Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Gender Context

By Sam Piha 

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



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


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

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

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

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

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

Photo Credit: Spotlight: Girls

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Supporting Immigrant Families

By Sam Piha



Education Trust-West, an advocacy organization in Oakland, estimates that 750,000 students in California’s preK-12 schools have an undocumented parent, out of a total enrollment of 6.2 million - that equals 1 in 8. Some of these students may be undocumented themselves. Because many of our afterschool programs are part of the school community, we thought this would be relevant. Read their new brief

School officials state anxieties have reached new heights since Donald Trump’s inauguration, with possible consequences on young people’s ability to focus on school work, the willingness of parents to attend school events, or even to bring their children to school.

The California Equity Leadership Alliance (CELA) recently released a toolkit to support undocumented students and families. There are three toolkits for students and families, educators and administrators, and school board members and policymakers. To review these, click here


Photo Credit: EdTrust.org

CELA issued a statement on California’s undocumented students and their families. We found it very compelling and offer an excerpt below.

California is a state sustained and enriched by immigrants in a nation founded by immigrants. As such,  CELA wholeheartedly supports the fundamental right for all children – regardless of their immigration status or the status of their family members – to receive a strong, equitable education. This commitment not only reinforces the legal right to education, it is in the best interest of California and our continued leadership as a state at the forefront of innovation, industry, and progress. 

Our roles as leaders in education – from administrators and educators to parents and policy advocates – compel us to reaffirm our dedication to these students and offer guidance for a more equitable California. We believe this means not only supporting efforts to keep our students safe, but also ensuring we do all we can to offer them the best chance to graduate prepared for college, a career, leadership, and life. 



For too long, the arena of education advocacy has been siloed from the arena of immigrant rights advocacy. It is imperative that education organizations such as ours bridge this divide and do all we can to support the educators, administrators, and advocates who work with these students and their families every day. As such, we have launched a new initiative to provide resources, support, and stewardship for educators in order to understand our undocumented student community. 

Living our values as Californians means standing up – and standing with – the hundreds of thousands of undocumented students in our schools and the 1 in 8 California P-12 students who have an undocumented parent. Our students deserve nothing less than our steadfast support. 

What is your school and afterschool program doing to support young people who are undocumented or have undocumented family members? We will provide more discussion and resources in upcoming posts.   

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You can read other blogs by the LIAS project by going to: 


  • Expanded Learning 360°/365 Project website
  • LIAS Blog Written for the California Afterschool Network

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Youth Voice: "I am not an illegal alien. I am not a terrorist nor lazy. And I am, most definitely, not uneducated."

By Sam Piha



We hear a lot about the plight of undocumented immigrants. But we don’t often hear from young people. Angie’s story in her own words is below. 

In a future post, we will interview an organizational leader on how afterschool programs can support undocumented youth or youth with undocumented family members.

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My name is Angie. My preferred gender pronouns are she/her. They/them is also okay with me. 

I was born in Huazuntlan, a small village in Veracruz. In my infant years I didn't know who my mother was, for she had immigrated to the United States after I was born, leaving me and my brother under my grandmother’s wing. For four years I struggled with the faceless image of a mother I had never met, and wondered if I would ever get the privilege of doing so. 

Now that I'm old enough to reflect on my experience, I can fully understand my mother’s reasoning for leaving: all she wanted was to give us the life she never had. Because I was very young, four years old to be exact, my remembrance of my immigration experience is very foggy. 

But this is how it had gone down:

My mother had met a lady in the U.S. not much older than her. She vented to her on the amount of pain she felt every second of every hour because she had left my brother and I. This opened the woman's eyes to what she thought was easy money. My mother ended up paying her $10,000 with the hope that she would see us soon, and that we would finally be reunited. However, things didn't go as planned. 

My brother and I had left our village at four in the morning, way too early for an eight and four year old. We were taken to an airport where we boarded a plane that would take us to Tijuana, where we would meet up with the supposed ‘fairy godmother’ that would ‘reunite’ us with our mom. Meeting her was a very frightening thing. Her face is just another blurry image lost in my head but I remember her skin being lighter than anyone I'd ever met before. Once we greeted her, we were taken to a hotel in which we spent a day. After the day had passed by, we checked out of the hotel and proceeded to face the frightening border. 

During our time with the woman, my brother and I were coached on what we had to say when it came to the border patrol. We were given new identities that we were expected to memorize in one day. This was an easy task for me, but when it came to my brother (who was very sleepy at the time) he ended up messing up.  

Quickly after being caught, we were taken to a detention center. As soon as we entered, our shoelaces were taken off of our shoes and we were put into a windowless room with about 12 other people. There were no beds and the bathrooms had no doors to them. The floor was basically our bed and we were only given one blanket per person. We were held there for three days. 

After the three days had passed, parents began to get called. Of course my mother was in the U.S, so it was impossible for her to pick us up. Because of this, my brother and I were separated and taken to separate orphanages. For a whole week I didn't know anything about my brother. I was back in that state of having no one. I was four years old, and I had now lost both my brother and mom: I was scared, empty, alone. 


When asked, Angie explained her painting (above) by saying, "I feel trapped inside figurative and literal borders. These borders include: attending and graduating college, getting a job, and not being able to visit my family back in Mexico". 







Thankfully, my eldest aunt had a tendency of coming back and forth between the United States and Mexico. She had found out about the situation and was now going to be our savior. Seeing her felt like such a relief because now there was hope. We picked up my brother and he hugged me way harder than he'd ever hugged me before. 

