Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Social-Emotional and Character Skills: Keeping it Simple

By Sam Piha and Ruth Obel-Jorgensen

There is a growing body of research that affirms that social-emotional skills and character development increase academic performance and are essential to success in work and career. Expanded learning programs are uniquely positioned to develop these skills. As a result there is a growing dialogue between expanded learning programs and the school day. 

By design, expanded learning programs are uniquely positioned to promote social-emotional and character development of young people. However, if afterschool and summer programs are to provide active and engaged learning opportunities and build skills through sequencing and mastery, they must be very intentional in their work. 
The problem with the acceptance of the importance of these skills is the large number of “lists” and frameworks that describe these skills. This often adds confusion and a sense of overwhelm. 

In California, a collaborative of intermediary organizations (ASAPconnect, California School-Age Consortium, Partnership for Children and Youth, and Temescal Associates/LIAS) came together to develop a simplified framework. With funding from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, we convened a research advisory group. This group looked at the available literature and contributed to a concept paper to synthesize the research. The result was a concept paper entitled, Student Success Comes Full Circle: Leveraging Expanded Learning Opportunities

The paper identified the foundational social-emotional and character skills that high-quality expanded learning programs should foster. These skills include self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, interpersonal skills, self-efficacy and growth mindset. It represents a call to action to school district leaders and expanded learning professionals to forge and strengthen partnerships to build social-emotional and character skills of children and youth. 

As the Common Core standards focus the school day on promoting interpersonal and social skills, now is the time for expanded learning programs to intentionally build these skills and to increase their partnership with the school day. 

For a copy of this framework and concept paper, click here. For more information and resources, visit


Friday, November 20, 2015

Register Now: How Kids Learn V Conference

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Preparing youth for success in career and work is an important responsibility of the expanded learning movement. If we are to achieve economic equity, young people must have access to activities that prepare them. This means starting with activities for young children to build their "soft" skills and help make them aware of diverse career fields. It also means offering experiences for older youth that build their "soft" and "hard" skills and experiences in workplace settings. (See previous posts on Employability Skills and on the Work-Based Learning Continuum.)

This will be the focus of our upcoming How Kids Learn V Conference, in Berkeley on December 10, 2015 and Los Angeles on January 21, 2016. 

Hear from leading thinkers and researchers, and innovative afterschool practitioners. We will also feature a number of young people who will tell us how preparation experience in expanded learning programs affected their lives and how we can be more successful. 

Speakers will include: 
  • Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education, UCLA (LA Only)
  • Jenny Nagaoka, Deputy Director, University of Chicago and lead author of the recently released Wallace Report entitled, Foundations for Young Adult Success (Berkeley Only)
  • Alvaro Cortes, Executive Director, Beyond the Bell/LAUSD (LA Only)
  • Alex Taghavian, Vice President, Linked Learning Alliance
  • Michael Funk, Director, After School Division at the California Department of Education 
  • Beth Kay, Linked Learning Manager, Foundation for California Community Colleges
In addition to the above speakers, we will host a bevy of workshops led by innovative practitioners who work with young people, K-12. Workshop topics include:
  • Serving Elementary School Youth
  • Serving Middle School Youth
  • Serving High School Youth
  • Partnering with Community Colleges
  • Youth Entrepreneurship and Social Enterprise
  • “Girl Power”: Serving the Needs of Girls and Young Women (Berkeley Only)
  • “Cyber Patriots”: Preparing Youth for Success (LA Only)
For more information, go to

To register:

Friday, November 13, 2015

The Town Kitchen: Walking the Talk, Putting Great Food in a Box

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We are proud to use The Town Kitchen to cater our How Kids Learn V - Berkeley conference on December 10 and our HKL Speaker's Forum on December 11. The Town Kitchen is a social enterprise which is focused on training youth for work and career success. 

Their vision is to create community through local food; a community where low-income Oakland youth can shine; a community where they will introduce under-served youth to talented chefs & start-up entrepreneurs so they have the skills and network to pursue their future.

