Tuesday, November 24, 2020

A Time to Give Thanks

By Sam Piha

We all know that 2020 has been a very difficult year. As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, all of us at Temescal Associates and the How Kids Learn Foundation want to thank all of you who work with our young people to promote their positive development. We are grateful to be part of this community.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Multiple Reflections: Comparison of Frameworks for Promoting Youth Learning and Healthy Development

By Sam Piha

Every year researchers and experts on youth learning and development issue reports with new concepts and frameworks. They are developed to guide the design and implementation of community initiatives, schools and youth programs. 

While many of these frameworks and their critical features are not “new” or surprising, they do offer a more granular examination or focus on a specific issue. These frameworks include (not an exhaustive list):

  • Youth Development
  • Foundations for Young Adult Success
  • The Learning in Afterschool & Summer Learning Principles (LIAS Principles)
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) 
  • Trauma-Informed Practices
  • The Science of Learning and Development (SoLD) and Whole Child Development
  • Program Quality Standards

“In the past several years, a large number of frameworks and standards have been created to provide guidance on what young people need to learn.”- UChicago Consortium on School Research

It is important for youth program leaders to closely follow the release of new frameworks and to be literate in and able to integrate the language and concepts they offer.  Many of these frameworks have critical features in common with and are born out of earlier youth development frameworks.

In our most recent paper, Multiple Reflections, we compare recent frameworks and note their commonalities. We offer a summary or overview of many of these frameworks as well as resources to learn more. We also provide a crosswalk chart to learn where their critical features overlap. (Note: Harvard’s Explore SEL has catalogued a large number of program frameworks and allows the reader to explore and compare frameworks to others in the field.) 

All of the frameworks named above offer critical features (some use other terms like experiences, components, non-negotiables, principles, factors, or competencies) that are deemed essential. They are all useful in guiding the design and implementation of youth programs, their values and intentions; along with program practices, activities, and assessment tools to gauge fidelity and effectiveness.

Although they do not use these terms, they are essentially about love, acceptance, respect for self and others, mentorship, agency, and preparing youth for success in school, work and life. 

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Latino Health Disparities and its Implications in the COVID-19 Era

Guest blog from the American Institutes for Research (AIR)

Longstanding systemic health and social inequities have put Americans categorized as racial and ethnic minorities at greater risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, Latinos have a history of good health outcomes, some of which contradict the prevailing narrative that race and ethnicity alone largely determine disparities in health outcomes.

David E. Hayes-Bautista
For more than three decades, AIR Institute Fellow David E. Hayes-Bautista  has researched Latino health outcomes. Using longitudinal data, he has reframed the narrative about diversity, race and ethnicity, and health, he found that Latinos are actually healthier than other groups. The exception exists when we factor in the COVID-19 era. In this partial Q & A, Hayes-Bautista, distinguished professor of medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, shares some of his findings and their implications for health care policy and practice. Read the complete Q & A with David E. Hayes- Bautista here.  

Q: In California, Latinos make up about 60% of COVID-19 cases and 39% of the population. Does that surprise you at all? How do these data points fit into the overall picture of your research findings?

A: COVID-19, which is a communicable disease, has different patterns than the chronic diseases I’ve mentioned. I cannot sneeze on you and give you a heart attack. I can just breathe on you and give you the coronavirus.

Initially, some attempted to connect higher COVID-19 case and death rates among Latinos to comorbidities, such as obesity and diabetes. Latinos do have higher rates of obesity and diabetes than some other populations, but comorbidities only come into play at the end of a very long trajectory of COVID-19.

The higher COVID-19 rates are connected to the very high work ethic of Latinos and the nature of work that many Latinos do. Latinos are essential workers. For the first two to three months of the pandemic, we took great pains to make sure that nurses and physicians had access to personal protective equipment (PPE). We didn’t even think about farmworkers, construction workers, or food industry workers. The average grocery store checkout clerk probably has 200 to 300 clients pass within arm’s length on an average shift. With no PPE, a person in that occupation is hundreds of times more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus than someone who can stay at home.

Source: Business Insider

The communicable disease pattern also has a lot to do with the lack of connection between Latino communities and the formal public health structure. Latinos are still twice as likely as others to be uninsured. They have less ability to seek health care services. For instance, a COVID-19 test can cost anywhere from a hundred dollars to $2,000. If you’re a farmer making $18,000 a year, that means one COVID test might cost up to two months of your income.

With much more exposure and much less likelihood of knowing they’ve been exposed, it’s not too surprising that Latinos have much higher case and death rates. 

Q: What racial and ethnic health disparities should policy and decision makers pay attention to in the next few years, particularly as COVID-19 could have long-term health consequences?

A: Making the connection between Latino communities and the formal medical care system more robust would help. The United States is the only advanced industrial country that does not offer universal access to health care services to all people within its borders. Every other developed country has managed to do so—and they spend less in terms of GDP and per person than we do on health care.

We also have a tremendous physician shortage in the U.S. We have such a lack of Latino physicians in California that it will take all the current medical schools at the current rate of graduation 500 years to make up the shortage for 2015, much less Spanish-speaking physicians. Yet Latino physicians are far more likely to practice in heavily Latino areas and to speak Spanish. This needs to be addressed. 

Q: What suggestions do you have for future research on racial and ethnic health disparities?

A: My advice for researchers is to pay attention to the basics—theory, method, and data. The theoretical models we use do not work for a diverse population. They have no predictive power for Latino, Asian, and American Indian populations. We need different theoretical models that can handle the epidemiology of diversity. We don’t know how to handle racial ambiguity because for so long our “science” has been based on the notion of separate, distinct biological races. We need to blow up all of our concepts and start almost de novo.



The mission of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is to generate and use rigorous evidence in the areas of education, health, international issues and the workforce that contributes to a better, more equitable world. 