Shortly after, we met up with two coyotes (people who smuggle Latin Americans across the US border) who would, rightfully, do their job in reuniting my family once again. I was the smallest one out of the four of us (my brother, aunt and cousin-who made the decision in crossing with us as well). I had to go first. We were separated once again.

I was put in the trunk of a car, along with one of the coyotes who was there for ‘moral’ support. It was hot and it was very hard to breathe. I was told that I had to remain calm and quiet in order to not get caught once again. I obliged and soon after, the trunk was being opened and I was being released to my ‘new beginning’. This was when I met my mother for the first time. The rest is history. The rest of my family arrived about two weeks later and we began our new life together. 

Being undocumented has, and will always be, a big part of who I am as a person. I have had to face many struggles, but I am thankful that I now have my family to go through it with.

Being an immigrant has always been seen as a ‘negative’ thing, and even was a taboo subject for all of us. But I can now proudly say that I am tired of hiding away my identity. I am not an illegal alien. I am not a terrorist nor lazy. And I am, most definitely not uneducated. 

I am not alone. 
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Angie is 17 years old and a senior in high school. She plans to attend San Jose State University where she hopes to study criminal psychology and childhood development. Angie loves painting and often shares her identity as an undocumented person, and a member of the LGBTQ+ community through her art. Angie hopes to become a voice for undocumented youth who were never encouraged to strive for more, or who were too afraid due to their status.


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You can read other blogs by the LIAS project by going to: 


  • Expanded Learning 360°/365 Project website
  • LIAS Blog Written for the California Afterschool Network

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

"Taking Off the Mask": Working with School-Age Boys

By Sam Piha


What does it mean to be male? There are many messages that are absorbed by boys and young men - some of which are useful and others that are destructive. 

When Ashanti Branch was a teacher in Oakland, he recognized that boys and young men needed a place to explore this. He left teaching and founded the Ever Forward Club. “At the Ever Forward Club, we believe that all young men have the desire to be fully alive – to be loved, respected, held in high regard, held to high expectations, held accountable for their actions and supported to help achieve their goals.” - Ever Forward Club Website 

In 2014, the Ever Forward Club partnered with The Representation Project to develop the documentary, “The Mask You Live In”. (The Mask You Live In follows boys and young men as they struggle to stay true to themselves while negotiating America’s narrow definition of masculinity. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media also weigh in, offering empirical evidence of the “boy crisis” and tactics to combat it.) See the trailer below. 




We invited Mr. Branch to serve as a speaker and workshop leader On October 17, 2017 as part of our Speaker’s Forum series. 

We also recently conducted a video interview with Mr. Branch asking him about his views on the needs of boys and young men and how we can serve these needs in afterschool. Below are some of his responses.
"Taking Off the Mask": Working with School-Age Boys with Ashanti BranchOctober 17, 2017 in Oakland, CA

“I think that after school programs are becoming aware that there is a need to support young men in really specific ways. This is coming out of this idea that for so long there's been just a place of ignoring boys and allowing certain behaviors to be left as 'boys will be boys' or 'that's just the way boys are.' I think that what has happened is that has been let go for so long that young men have found themselves in a crisis. 

Society doesn't give our young men really good tools with dealing with sadness and fear and shame and other kind of emotions like that. They're clear in what you do when you're angry. They're clear about what you do when you're happy. So if you don't fit in happy or angry, what do you do with the other (not so positive) emotions? Usually it comes out as anger. 

Everything is converted to anger or I just pretend like it doesn't matter, then I get checked out to the world. 

They isolate, many feeling that ‘no one cares about me’. They begin to self-medicate, self-fulfill those feelings of not being a part of the group - engaging in drugs, alcohol, rampant unprotected sex, gangs, etc. Many of these behaviors are about  the need to cover up the feelings that they're really trying to figure out. How do I deal with this real feeling?

The afterschool space gives us a space to help our young men know that, ‘You're valuable. You may not do so good in your bookwork, but you've got a lot of skills.’

The afterschool system works because it allows for some students to get a taste for something else, to get to see how good they can be at something that's not going to be marked as a grade. Their creativity is not going to be taken away and crushed when somebody tells you, ‘your drawing is not according to the rubric’. Afterschool just provides a safer space. 

That's what we're trying to do in Ever Forward. We're trying to do more work around the social-emotional development of our young men, teaching them to be social-emotional leaders, so that it doesn't just happen afterschool. It happens all day long.”
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Ashanti Branch is Founder and Executive Director of The Ever Forward Club. Ashanti works to change how young men of color interact with their education and how their schools interact with them. Raised in Oakland by a single mother on welfare, Ashanti left the inner city to study civil engineering at Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo. A construction project manager in his first career, his life changed after he tutored struggling students and realized his passion for teaching. In 2004, during Ashanti’s first year teaching high school math, he started The Ever Forward Club to provide support for African American and Latino males who were not achieving to their potential. Since then, Ever Forward has helped all of its more than 150 members graduate from high school, and 93% of them have gone on to attend two- or four-year colleges, military or trade school.


The Ever Forward Club was featured last year in the documentary, “The Mask You Live In,” which premiered at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. After completing a fellowship at the Stanford d.school in 2016, Ashanti, stepped away from working for a school district and began working as the Founding Executive Director for Ever Forward-Siempre Adelante, in an effort to grow the organization to serve thousands of Bay Area students. In April 2017, Ashanti was awarded a fellowship from the national organization CBMA - Campaign for Black Male Achievement.