You can learn more about The Town Kitchen by visiting their website. Click on the photo below to view their video. 

The Town Kitchen was founded by Sabrina Mutukisna. Sabrina will also present The Town Kitchen story at the How Kids Learn V conference in Berkeley. Below, she responded to a number of our questions.

Sabrina Mutukisna,
Co-Founder and CEO
The Town Kitchen
Q: Can you say a little bit about the Town Kitchen? What is your mission and what is it that you offer for youth? 

A: The Town Kitchen is a community-driven food business that employs and empowers low-income youth. We deliver chef-crafted boxed lunch to Bay Area corporate clients. We also provide fair-wage jobs, entrepreneurial training, and access to college course credit for young people with barriers to employment. 

Q: In what way do you consider the Town Kitchen as a social enterprise? 

A: As a for-profit benefit corporation, we're both positioned for growth and committed to supporting young people. We measure our impact not only through our revenue but through the number of young people who have completed our training, who are actively employed, and are enrolled in post-secondary education.

Q: What do you think that youth value most about being involved in your organization? 

A: That's a great question. I think they value the community the most. They get to come to work and there are multiple people invested in their well-being. They get to be themselves and talk about what's going on in their lives. To be honest, I think we all need this at work but it's especially important for young people who are carrying so much on their shoulders.

I think our youth employees also value being an important part of the business. We're a small company, so they play a pivotal role in our growth. It's important we all produce a high-quality product and make customer service a priority.

Q: Do you believe that there is an equity problem in offering youth of color opportunities for workplace learning? If yes, do you think this is important? And why? 

A: Employing young people means they are less likely to be incarcerated and more likely to graduate from college. Currently, white youth are twice more likely to be employed than young people of color.  This is an issue in the immediate -- oftentimes youth of color need jobs to support their families. It's also a longterm issue. Access to workplace learning helps young people build transferable skills, expand professional networks and, most importantly, become confident in their abilities. 

Workplace learning is also a place where we expose youth to different careers across the educational spectrum. I think this is a huge issue when we think of systemic privilege. People do what they know. If youth of color never meet another person of color with an advanced degree, chances are, they aren't going to pursue it. 

Q: Do you encourage your youth to think of the food preparation industry as a career choice? Or do you encourage them to think in another way? 

A: Yes and no. We recognize that there are systemic inequities within the food system too. Oftentimes, folks of color are in the back of restaurants. As a minority-owned business, we hope to disrupt this hierarchy. We're inspired by our partners at Red Bay and Mamacitas Cafe who are championing change. And by the folks at People's Kitchen that actively work for food workers rights. Some of our young people are really passionate about becoming executive chefs and we certainly want to encourage them. Our job is to prepare them to be competitive and employable if and when they leave us.

The majority of our employees are still figuring out their futures. We don't want to rush them. We want to provide them with a great job while they're working towards their degree. While they're with us, they have conversations about race and privilege, explore entrepreneurship and receive formal and informal mentorship.  Having them employed while in school is a win for us too. The food industry is notorious for high turnover. Retaining employees who are equally passionate about our mission, allows us to build a great company.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Preparing Youth for Work and Career Success: A Research Perspective

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We hear from researchers and the business community that preparing youth for work and career success is an essential responsibility of communities, educators, and youth program leaders. Young people should be prepared by the time they leave high school. Expanded learning programs are perfectly situated to contribute to this preparation. This is the theme of our upcoming How Kids Learn conference. 

Regie Stites is Senior Researcher at SRI International who has been evaluating Linked Learning strategies in 9 California school districts. The Linked Learning Alliance is a statewide coalition of education, industry, and community organizations dedicated to improving California’s high schools and preparing students for success in college, career, and life.

Dr. Stites will be one of our featured speakers at the upcoming How Kids Learn V conferences in Berkeley and Los Angeles. He agreed to answer a few of our questions:

Q: Can you highlight some of the evidence we have for positive 
Dr. Regie Stites,
SRI International
outcomes from work-based learning? 