David E. Hayes-Bautista is an AIR Institute Fellow and Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in the Division of General Internal Medicine. For over three decades he has researched the Latino Epidemiological Paradox and its implications for populations (infants, maternal, adolescents, immigrants, elderly, farmworkers, undocumented,) chronic diseases (heart, cancer, diabetes, etc.) communicable diseases (HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis A, tuberculosis, etc.) and health behaviors (tobacco use, diet, physical activity, etc.) His research in health services delivery currently focuses on developing metrics for population health that have predictive power with Latino populations, and on developing measures of health disparities that do not rely on the current race/ethnic categories. His earlier work in health services research focused on Latino provider shortages (physician, nurses, dentists,) access to health insurance and access to primary care.



Check out My Pal, Luke! My Pal, Luke is designed to address many social emotional elements through his words and questions, including a check-in with kids. Luke also reads his favorite books and educates kids on how to make sense of current events and the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be easily embedded in distance learning efforts or used with in- person programming. To watch episodes of My Pal, Luke, click HERE.


Tuesday, November 3, 2020

Building Youth-Adult Partnerships in Out-of-School Time Settings

By Sam Piha

Helen Janc Malone is the series editor of Current Issues in Out-of-School Time. The Series promotes and disseminates original, theoretical and empirical research and promising practices from practitioners to further grow and strengthen the OST field.

The latest book in this series is entitled At Our Best: Building Youth-Adult Partnerships in Out-of-School Time Settings edited by Gretchen Brion-Meisels, Deepa Sriya Vasudevan and Jessica Tseming Fei. Because the formation of positive youth-adult partnerships is such an important issue in the out-of-school time field, we approached the editors with a few interview questions. Their responses are below.

There is nothing more powerful in our efforts to improve our society than understanding how to cultivate deep and meaningful partnerships with young people. “At Our Best” offers key insights about the power of youth-adult partnerships in out-of-school time settings. Brion-Meisels, Fei & Vasudevan have compiled a powerful and comprehensive collection of voices of people who are blazing a new path in partnering with youth. This book is a must read for researchers and practitioners searching for fresh analysis and innovative insights into building youth-adult partnerships. 
-Shawn Ginwright, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Education & Africana Studies, San Francisco State University
, Chief Executive Officer, Flourish Agenda, Oakland CA

Q: Why did you choose to focus on the topic of youth-adult partnerships?
A: All three of us have a research and practice-based background in youth development work and/or out-of-school time (OST) settings. As readers of this blog may agree, when you work in OST settings, you witness and engage in a lot of forms of youth participation; these can range from more tokenized and performative youth participation (for example, inviting a youth participant to share their program experience at a funders’ event) to youth facilitating and deciding the kind of activities happening in their programs and communities.

Something that the three of us talked about in our shared teaching and research is how centering youth voice and decision-making is oftentimes an intentional approach to OST program design for older youth, and yet, there aren’t many written resources that focus on this contribution of the OST field and the complexities of these collaborations from educator and youth perspectives. We wanted to gather a chorus of voices that considered what the ideals of partnership work might look like in practice. We invited a variety of people–– youth workers, scholars, educators, and young people –– to reflect and theorize their experiences with intergenerational partnerships both within and beyond OST programs. The response was incredible; we really appreciate how honest our authors have been about both the rewarding and messy parts of intergenerational collaboration, both in theory and in practice.

Q: Can you define what you mean by “youth-adult partnerships”?
A: Theoretically, our work draws on Roger Hart’s “ladder of child participation,” which defines participation as “the process of sharing decisions which affect one’s life and the life of the community in which one lives” (Hart, 1992, p.5). Thinking about the essential role of positive youth-adult relationships in supporting youth participation in educational settings, we build upon Shepherd Zeldin, Brian Christens, and Jane Powers, who define youth-adult partnership as the practice of, “(a) multiple youth and multiple adults deliberating and acting together; (b) in a collective fashion; (c) over a sustained period of time; (d) through shared work; (e) intended to promote social justice, strengthen an organization and/or affirmatively address a community issue” (Zeldin, Christens, & Powers, 2012, p.388). This definition resonates with our experiences working in and studying OST programs, as well as the perspectives of many contributors to our volume.

Much like schools, in OST settings, youth-adult partnerships require everyone to push against hierarchical relationships and pervasive, negative constructions of youth as “at risk” or “in need of control.” They necessitate a full interrogation of the meanings, purposes, and processes of youth development. Our definition of youth-adult partnerships holds that in order to be authentic, intergenerational relationships in OST settings must focus on community and societal goals. In other words, settings must focus on nurturing collective development and outcomes rather than individual development and outcomes. Indeed, as we can see in abundance during this time of global pandemic and global uprising for racial justice, adults and youth become better able to address pressing needs for transformative change when we tap into the power of community care, social solidarity, and collective action.

Intergenerational collaboration and learning are not new; the authors in our book draw on a legacy of intergenerational solidarity in the United States. The partnerships that they describe highlight practices in which youth participate and engage in mutual and reciprocal teaching, learning, and creating with adults. In this paradigm, youth are involved in decision-making that meets both their individual needs and priorities as well as their communities.’ A partnership model still includes mentorship and wisdom from adults, but it requires adults to honor and center the knowledge and perspectives of young people. It necessitates quite a bit of rethinking and ongoing reflection among adults, which is what we emphasize in this book. Our authors share examples of what it means to challenge adults’ instincts to control a situation, and to fundamentally reassess the nature and the goals of our work in OST settings.

Figure 1: Adaptation of Hart's Ladder of Child Participation

Q: Can you provide an example of practices that promote positive youth-adult partnerships?
A: Yes! We were inspired by many practices shared by the contributors to At Our Best. One example is the development of group rituals that foster humanizing spaces for adults and youth. This can involve: a) holding regular check-ins where group members can talk honestly about their emotions; b) playing icebreaker games that highlight the importance of team building and fun; c) creating community agreements that uphold shared values and goals; and d) engaging in debrief discussions where people can share feedback to support individual and collective growth. These activities support ongoing processes of trust-building and relationship-building between adults and youth. Combined with structures for democratic decision-making, they also contribute to balancing power and participation within the group.

