 2

By Sam Piha

In a previous post, we invited Julia Rugg, WINGS For Kids’ Chief Strategy Officer, to serve as a guest blogger. We featured WINGS because of their afterschool focus on SEL skills and their recent expansion to Pomona Unified School District. Below, we offer part two of her two-part post, which focuses on the program strategies they employ to promote SEL. 

What WINGS Looks Like
By Julia Rugg

Julia Rugg
Kids attend WINGS for three hours a day, five days a week during the school year to maximize our model’s positive impact. Each week, kids focus on one of ten sequenced social and emotional learning objectives. 

Our staff first explicitly teach, then model and reinforce, social-emotional skills. Kids learn, then practice and discuss, the new skills through program activities. Let’s use one of our objectives in the self-management competency—helping kids focus their attention inward in order to limit outward distraction—as an example.  

The WINGS day begins with Community Unity, the coming together of all staff and kids in grades K-5, for announcements, a nutritious snack, recital of the WINGS Creed, and a social-emotional skill-building lesson. This part of the day offers an opportunity to talk in a focused and active way about the week’s objective and engage in a brief, fun activity that relates to it. This week, WINGS Leaders lead an exercise on active breathing, and the program director starts a focused large-group discussion and asks staff and kids to share examples of when they have gotten distracted. 

Next is Choice Time, an enrichment activity that students select each semester and where social-emotional lessons are woven in. Our flexible afterschool schedule provides ample time for both structured academic support and kid-driven enrichment and activity time. 

During a kickball game, for example, a WINGS Leader might talk about how to concentrate on breathing while kicking the ball and ignore the shouts from the sidelines to better focus on the game. This also gives kids the chance to continue practicing other skills they’ve previously learned, such as sharing supportive comments after a bad kick and keeping a positive attitude even if their team is losing. In this way, Choice Time encourages kids to engage in active and explicit learning to applying both new and recently developed skills to settings other than the classroom.

Choice Time is followed by Academic Center, where students work on homework with help from program staff. In addition to providing assistance and encouragement in a positive atmosphere, WINGS Leaders capitalize on teachable moments to keep bringing kids back to the week’s learning objective. In this case, they might work with students to practice positioning their bodies in their desks so they are less likely to be distracted, explicitly defining the skills being learned.

Julia Rugg is the Chief Strategy Officer at WINGS for Kids. Since July 2011 she has launched WINGS’ expansion efforts across the southeast with the CEO, and worked alongside the senior team to ensure the WINGS model has been replicated with fidelity and quality. She evaluates current and future growth opportunities for WINGS, develops partner relationships, and builds the necessary internal infrastructure and resources necessary to support growth.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

WINGS For Kids: Promoting SEL in Afterschool, Part 1

By Sam Piha

​Pomona Unified School District (PUSD) announced that they are expanding their partnership with WINGS for Kids in order to promote SEL related skills among their youth.

Richard Martinez, superintendent of PUSD, stated, “By continuing our collaboration, we are able to utilize WINGS’ expertise and build upon the strengths of our staff and our high-quality afterschool programming to help our students develop critical skills they need to succeed in school and in life.”

In addition to its partnership with PUSD, WINGS serves more than 1,100 students from vulnerable communities in Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina through a direct-service afterschool program model of their research-based curriculum led by college students, known as WINGS Leaders.

To learn more about the WINGS approach, we invited Julia Rugg, WINGS’ Chief Strategy Officer, to serve as a guest blogger. Below, we offer part one of her two-part post.

WINGS Works! How Our Afterschool SEL Model Leads to Success
By Julia Rugg

Julia Rugg
Report after report tells us that too many kids in low-resource neighborhoods fare worse in overall education and life outcomes than their peers in higher-resourced areas. And while we know that social-emotional skills help narrow this tragic gap, we also know that classroom teachers often do not have the time, resources, or training to focus directly on helping students develop social-emotional skills during the regular school day.

WINGS for Kids believes that afterschool programs are well-positioned to address this educational gap by directly teaching social-emotional skills like self-awareness and responsible decision-making. We see both value and opportunity in using the hours after school to help teach these critical skills to our most vulnerable kids—the students who need them most.

The forthcoming results of our own randomized control trial, or RCT—the first such in-depth study on SEL in the afterschool space—corroborate what other research has shown: quality afterschool programs that focus on social and emotional learning have a significant positive impact on students in and out of the classroom. This is especially true for children living in low-resource neighborhoods, who typically are academically behind their peers, and for whom the bulk of the school day is spent working hard to close that achievement gap, with little time in the day to teach and practice skills beyond math, reading, and writing.

In WINGS schools, we take advantage of the flexibility that afterschool offers to not only teach social-emotional skills, but use the additional time it affords for kids to practice them and apply them in social and academic settings.

Our program model is influenced by research from Joseph A. Durlak and Roger P. Weissberg that tells us afterschool programs aligned with four evidence-based best practices—sequenced, active, focused, and explicit, or SAFE—have greater effects on student outcomes. To that end, we’ve aligned WINGS to the SAFE framework to ensure we are infusing intentionality throughout our activities and our curriculum.