A: Our quantitative analyses have focused on the impacts of the overall Linked Learning experience on student outcomes. The most recent findings from the evaluation indicate that, on average, students in Linked Learning pathways completed more high school credits, were less likely to drop out, were more likely to graduate, had higher GPAs, and were more likely to be classified as ready for college when compared with similar students in traditional high school programs.

We see the most direct evidence of positive student outcomes related to work-based learning in our student survey and focus group data. Students who had participated in work-based learning reported that it gave them opportunities to gain teamwork experience, to practice hands-on skills working with tools, and to apply knowledge and skills gained in the classroom. In focus groups, Linked Learning pathway students frequently described the ways that work-based learning experiences helped them develop awareness of the norms and expectations for behavior in the workplace, helped them develop work-related interpersonal and communication skills, and gave them motivation and clarity in planning further education and choosing a career path. 

Q: Why is preparing youth for work and career success important for young people from low-income neighborhoods? Is there an issue of equity that we should seek to address? 

A: Equity in educational outcomes and in access to college and career are central goals of the Linked Learning work. One of the most fundamental premises of Linked Learning is that all students should be prepared for college and careers. The 9 school districts included in the California Linked Learning District Initiative were chosen for initiative, in part, because they serve predominantly low-income students and communities. In the current economy, a postsecondary credential is the key to employability. But simply getting more low-income students to graduate from high school and enroll in college is not enough. For example, we know that 70% of low-income students who start at a two-year college do not complete a credential within 5 years.

Q: What are some of the challenges and opportunities in this work?

A: The biggest challenge is breaking down the silos that separate educators from each other and from employers. To create seamless transitions from school to college and to employment we need seamless systems. To prepare young people for work and career success we need educators who understand work and employers who understand education. With the Career Pathway Trust Grants and related efforts, California is moving in the direction of developing regional partnerships that bridge gaps between K-12, postsecondary, workforce development, and employment systems. These efforts are just getting off the ground but the potential for fostering greater collaboration across sectors to improve and expand access to a range of high-quality work-based learning opportunities is encouraging.   

Q: Do you think that the out-of-school setting is a good place to prepare youth for success in work and career?

A: The simple answer is yes, the out-of-school setting is essential for preparing youth for work and career success. This is so because out-of-school programs can play a key role in supporting the types of integrated learning activities that connect school learning to real-world applications of knowledge and skills. For many young people, especially young people from low-income neighborhoods, one of the most important keys to educational engagement, persistence, and success is relevance. 

Simple common sense (and research) supports the notion that young people who can clearly see the relevance of what they are learning to their own lives and futures are more likely to persist and be successful in education and, as a result, are more likely to be ready for career success.

The best methods for connecting school learning to real-world applications of knowledge and skills are well known. These methods include project-based learning, experiential learning, service learning, and a range of work-based learning activities. Some of these integrated learning activities, such as project-based learning and some forms of work-based learning may not require an out-of-school setting, but they are stronger when they do.  

Q: Can you offer any advice on what out-of-school programs could do?

A: To give more low-income youth opportunities to participate in extended, high-quality integrated learning activities, out-of-school programs should look for opportunities to work together with classroom teachers and with employers and with community organizations to co-design and jointly deliver such learning activities. Youth will be more motivated and experience deeper learning when they can connect classroom learning with applied learning in an out-of-school setting.

Regie Stites, Ph.D., will share his research on the impact of Linked Learning projects with schools and youth at the How Kids Learn V Conference. He has two decades of experience in the design and management of large-scale educational research and evaluation in the areas of literacy education, integrated academic and career-technical education, college and career readiness, and workforce development. Major projects include the Evaluation of the California Community College Linked Learning Initiative, the Evaluation of the Linked Learning Health Career Pathways Project in Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), and the Equipped for the Future National Work Readiness Credential Assessment Development and Validation.