Q: What are some of the dilemmas that adults may face in their efforts to promote positive youth-adult partnerships?
A: Adults often face dilemmas around how to use their own power to support the work of the group, while still centering the voices and the leadership of youth. It can be challenging to figure out when to step up and when to step back, and there are no easy answers. Within youth-adult partnerships, adults must frequently reflect upon how dynamics of power, positionality, and privilege are operating within the group. Importantly, a major part of youth-adult partnership is dialogue about the impact of these dynamics, and about ways to transform any harmful dynamics that exist. Many of our practitioner authors recommend practices of transparency –– as well as cultures of accountability –– to help counter the adultism that we have to work to unlearn. Importantly, decisions about how and when an individual should exercise their own power and privilege to help a group accomplish its goals do not have to be made in isolation; this is yet another place where adults can listen to youth and lean on the collective wisdom of the group in navigating what to do.

Q: How can youth take the lead in promoting positive youth-adult partnerships?
A: Young people can take time to explore the thoughts, questions, issues, and phenomena that fascinate and galvanize them. They can take initiative to express themselves to any adult who they trust. This creates an opportunity for young people to be more deeply understood by the people around them, and it is a valuable skill-building experience, too. Through voicing their desires and talking about what’s important to them, young people learn about what it takes to advocate for themselves and others. Ideally, it can also be a confidence-building and hope-generating experience--one that enables young people to access resources and supports that can help them in their next steps, and that demonstrates that they do not have to be alone in their journeys. We have seen so many examples of young people taking the lead in promoting youth-adult partnerships over the last two months - it has been truly powerful to behold.

Q: We know that putting a priority on the formation of positive youth-adult partnerships goes beyond the work of individual youth workers- it has to be supported at the organizational level. Can you comment on this?
A: Absolutely, there has to be organizational leadership and whole-hearted, whole-team and buy-in to partnership efforts and practices. If there isn’t this expressed ongoing commitment and willingness at the organizational management and leadership level, youth workers can become frustrated and exhausted by partnership work that goes unseen and undervalued; youth will probably not trust or believe that their efforts will matter. Something we appreciated about the youth programs represented in this book–– Intergenerational Change Initiative in NYC, Teen Empowerment in Boston & Somerville, Massachusetts, The Center for Youth and Community Leadership in Education, Youth in Action in Providence, Rhode Island, and Humanities Amped in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to name a few –– is that partnership work is embedded in the mission, approach, and philosophy of the whole organization. This means that youth hold leadership positions within the organization and adults have systems for ongoing debriefs and critical reflections at the organizational level to evaluate the processes and outcomes of their partnership work. Partnerships do a good job of holding organizations accountable and transparent about their work, too; when working in partnership, a program doesn’t become about one charismatic leader or “savior” of youth, rather, it becomes about building a caring community.

We do also want to note that partnerships need to be recognized as a promising practice and activity in the eyes of funders as well. Organizational leadership can feel pressure to show individual outcomes vs. community outcomes to keep program doors open and may perpetuate this kind of expectation of youth workers. This can lend itself to more traditional educational practices that position only adults as experts and decision-makers.

Q: Who do you think the audience is that would benefit from this book?
A: With our collective experiences in afterschool programs, classroom teaching, academic research, and community arts, we truly believe that educators both in and out of schools can benefit from this book. Many out-of-school time organizations are already seeking to work in partnership with youth; for them, this book will provide concrete practices and strategies, as well as examples of the challenging tensions that can emerge.

On the other hand, we believe that school-based educators would benefit from engaging the type of pedagogical moves and tools for relationship-building that our authors describe. By building trusting relationships, drawing on problem-posing methodologies, engaging democratic participation and providing opportunities for collective action, schools will become more authentic and engaging sites of learning. Moreover, there are many principles and practices of youth-adult partnership that can deepen and enrich the work of school administrators, educational researchers, community organizers, and community-based artists. This book is intentionally designed to speak to a wide array of people interested in intergenerational work with goals of social justice and collective well-being.

Jessica Fei is the Director of Programs for the Sadie Nash Leadership Project. As an educational researcher and practitioner, she seeks to center the voices and leadership of youth, and to build relationships and communities grounded in authentic care.

Deepa Vasudevan is a visiting lecturer in education at Wellesley College, whose research focuses on the occupational identities and expertise of community-based youth workers, constructions of care work in education, and youth engagement in out-of-school learning experiences.

Gretchen Brion-Meisels is a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, whose work draws on critical participatory action research approaches to understand how schools and communities can become more equitable and loving spaces.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Addressing the Needs of Girls in Afterschool

By Sam Piha

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.

In this blog we focus on addressing the needs of girls in afterschool. Below we offer an interview with Allison Dymnicki, researcher at American Institutes for Research (AIR), who recently published her study about promoting the healthy development of girls at Girls Inc.

Allison Dymnicki, AIR
Q: Can you provide a brief overview on the research you did with Girls, Inc?
A: Girls Inc. and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) partnered on a 2-year evaluation to understand the relationship between a high-quality Girls Inc. Experience and academic, behavioral, and “Strong, Smart, and Bold” outcomes for girls and young women. As part of the evaluation, we compared Girls Inc. participants and the comparison group of girls on Strong, Smart, and Bold, and school-related outcomes for two different years (2017–18, 2018–19), totaling more than 3,000 girls.

Q: What does research say about the specific supports girls and young women need in order to be successful in the short- and long-term?
A: Research shows that all young people have inherent strengths, and these can be bolstered through supportive, trusting relationships with peers and adults. In the case of Girls Inc., such relationships allow girls to ask questions and navigate challenging personal situations, inspire girls' creativity, and give them a trusted adult to partner with as they figure out their passions.

