Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Recent Events of Violence - What Can We Do?

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The nation has been rocked by the tragic and violent events of the last two weeks. This includes the afterschool community. In fact, we received an unprecedented number of emails from national and local afterschool organizations offering suggestions and resources of how to deal with the violence we have seen in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas. 

It is important that we consider the impact of these events on our staff as well as our youth, and that staff are well-equipped to address the issues if they choose to engage youth. In a subsequent blog post, the LIAS project will offer our own response.  

We reached out to some of our colleagues to respond to a question regarding the role of afterschool and summer youth programs in responding to this unspeakable violence. Below are some of their responses. 

Q: Young people are directly exposed to violence in their community, experience the threat of violence and/or bear witness to horrific violence via social media. Do you believe that afterschool and summer youth programs should, in some way, help young people process their experiences?

Dr. Pedro Noguera,
Regardless of whether you teach during the school day or after school, all educators have an obligation to help their students make sense of the violence in our society. The children are certainly aware of it so it is important for them to process and discuss it in a safe and caring setting. Beyond going over the facts related to the incident we must address the moral implications. Violence should never be condoned but to the degree that we can, we should try to understand why it is occurring at such an alarming rate in America today. Silence suggest that violence is "normal" and we must never allow our fear of violence to be interpreted as acquiescence. 

Gina Warner,
National AfterSchool
Events this week have left our small team at the National AfterSchool Association and the members of our community sad, frightened and asking, "What can we do?"

To all who work in this field, our answer is this: Keep doing what you are doing. Keep teaching children that love is greater than hate. Help them understand that violence is never an answer. Teach them to build bridges, not walls. Teach them to love and respect every single person. And above all, keep up the laser focus on developing their skills to acknowledge and manage feelings and use communication, compassion and curiosity to work through adversity.To read more, click here

Dr. Gil Noam,
PEAR at Harvard
If children and adolescents are coming into their programs with a need to talk, of course, one should reduce stress by letting them know they are part of a group that cares about the well-being of its members, their families, and their communities. But it should be guided by a sense of what the young people need and it will be quite different depending on age and level of stress (if stress is too high, professionals will be needed).

As with any political matter, opinions will vary and there will have to be room for those students who think differently, or don’t want to engage at all. Afterschool and summer programs are not places for indoctrination, but for dialogue, the emergence of diverse opinions in a civic and democratic process in small communities of learning. So there is the issue of reducing trauma and secondary trauma which is best done through a focus on safety and belonging, not necessarily through deep discussions that can arouse more fear. 

And then there is the issue of thinking about racial inequities and the social fabric of our country. Current events should lead us to strengthen both strands. Trauma sensitivity training can help in regard to the first (the PEAR Institute at Harvard can help with that). Simultaneously, we should think about how to increase the dialogue about social and racial equity in all parts of our lives. But that cannot be done without strong parent and community involvement and needs to be respectful of all and stay away from pushing an agenda that would undermine a pluralistic approach to all voices of staff, students and parents. Better for programs not to rush into this, but to be deliberate and planful.

Unfortunately, those problems will stay with us for a while. And the opportunities for afterschool and summer programs are great.

Joe Hudson,
Region 4 Regional Lead
The goal of human services agencies and programs (including expanded learning/out-of-school time programs) is to promote positive youth development and enhance academic and social/emotional welfare of youth. Youth services staff must possess skills and knowledge that enable them to assist others. Due to the nature of the relationship between youth workers and both children and families, I assert we do have an obligation to 1) prevent and remove harms, and 2) weigh and balance possible benefits against possible risks of an action. 

I contend that providing youth opportunities express their feelings and thoughts, fears and hopes, in safe and constructive manners which is age appropriate, and can be facilitated during after school and/or summer programs. However, I feel it’s best done not as stand-alone activities in response to the crises of the day but rather integrated into high quality arts, music literacy, math and other learning activities with appropriate time provided for large and small group discussions including current events. I also support facilitated community meetings to hear from other stakeholders including parents and to share with them approaches being considered to promote a safe and positive learning environment, which acknowledges current challenges and takes constructive action to promote the heathy social and emotional welfare of youth. 

I’m obliged to caution programs that we must also take care to assess and address “Vicarious Trauma” among the youth workers and other staff undertaking this type of transformative work with youth. Every time we interact from a position of compassion, controlling our empathic response with our clients, colleagues, friends or strangers, we are putting ourselves at risk. Vicarious Trauma is what happens to your neurological (or cognitive), physical, psychological, emotional and spiritual health when you listen to traumatic stories day after day or respond to traumatic situations while having to control your reaction. 