We leverage the power of relationships in the afterschool space to help kids learn, practice, and internalize social-emotional skills. WINGS Leaders—college-aged mentors—work with small groups, called nests, of 10-12 kids. This personalized instruction, led by young people with backgrounds similar to those of our kids, have a relevance and impact that teacher-led activities sometimes don’t.

Our Evidence and Growth
Our data supports what we see each day: what kids learn in the hours after school influences their actions and behavior inside the classroom. Our aforementioned RCT study shows that WINGS reduces kids’ negative classroom behaviors and increases their positive classroom behaviors. Our programming also helps kids name positive behaviors, develop the vocabulary to talk about their emotions, and better regulate their behavior, both inside and outside the classroom.

Photo Credit: WINGS for Kids!

​Internal data from our programs in Charleston, S.C., also shows that WINGS kids are less likely to be chronically absent from school and less likely to receive a disciplinary referral compared to their peers—key predictors of academic success and graduating from high school.
With this research in hand, we know that WINGS works—and we want to bring SEL to more of the kids who need it most. Through our direct-service programs in Charleston, S.C., Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta, Ga., WINGS gives more than 1,000 students in grades K-5 the life lessons they need to succeed and be happy, and help them thrive despite the challenges they face every day.

This year, we’re also expanding our partnership model to all schools in Pomona (Calif.) Unified School District by training and coaching providers and staff to integrate SEL into the district’s long-standing and award-winning afterschool program, The Learning Connection. As a result, more than 1,700 kids in Pomona will be able to develop social-emotional skills to prepare them for success in school and in life.

At WINGS, we envision a world where there is equity in academics, opportunity, and emotional well-being for all children regardless of socioeconomic status. That’s why we work to ensure that every child has the opportunity to access high-quality afterschool programming, caring adults and mentors, and social and emotional learning. By bringing these pieces together, along with research and through an evidence-based model, a program like WINGS has the power and potential to close the gaps that can prevent America’s most vulnerable kids from soaring to success.

Julia Rugg is the Chief Strategy Officer at WINGS for Kids. Since July 2011 she has launched WINGS’ expansion efforts across the southeast with the CEO, and worked alongside the senior team to ensure the WINGS model has been replicated with fidelity and quality. She evaluates current and future growth opportunities for WINGS, develops partner relationships, and builds the necessary internal infrastructure and resources necessary to support growth.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Gender Context

By Sam Piha 

The modern afterschool movement was built around the concept of "all": all youth deserve expanded learning opportunities; all youth have common needs for developmental support and opportunities. This notion of "all" was an improvement over the idea of "some": afterschool programs designed to serve "those kids" or "at-risk kids".

While afterschool programs are designed to serve all youth, we have learned over the years that the social context that youth experience are very important to acknowledge and, in some cases, design specific activities. We are seeing programs designed for girls, programs for boys, as well as ones for youth of color, undocumented youth, and LGBTQ youth. We think this is essential to our efforts to promote critical social emotional skills.

The Journal of Expanded Learning Opportunities (JELO) dedicated their latest edition to serving the needs of women and girls of color in expanded learning, influenced by the Sisters Inspiring Change project. We encourage our readers to check this out.

Below is an excerpt from an interview we did with Lynn Johnson, Co-Founder and CEO of Spotlight: Girls, an afterschool and summer program that educates, inspires and activates girls to take center stage. They promote the skills to step into the light and become the leaders we’ve all been waiting for.

Lynn Johnson
Gender-based programs are so important because we are not often looking at where inequity comes in, in terms of gender in our schools and our communities. I think the most important thing in serving girls in afterschool is to really focus on giving girls their own space in afterschool.

I get worried when we focus too much on girls in STEM and not on their emotional experience and the skills they need to succeed in any field. "How do I, as a girl, in a safe space, understand who I am, understand why I might be feeling resistant to new experiences, why I might be resistant to certain fields of learning, and understand how to move through those areas of resistance, how to say yes to new things." Afterschool gives you that space, that time.

We are trying to prepare girls for success in their adulthood. That's not just about getting A's on your report card. It's about having the courage to overcome all challenges, and our girls don't necessarily have those skills.

Photo Credit: Spotlight: Girls

Another important way that afterschool is such an important environment for girls' learning is in the research we have around growth mindset. One thing that we know about girls is that they really suffer from perfectionism. We see this across the board...across race, across socioeconomic groups; that girls are often stuck in this need to do it right, to not look stupid, to not make a mistake.

We see it all the time. It holds girls back from really, as we say in our program, “taking center stage" and trying something new. So this research around growth mindset, around this idea that we don't come to a situation with a particular talent, per se, that we get to learn and grow, and we get to go, "Oh, I'm getting there. I'm getting better at something. I get to try something, make a mistake, and try it again." This is really, really important for girls.

Lynn Johnson, Co-Founder and CEO of Spotlight: Girls, is a visionary social entrepreneur, speaker and girl advocate. She serves on the Alameda County Commission on the Status of Women and the board of the directors of the How Kids Learn Foundation. Learn more about how to bring Go Girls! afterschool programming here. Lynn will also serve as the MC for the How Kids Learn VII Conference