Additionally, youth benefit from a supportive environment that makes them feel safe both physically and emotionally. High-quality programming provides safe, supportive spaces for girls and young women to develop their own social and emotional competencies, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, ask questions, and discover things for themselves, with support. This allows girls to realize their short- and long-term potential.

Source: Go Girls Camp
Q: Why is the afterschool setting a good place to accomplish this?
A: Afterschool is one of many settings that can foster young people’s strengths and provide opportunities to build supportive, trusting relationship with others. Research suggests that all people—children, youth, and adults—thrive in safe, supportive environments that are developmentally rich and identity-safe, characterized by positive relationships and relevant opportunities to learn and grow and this is what afterschool is all about. Opportunities for creativity and flexibility not often afforded by the structure of the school day mean more time to explore interests and engage with peers in ways that promote positive development.

Q: What are the most important findings from AIR’s evaluation of the Girls Inc. program?
A: Overall, we found that girls participating in Girls Inc. were more likely to engage in activities and express beliefs that lead to physical and mental well-being, academic achievement, and the development of leadership skills.

More specifically, Girls Inc. girls had consistently higher math test scores than the comparison group of girls. Second, Girls Inc. girls reported more positive attitudes and behaviors than the comparison group of girls across the majority of survey responses.  These responses measure knowledge, skills, and attitudes in areas such as being excited about going to college, engaging in physical activity, and seeing themselves as a leader.

It’s important to note that there were benefits for participating in Girls Inc., regardless of how many hours of programming girls received. This is an important contribution to the field, as it helps build the case that high-quality youth development programs support many aspects of well-being.

Q: How do in- and out-of-school time programming for girls, like Girls Inc., aim to help them succeed in school and life?
A: High-quality programming, like Girls Inc., provides girls with the opportunity to build academic, social, and emotional competencies, and it promotes physical health and wellbeing.

Girls Inc.'s “Strong, Smart, and Bold” outcomes include building skills related to leadership, curiosity, problem-solving, and smart decision-making, such as not skipping school or engaging with illicit drugs or alcohol. Such skills are critical for girls to be able to graduate from high school, go to college, have successful careers, and become citizens who make meaningful contributions to society.

Source: Girls Inc.

Q: Do you think it is helpful to have groups or activities that are gender specific, i.e. only have girls participating? If so, why?
A: We think it’s important to have a range of activities and opportunities available to young people that allow them to feel safe and comfortable to explore their self-identity, interests, and passions. Gender specific programming is a critical part of those offerings and can afford girls and boys a unique opportunity to grow and thrive.

Q: What do you think educators and local policymakers can do to help girls
succeed both inside and outside of school?
A: We are encouraged by programs and other approaches that acknowledge the whole person, by supporting participation in activities focused on academic success and career aspirations, physical and mental health, and social and emotional skills and competencies. The body of research into adolescent development suggests that such an approach is effective in supporting youth to thrive.

We encourage youth-serving organizations and education agencies to focus on evidence-based practices and strategies that support the whole person in safe and supportive environments, where relationships can flourish, and with a focus on high quality and engaging opportunities for learning and development. Practically, this means investing in building staff capacity, creating career pathways that promote retention, and establishing structures that support program quality. Now more than ever, we need to support the essential staff who are dedicated to fostering youth learning and development and the organizations that have spent years building these supportive systems.

It’s important to acknowledge that young people do not exist in just one system; they participate in many systems, such as school, sports teams or clubs, the justice system, and so on.

Through our work on the Interagency Working Group for Youth Programs and the Readiness Projects, we aim to foster meaningful cross-sector connections to ensure that young people, and the staff who support them, can navigate their experiences in a coordinated way. Girls Inc. is one example of how cross-sector coordination, with school partners and other community-based organizations, can have a positive impact on girls. We can do so much more in this area to support youth learning and development.

Allison B. Dymnicki is a principal researcher at AIR with extensive expertise in youth development, implementation science and systems change. She has particular expertise in research on school and community-based programs. Her work has helped to advance understanding of how schools and communities can facilitate positive youth development and prevent engagement in risky behaviors. She has also helped develop social-emotional learning, school climate, and readiness assessments. Dymnicki has conducted prevention and intervention research at the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning, the Ounce of Prevention, and the Institute of Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has published over 25 articles and book chapters.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

LGBTQ+ and Youth Allyship

By Guest Blogger Eva Jo Meyers, Spark Decks

Eva Jo Meyers
According to an article published in Keshet this summer, crisis calls to the Trevor Project’s hotline doubled during the quarantine.

Prior to the pandemic, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2017 LGBTQ teen survey showed that:

  • 77% of LGBTQ teenagers surveyed reported feeling depressed or down over the past week; 95% percent of LGBTQ youth reported trouble sleeping at night; and more than 70% reported feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness in the past week;

  • Only 26% said they always feel safe in their school classrooms -- and just 5% said all of their teachers and school staff are supportive of LGBTQ people;

  • 67% reported that they’d heard family members make negative comments about LGBTQ people

In addition, according to CDC data taken from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior (YRBS) Survey of LGBTQ students,
  • 10% were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property

  • 34% were bullied on school property

  • 28% were bullied electronically

It is because of statistics like these that Spark Decks said, “Yes!” when we were approached about making a deck to support LGBTQ+ Youth Allyship. Or, actually, what we said was, “NO! But we will work with young people to create a deck BY youth, for youth.” And so that’s what we did.

Like the name suggests, Spark Decks are decks of cards. Each card contains one idea, or “micro-practice” that can be implemented in youth-serving programs. We have decks on topics ranging from SEL to Supporting English Language Learners, to Self-Care. Users pick one card at a time, try it out in their program, and then reflect on how it went.

But while all of our previous decks have been for adults, this one is different - because this one is for youth. 