Jodi Grant,
Afterschool Alliance
Afterschool programs provide a safe, supportive setting for children and youth, and are often one of the first places youth feel comfortable asking questions, sharing views and expressing emotions on tough issues like violence and racism. For some, program staff are even like extended family. Such supports are all the more important during challenging times, and we are ever thankful afterschool and summer programs are there for our kids. That said, helping youth address violence, fear, grief and racism is a considerable responsibility and can be challenging itself. Thankfully some excellent resources exist, such as PASE’s list of resources for difficult conversations and Dr. David J. Schonfeld’s advice for afterschool educators on nurturing grieving children. Afterschool programs also serve as a sort of “glue” in the community, bringing various community partners together to support youth. Often law enforcement are one of those partners, and are an increasingly vital one. When police and youth get to know each other in a fun, informal setting, they build positive, personal relationships. Those bridges can help break down stereotypes, provide youth with new trusted mentors and build bonds that strengthen communities. 

Lucy Friedman,
ExpandED Schools
Last week's tragedies deeply impact our communities. In addition to expressing our condolences to those touched personally by these events, we want to share our thinking about how best to move forward. After reflection and discussion, ExpandED Schools is committed to taking action that will help play a modest part in a much needed larger effort in our country. To read more, click here

Resources recommended by ExpandED Schools:

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Coming Together of School and Afterschool Practices

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
With the large increase in public funding of afterschool programs in the early 2000’s, people argued that if afterschool was to remain relevant, we would have to close the gap between afterschool and the school day. To many this meant afterschool should, among other things:
  • Mimic the school day,
  • Reinforce the school day’s core academics, and
  • Raise the school’s standardized test scores.

But, while afterschool programs worked to support the learning in school, successful classrooms began to employ strategies that looked more like afterschool programs. These changes in teaching and learning strategies was supported by the research and literature on the new science of learning, the brain and learning, the importance of social emotional (non-academic) skills and character building, the importance of summer learning, and the skills needed for success in school, work and life. The result was a change in how we think about children, not as students, but as learners.

For example, the Figures below represent a study of how teachers use their time when they structure their learning in a whole class/lecture format (Figure 1) versus serving as a learning facilitator using small groups (Figure 2). (CNYD Youth Development Guide, Chapter 5)

Figure 1 - CNYD Youth Development Guide, Chapter 5

Figure 2 - CNYD Youth Development Guide, Chapter 5

In the past, the worlds of education (schools) and youth development (afterschool/expanded learning) seemed so far apart. Today, they are sharing a focus on young people's learning. This is well illustrated by the similarities between the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs and the California Standards for the Teaching Profession.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Preparing Youth for Work and Career Success

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
I first met Bill Fennessy when he innovated a new high school afterschool program in Pasadena, CA. Bill was part of the first run of ASSETs programs - before people knew what high school afterschool was. He subsequently joined THINK Together as their Director of Community Engagement. 

At THINK Together, Bill continued his work as an innovator when he introduced a comprehensive approach to workforce preparation within their high school afterschool programs. We invited him to present at our last How Kids Learn Conference and write a paper on the topic of preparing youth for work and career success. Below is an excerpt from his paper and a link to the entire paper

By Bill Fennessy

Preparing youth for work and career is now rapidly becoming an integral part in
Bill Fennessy
preparing youth with the skills they will need in school and life.  This is clearly supported by the most current research such as RTI International’s “Employability Skills Framework”, as well as the “Foundations For Young Adult Success, A Developmental Framework” from the University of Chicago.  In addition and very importantly to the Expanded Learning Field, preparing youth for work and career clearly aligns with what should now be the very familiar “LIAS Learning Principles”, “Youth Development Framework”, and the “California Standards for Expanded Learning Programs”.

All youth regardless of their age can begin expanding their ideas of what they might do as adults. Coupling those ideas with the experience of related work in the real world brings the important relevance which results in greater engagement in their work at school.  This is clearly embodied by California’s Linked Learning approach to education, which has now demonstrated clear evidence of effectiveness as students in Linked Learning pathways have shown substantially positive shifts in credits accumulated, attendance, A-G completion, and reduced drop-out rates.   The result of this data has spawned an exponential growth in the numbers of schools and school districts that are now offering or planning to use the Linked Learning approach.

Recent and intentional changes made by the CDE Afterschool Division has made allowable work-based learning as a potential ASES and ASSETs grant foci.  These changes well position the Expanded Learning field to do more than just put work-based learning components into their programs, it actually encourages the field to collaborate in building work-based learning platforms from which to support many new programming opportunities and engage many other partners in this important work.  

About the Author
Bill Fennessy is Director of Community Engagement and Work-Based Learning at THINK Together. Bill began his career as the PasadenaLEARNs Site Coordinator for Blair International Baccalaureate Magnet School, serving grades 7 – 12. Bill was the leader of BlairLEARNs, a middle school afterschool program. He was a pioneer in the high school afterschool movement and was part of the first cohort of ASSETs programs.

Bill is also a Temescal Associate. He has conducted a number of training sessions on high school afterschool and was a presenter at one of the recent How Kids Learn Conferences focused on Preparing Youth For Work And Career Success.