Source: Eva Jo Meyers, Spark Decks

Thanks to the support of San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families (DCYF), this past fall, prior to shelter-in-place orders, we hosted six sessions with Middle, Highschool, and Transitional-Aged youth, focusing on the question, “What can an ally do to support LGBTQ+ youth and staff at our school?” 

We started each session with an icebreaker, then spent time discussing the statistics outlined above. Did these numbers match participants’ experience? (Yes!) Did any of the statistics surprise them? (Yes!) 

After creating collages that illustrated allyship, (you can see parts of the collages on the box of the new deck!), we spent an hour doing a brainstorm activity to generate ideas about how an ally could be a support, and put those ideas into categories. It’s those ideas and categories that now live in our new “LGBTQ+ Youth Allyship” deck.

Source: www.spark-decks.com

As with all Spark Decks, the new deck has 52 ideas, culled from the six sessions. Based the cards, here are a few actions youth in your program might consider implementing during the pandemic, and beyond:
  • If you’re in a Zoom session, don’t assume someone’s gender. Instead, ask people via private chat what pronouns they use.

  • Be vocal about your support of LGBTQ+ people at your program or school. Be loud and proud!

  • Advocate and plan classes, clubs, and assemblies online through your school so that people can learn more about LGBTQ+ support, issues, and history. 

  • Plan an online fundraiser that makes money for an organization that helps LGBTQ+ youth. Make the fundraiser event fun - like a trivia or comedy night online.

  • Let LGBTQ+ people know that they are safe when they are around you - whether in a Zoom class or on Social Media - and that you will not let anyone hurt or tease them.

Once the school year gets underway, Spark Decks will be offering Training-of-Trainer style workshops that teach staff how to run an allyship workshop using the deck either at their sites -  or virtually. 

And what did participants have to say about being part of the project? “That people will dedicate themselves to learning pronouns is inspiring.” “I learned that it is really important to be an EDUCATED ally.” “I learned that advocacy starts with communication and collaboration.” “Thank you for holding space for us to talk about this.

I hope you will all join me in making space to “talk about this,” even - and especially - during the pandemic.
Eva Jo Meyers is the co-founder of Spark Decks and the author of the book, “Raise the Room: A practical guide to participant-centered facilitation.” She has held positions as a program leader, manager, and district coordinator for afterschool programs. To learn more about Spark Decks, visit www.spark-decks.com.

Check out My Pal, Luke! My Pal, Luke is designed to address many social emotional elements through his words and questions, including a check-in with kids. Luke also reads his favorite books and educates kids on how to make sense of current events and the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be easily embedded in distance learning efforts or used with in- person programming. To watch an introduction to My Pal, Luke, click here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

How Alchemy Inc. Works to Find the Gold Within

By Sam Piha

Source: goldthefilm.com

Kwame Scruggs, Ph.D is ED of Alchemy Inc. in Akron, Ohio. He was featured in the 2014 documentary, Finding the Gold Within. This documentary chronicled the transition of young black men from high school to college, the issues of racism they encountered, and the role of Alchemy Inc., an afterschool program in supporting this transition. We were so taken by the film, that we sponsored several screenings in the San Francisco Bay Area. (To watch or stream the documentary, Finding the Gold Within, click here.) Below are Dr. Scruggs' responses to our questions about the documentary and the strategies he has incorporated into his afterschool program, which serves boys of color. 

Dr. Kwame Scruggs, Alchemy Inc.

Q: In the film, Finding the Gold Within, it portrayed the use of "talking circles" to provide support for the young men. Why do you believe that "talking circles" are an important strategy in youth work?

A: I think any format that allows youth a safe setting is important.  A circle is ideal because of the symbolism of oneness, there is no real beginning or end, everything is connected. You can have order or non-order in a circle. Our circle is somewhat unique in that the youth sit in the circle by age, from youngest to oldest. 

Q: You also encourage the use of writing/ journaling. Why do you believe that the use of writing/ journaling is an important strategy in youth work?

A: Writing causes you to reflect. When speaking we often blurt-out the first thing that comes to our mind. Writing causes you to pause and give your thought more thought. 

Source: goldthefilm.com

Q: People often comment that young African American youth do not like writing, therefore this is not a good strategy. Your comments on this?

A: I am not certain if this only pertains to African American youth. In our situation the proof is in the pudding, so it IS obviously a good strategy for us. There have been numerous occasions where our youth have informed me that it was opening-up their journals that assisted them through their darkest moments. It was the quotes and recalling moments in the myths that allowed them to persevere. It was their responses to questions that reminded them of what they thought at a certain moment and how that same thought would add comfort to a challenging situation. 

To find where to view/ stream Finding the Gold Within, click here. For an update on the documentary protagonists, click here

G. Kwame Scruggs, Ph.D is the founder and director of Alchemy, a non-profit organization in Akron, Ohio established in 2003. Alchemy uses mythological stories to engage urban adolescent males. In 2012 Alchemy was one of 12 programs to receive the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities—the nation’s highest honor for after-school and out-of-school programs. Alchemy was also the backdrop for the award-winning, feature-length documentary, “Finding the Gold Within.” Kwame has over 20 years of experience using myth in the development of urban male youth. He holds a Ph.D. and MA in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology. Kwame also holds a MS degree in Technical Education with an emphasis in Guidance and Counseling. In 1993, after being formally initiated into the Akan System of Life Cycle Development (African-based rites of passage), Kwame became a Certified Facilitator of this process. In 2016, Kwame was one of seven recipients awarded the National Guild’s Milestone Certificate of Appreciation and one of three to receive the University of Akron’s Black Male Summit Legacy Award. Kwame is a recently appointed board member of the Joseph Campbell Foundation and serves on the National Advisory Committee of the Creative Youth Development National Partnership.

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

All of Who I Am

By Sam Piha

The Center for Promise is the applied research institute for America’s Promise Alliance. They set out to listen deeply to a diverse group of over 100 young people across the country about the critical program features driving their learning and development. The themes and insights that emerged make up the report entitled, All of Who I Am: Perspectives from Young People About Social, Emotional and Cognitive Learning. The report affirmed what we have known for decades, but it is always good to hear straight from youth. Below we quote the report's 6 critical program features youth name most essential to their learning and development. 

  • Relationships Overall, the term refers to a young person’s relationships within their learning setting. These relationships are multidimensional, in that they offer multiple types of support—e.g., informational, instrumental, and emotional. The rich relationships that young people spoke about include those with teachers, other caring adults, adult and peer mentors, and their peers.
  • Belonging Belonging is the psychological or affective experience associated with the perceived validity of one’s inclusion and positioning within a given social context or network. (Young people) indicate that this affective experience contributes to the young person feeling enveloped in support and connected to peers and adults in a young person’s context; this in turn may facilitate community-building and mutual respect.
  • Meaningful Learning Meaningful learning occurs when a young person’s educational activities and learning experiences are relevant to them, align with their life experiences and interests, and/or have value to them by connecting with their future orientations or life goals.
Source: America's Promise Alliance
  • Intentionality Intentionality refers to a young person’s perception that there is a purpose and a reason for school or program activities and experiences. A Nation at Hope includes a recommendation for learning settings to have a strong mission that “prioritizes the whole child” and offers a clear and consistent vision that cuts across all aspects of the setting. This vision infuses all aspects of the learning setting; be it the language that community members use when talking to each other, how different spaces and areas are set up, or how schedules are organized in each setting.
  • Agency Agency refers to a young person’s sense of, and expression of power over their own experience and their own lives. Agency conveys that the individual’s behavior originates in the person rather than compelled by someone else, and also reflects a person’s interest or investment in the behavior in the context of a goal (e.g., attending class in order to graduate). In this way, a young person’s agency is both tied to their internal focus of control and rooted in the individual’s relationship with their ecosystem (e.g., other people, the outside world). Agency acknowledges the influence of external factors and recognizes that the young person has the power to respond to these external forces by making choices that influence their impact.
  •  Identity Development Identity is the compass that guides an individual’s path—an internal sense of self that resonates with who you have been and who you can be. In this way, an individual’s identity is an internal meaning-making process, negotiated in relationship with a range of experiences and with that person’s conceptions about the future.
This report aligns very nicely with previous youth development frameworks. To go beyond the critical features named in this report, we suggest that you consider how best to lead discussions with staff on these critical features and focus on actual practices. To assist you in these things and more, check out our Youth Development Guide 2.0

Jennie Rosenbaum
To learn a little bit more about this study we interviewed Jennie Rosenbaum (EduCare Foundation's ACE Initiative Site Coordinator at Social Justice Humanitas Academy, LAUSD), who's youth participated in the study. Below she responds to our questions.

Q: How is it that you were selected to participate in this study?

A: Last spring, we received word from Jennifer Peck (Partnership for Children and Youth) on how to apply for an upcoming study by the Center for Promise. The Center for Promise wanted to include young people in conversation and research to better understand what young people felt was necessary to create conditions that supported their social, emotional, and academic growth. 

Highlighting our extensive work in social-emotional learning since 1990, we at EduCare Foundation applied and subsequently received word that we were one of seven organizations nationally selected for the America's Promise Alliance's study. High school students at Social Justice Humanitas Academy, one of our outstanding LAUSD Beyond the Bell afterschool program sites and an EduCare ACE Initiative school site, were chosen by EduCare to participate. ACE Initiative school sites empower students, teachers, and parents to enrich themselves and their school community with kindness, empathy and human connection.

Q: What did you think about America’s Promise findings?
A: The America’s Promise findings reveal what young people need to feel safe, seen, heard, understood, worthy and loved--that which we all seek in order to thrive. In these times when inequities are even more prominently visible, these findings direct us towards a framework to re-invent educational spaces to meet everyone’s needs, not relying on youth to figure it out or to get lucky in a system that doesn’t always work in their favor. 

Q: Would you comment on the critical features named in the report?
A: I most liked the interdependence and intersectionality of the six themes. Growth and self-actualization does not happen in a vacuum. The best lesson taught by the most renowned teacher passes over the head of the student who has no connection to the person teaching them or the people sitting to their left and right. Even then, the lesson stays in the student’s head, leaving no impact on the world, leading to no change if the student lacks agency or a way to apply it meaningfully. 

Q: Can you give an example/ practice of how “agency” is promoted?
A: Our school supports agency through a summer bridge program to help incoming ninth grade students build new relationships with teachers, peers and near-peer mentors, learn the expectations and supports offered at their new school and acclimate to the school culture in a low-risk setting. In the second week, teachers offered students options in STEM, Art and ELA through which students explored their identity and their goals for themselves and their communities. 

Q: Can you give an example/ practice of how “intentionality” is promoted?
A: Our school reinforces intentionality through its partnership with EduCare’s ACE Initiative in which we start each school year building relationships with team building games, problem solving challenges outside of our comfort zones, goal setting for the year and beyond, and reflective talking circles or “heart talks.” For our students, this frames their way of starting their school year and their lives by developing greater personal leadership, empathetic connections, and a compassionate school culture in which they can be supported and thrive. 

We'd like to share the latest project from Temescal Associates and The How Kids Learn Foundation- My Pal, Luke. My Pal, Luke is designed to address many social emotional elements through his words and questions, including a check-in with kids. Luke also reads his favorite books and educates kids on how to make sense of current events and the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be easily embedded in distance learning efforts or used with in- person programming. Check out episode 1 here or follow the My Pal, Luke Instagram for updates.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Practice Q&A: Responding to the Special Needs of Youth

By Sam Piha

Being a youth worker is a very difficult job. They face a variety of challenges and dilemmas, as they work with a diverse group of young people. We collected a number of questions from youth workers and promised to engage experts and field leaders for their answers. Below are some of the questions we received and the answers that we sought out from field leaders, content experts and innovative practitioners. If you want to submit your own question, click here.

This blog is part 3 of our Q&A series. To read part 1, click here or part 2, click here. Stay tuned as we continue to explore questions from youth workers. (Note: we know that there are many answers to any question. Below, we offer some well-thought-out answers that we received. Because schools and agencies may have specific policies, we recommend that youth workers share their questions with their immediate supervisor. At the bottom we provide a brief bio about the respondents.)

Q: When an elementary student has different feelings about who they are sexually, how can we as a staff go about addressing the issue in a positive manner without being offensive toward the student? - Youth Worker, San Joaquin County, CA
A: “Most importantly, don’t intrude on the student if they do not want to talk about it.  If they do want to talk about it, best strategy is to listen and then reflect positively about all the different ways people feel about who they are sexually. If you’ve observed their different feelings yourself but they haven’t expressed them, still take the opportunity, if available, to offer the same reflections with a number of students together, not connecting it directly to that specific student but as a learning moment for all students.”
- Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D.

Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D.
Source: City Arts & Lectures
Q: Regarding sexuality, how should you respond to a child (elementary school) "coming out" to you directly. What is appropriate and what should be avoided? - Youth Worker, Kanawha County, WV
A: “If a student is sharing with you their sexual identity or attractions, it typically means that they trust you. What is appropriate is to first listen and also ensure confidentiality. Second, explore what support or help that student would like from you (e.g., helping them talk to their parents). Third, make sure the student is feeling safe and has not met up with any negativity. And most importantly, mirror back to them positive regard. What to avoid:  negatively judging them for their feelings; offering support you’re not really able to provide.”
- Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D.

Q: I am new in a program but I do have one kid who is really bossy. I am still unsure how to manage that kind of behavior since she even wants to tell me what to do in each activity. I only spent a day with that group because I was new and then the school shut down but I am still thinking about that kind of behavior and how to manage it. She is only 7 years old. - Youth Worker, Imperial County, CA
A: "So, kids' behavior always makes sense, if only we knew the rest of the story.  This kid, and others like her, have a need behind their drive to control things.  Sometimes it's because they are anxious about the unknown and if they take charge, then they can control the narrative which makes them feel less anxious.  Another example would be kids who have trouble following direction or instructions (lots of kids with learning glitches have this issue) so they get "bossy" because they if are the deciders about how something is going to be, they don't have to be able to "follow" a set of instructions which is actually hard for them.  This happens a lot when kids want to control the game and the rules when they are playing with peers---it's easier to lead on their own terms than to understand when someone else describes how it's supposed to work.  And yet another example would be a kid who is given too much authority at home and is used to that role, thinks it's expected of them, so that's how she operates outside of home too.

The best approach to handling this is to have compassion for the child (as annoying and disruptive as their behavior might seem) and recognize that there is actually a vulnerability or confusion that kid is having that is prompting the "bossy" or controlling behavior.  Rather than challenging the child or pushing back on the behavior, thank the child for his or her intentions to be helpful and clarify "how it works' (i.e, that actually YOU are going to be directing things. For example, "Thanks for your ideas and help, but I have a plan in mind and I'll be the one leading the activities today.  If you have some ideas you'd like to share with me, you can let me know about them at the end of the day and I'll be glad to consider them for another time." Meanwhile, keep an eye on that child to see if he or she is struggling in the role of "follower" or even "equal" because it's either difficult for them to process the rule or because they don't have the social skills to manage until they feel on top.  Help them learn."
- Sheri Glucoft Wong, LCSW
Berkeley, Ca

Q: I have a student (elementary school) who is always doing some type of motion out of the ordinary and makes noises. He himself doesn't catch what he's doing, the rest of my group notices and from time to time gets frustrated. How do I deal or go about this situation? - Youth Worker, San Joanquin County, CA 
A: "This sounds like a child with some neuro-physiological issues. Perhaps this student has tics, which can be single repetitive motions or "marching tics" which are a series of various "out-of-the-ordinary" movements. There are also vocal tics (throat clearing, yelping, sniffing, etc) which may explain the noises. It's sad for the child when other kids respond with frustration or alienation since more often than not, these behaviors are involuntary. That's why the student himself isn't aware of them.

Sheri Glucoft Wong, LCSW
I would share your observations with the adult(s) in this child's life by simply describing the motions and sounds you have seen, as well as describing that the child doesn't seem aware of them and that you are concerned because other children are having a negative response to behavior they don't understand. Ask the adult if they are aware of it as well. If they are, perhaps you can discuss ways to manage the situation that won't embarrass the kid with the tics (or whatever the issue might be)---for example "Sometimes his body or voice expresses itself in ways he didn't mean it to, and he is so used to that happening that he doesn't notice. His family has learned to work around the motions and sounds and we're going to learn to do that too." You can see it as an opportunity to support acceptance of differences with kindness and generosity. If the student's grown-ups weren't aware, you may be giving them info they didn't have and can let them know it would be helpful if they checked in with the pediatrician to understand what might be going on so you can work with them to better support the child in the social setting of your program."
- Sheri Glucoft Wong, LCSW
Berkeley, Ca

Sam Piha, MSW
Temescal Associates
A: I agree with Sheri's answer above, with one additional thought: parents can be very touchy when learning of information about their child that they may view as "negative". These are very delicate conversations. It is best if you only share your observations and maybe concerns, while avoiding any medical terms or diagnosis.

-Sam Piha, MSW
Temescal Associates

Dr. Diane Ehrensaft is a developmental and clinical psychologist, Director of Mental Health at the Child and Adolescent Gender Center and Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of California San Francisco. She has been a frequent contributor to our LIAS blog and the How Kids Learn conference. You can review her blog responses here and view a video presentation here.

Sheri Glucoft Wong is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and family therapist. She’s known nationally for her parenting workshops and consultations with school leaders. In addition to her clinical practice, she has led workshops and seminars for childcare centers, medical centers, and private industry for over 30 years. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Race in America: Finding the Gold Within

By Sam Piha

We first met Karina Epperlein years ago at a screening of her film, Finding the Gold Within. This documentary chronicled the transition of young black men from high school to college, the issues of racism they encountered, and the role of Alchemy Inc., an afterschool program in supporting this transition. We were so taken by the film, that we sponsored several screenings in the San Francisco Bay Area. (To watch or stream Karina's documentary, Finding the Gold Within, click here.)
Karina Epperlein and Kwami Jerry Williams at HKL

We also invited some of the young men to talk about their experiences. Later, we featured Karina, a drummer from Alchemy Inc., Kwami Williams, and Darius Simpson (a young poet featured in the documentary) at our How Kids Learn Conferences.

Karina was recently in the news about a Black Lives Matter mural that she is painting on her garage in Berkeley, Ca. To view the news report on this, click here. We caught up with Karina to ask her a few questions as issues of race are back in the news. Below are Karina’s responses to our interview questions.
Source: Goldthefilm.com

Q: Why did you choose the topic of race and racial identity as a theme in your film, Finding the Gold Within?
A: In the fall of 2010, almost 10 years ago, my first visions for Finding the Gold Within took hold of me. Of course I knew that the film would unavoidably have to do with racism in America, even though Alchemy is not overtly addressing those issues in their highly sophisticated, astonishingly effective and unique work. The theme of racial injustice weaves itself throughout the film because that has been and is the everyday reality for African Americans. Not just now, but for 400 years. Racism is America’s biggest "story."

Once I witnessed in person Alchemy’s work, it became clear to me that it was unavoidably highlighting a wound in American society. Getting close to the “Alchemy family” and my six chosen protagonists for the film (and their families), we constantly discussed things “invisible” to many white Americans – like the Black man, feared and reviled, and the long history of that. Trust was built in part because I was German, with an accent, had not grown up in this country, and I naturally possess enthusiasm and passion for deep inquiry, authentic expression, and justice. I knew African American history and literature. The bloody history of slavery, oppression, criminalization – and so much denial and whitewashing. I knew about the ongoing murdering of Black people by state violence and hate. I had studied Carl Jung’s and Joseph Campbell’s work. So, I saw Kwame Shrugg’s (ED, Alchemy Inc.) work in the context of mythology, racism, injustice, and history. And in my interviews over the years, the protagonists kept confiding with stories about their ongoing struggle with racism, their confusion and fury.

Coming to this country in 1981, my background allowed me to see America’s racism early on. In the early nineties, I taught creative expression for five years as a volunteer in prison and three years in drug rehabs. This community work and critical reading, taught me about American society, culture, history, and its “two worlds or realities.” I knew that a country not dealing with its genocidal history is a dangerous country. Racism kills people’s ability to find the ‘gold within’ themselves and others. This is true for victim and perpetrator (and bystander) alike, whose hearts must whither.

Throughout the film, words quoting Ralph Elison and Langston Hughes fading in slowly turn to gold. Toward the end it says: “Besides, they’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed – I, too, am America.”
Source: www.berkeleyside.com

Q: In what way did the experience of growing up in Germany effect your own views of race, racial identity and the need to confront America's issues of slavery?
A: Maybe this question I should have answered first because my background and upbringing has been crucial in my life and work. It is the red thread in my art. It has highly sensitized me to injustice anywhere. Everything I am and stand for, I owe to my parents’ incredible resilience, integrity, and goodness.

As a post-war German, I was born into moral and literal rubble, and into poverty. I grew up in an unusual family and a devastated culture where it was important to make sure that "never again" was a serious way of life – understanding and fighting fascism, anti-Semitism, racism and authoritarianism. Everyone was guilty. Shame and denial were pervasive, as well as great sorrow. In order to redeem ourselves many of us critically looked into our country’s history, society, institutions, and our inner selves so as not to repeat the horrors of the past. (Not all, but enough did this work.) This marked me for life. As a young person, I was rebellious and impatient, but 50 - 60 years later, Germany's society and culture finally had started to change palpably, almost unrecognizably so. The lessons are still alive. They are actively kept alive.

Now, six years since the world premiere of Finding the Gold Within, I would say a revolution is underway. Thanks to years of work by the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement there is growing awareness, reckoning and awakening is in progress. Eloquent truth telling is happening, old and new demands are being made. The voices of Black people are increasingly televised, seen, heard, printed, and listened to. But there is hope. White America’s innocence has been pierced, and denial exposed. Nevertheless, it will be a long road to bring about the needed change and true transformation.

Q: Can you provide an update on the protagonists in your documentary? Where are they now? 
A: To read the full update and see where they are now, click here

(Note: In a future post we will interview Alchemy Inc.'s, Executive Director, Kwame Scruggs).

Karina Epperlein is an independent filmmaker with over 45 years of experience as a theater artist, teacher and filmmaker. Her films have consistently looked into society’s dark corners, finding the light, and addressing themes of justice, transformation and healing. Her award-winning documentary work of twenty-two years spans themes from women in prison (Voices from Inside, 1996), the Armenian genocide, to dance and disability. Her short film Phoenix Dance (2006) screened in more than 120 festivals and theatres all over the world. It was “short-listed” for the 2006 Oscar Nomination for Short Documentary, and won numerous awards internationally, including a Golden Gate Award from the San Francisco Int’l Film Festival.
Finding the Gold Within, her tenth film, had its world premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival in 2014. The feature length documentary has been and is screening at numerous film festivals, theatres, conferences, think tanks, colleges, Black Male Summit, hospitals, public school districts, etc. – often with the film’s protagonists present for Q&A’s and/or workshops. 

A Time to Give Thanks

By Sam Piha We all know that 2020 has been a very difficult year. As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches, all of us at Temescal Associates a...