Monday, April 13, 2015

A Win-Win: Employing Older Youth in Afterschool Programs

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
"The Assistant Coach position with A World Fit For Kids! was my first professional experience that I ever had. The position was my dip of my toe in the water that is the real world. It was a great learning platform." - David Molina, Program Alumni, Student at California State University at Northridge

If afterschool programs are to be meaningful, they must offer youth opportunities to build their workforce skills. And what better setting to learn and practice these skills than an afterschool program? Normandie Nigh and A World Fit For Kids! is a true pioneer in training youth to work successfully in afterschool programs. She has been training and hiring older youth to work in afterschool programs since 1994. Below is an interview with Ms. Nigh focused on what she has learned in her years of this practice. 

Q: Can you describe the impact you have seen or experienced on the topic of hiring older youth and program alumni to work within afterschool programs? 

A: A World Fit For Kids! (WFIT) provides older youth with training and support and place them in our afterschool program where they can become role models and mentors to their peers and younger children. 

Normandie Nigh, CEO
A World Fit For Kids!
During the 21 years that we have employed this model, I have seen how it truly changes the lives of both the kids who come to our afterschool program and the teens themselves. In some cases, high school students who were on the verge of dropping out have stayed in school and raised their grades because the work they have done with us made them feel empowered. That feeling of personal pride and confidence inspires their commitment to get a job after completing their training and volunteer service, and it also ignites a desire to take their studies more seriously. 

With teens who are already good students, by hiring them and giving them responsibility we are showing them that we trust and believe in them, and by working in afterschool programs they are gaining valuable experiences for their resumes that will give them an advantage when they graduate and pursue personal ambitions, be it applying for the college or finding a job in a field of their choosing. 

The example they set is also very motivating for the younger students they work with in afterschool programs. Kids in the program relate to their teen Coach-Mentors in a very specific way. These teens are from their community and they share the same circumstances and challenges, so when kids see what a peer is accomplishing, they know they can do it too. There is also a natural affinity between kids who are close in age, and our youth Coach-Mentors can help us connect a little deeper with kids who are reluctant or reticent about communicating with adults. 

In 2011 an outside evaluator confirmed that more than 96% of students who completed WFIT’s teen training and internship program graduated from high school and 76% were currently enrolled in or had completed community college or university degrees. I’m very proud that 18% of our current Coach-Mentors in our afterschool programs were participants in our teen training and many of them were also participants in our own elementary and/or middle school programs when they were younger. 

Teens who have been trained and hired by WFIT described several skills they gained through the experience including responsibility and patience, leadership and self-confidence as well as practical skills on how to work with children.  They also described how they applied the skills and confidence they gained in WFIT to their school behavior. Teens said they are more likely to initiate participating and helping in class and improved how they make presentations, communicate with others, and manage their time.

Q: Why do you think this is an important practice? 

A: A World Fit for Kids! works primarily with disadvantaged and underserved populations, and the kids we serve are often from communities where there are not a lot of role models. Sometimes the message they receive, both implicit and explicit, is that they shouldn’t expect much, from themselves or from life. Training and hiring teens delivers a different message. The kids learn that they do have what it takes to be responsible and successful, and that allows them to think differently about the future. WFIT programs are based in healthy behaviors and physical activity, and what we believe is that when kids learn that they can take more control over their bodies, they will realize they can also take control in other areas of their lives, and that is really what we want for them. That is the foundation we want to establish in our afterschool programs. 

From there, teen training is the next leap. It gives those kids who want it a place to build confidence and exercise control over their life by reaching beyond themselves. One of the most important reasons the older youth say they want to work for WFIT is because they want to contribute to their community. To me, this is a demonstration of leadership, personal empowerment and a clear indication of a successful future. 

Q: What preparation, training, or support do you think older youth and program alumni need in order to succeed? 

A: I believe that youth are most successful when the adults in their lives have high expectations of them. WFIT’s programs let teens know that we believe in them, that we trust them to take on responsibility, and we encourage them to reach higher.

Teens working at WFIT school sites must first participate in our 38-hour comprehensive healthy behaviors and personal empowerment training. Throughout the training, participants engage in interactive exercises designed to promote success and increase self-awareness, build confidence and strengthen interpersonal skills, all of which prepares them to become successful in the workplace.

More specifically, the training components recommended are: personal empowerment; being a positive role model/mentor; effective communication; leadership/advocacy; healthy behaviors (physical activity leadership/nutrition); conflict resolution; work readiness; First aid/CPR; and a minimum of 30 hours of community service.
Normandie Nigh is CEO of A World Fit For Kids! and has worked with corporations, sports teams, fitness professionals, community organizations and individuals of all ages, but her passion is working with kids. Before taking the helm at A World Fit For Kids! (WFIT) in 1994, she founded Fit For Success, a Boston-based consulting company specializing in the design and delivery of physical activity, sports, fitness, and personal development programs. She was certified as a Personal Development Consultant for Tony Robbins and Associates, and is also the former International Fitness Marketing Manager for Reebok. 

An active advocate for youth services and programs, she meets regularly with local, state and national officials and serves on a number of boards and steering committees. Some of her past and present affiliations include: Co-Chair of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee of the California AfterSchool Network; the California Department of Education After School Physical Activity Steering Committee; the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; CA ‘Project LEAN’ (Leaders Encouraging Activity & Nutrition) State Steering Committee; CAHPERD State Legislative Committee; and the CA Healthy Eating / Active Communities Initiative.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Hiring Young People in Afterschool Programs

By Sam Piha

Nothing affects after-school program quality more than the workforce.” Michael Funk, Director, After School Division, 
California Department of Education

Sam Piha
One important way of affecting afterschool quality and its attractiveness to young people is to engage older youth and program alumni in the operation of the program. There are multiple benefits - both to the program and the young adults who are engaged as leaders or hired as staff. 

A couple of years ago, we conducted research on high school afterschool programs that engaged youth leaders and hired youth as staff. We published a comprehensive briefing paper that examined ways to compensate the youth, the legal issues involved, program examples, and what youth have to say about their experience. You can review this paper by clicking here. While most afterschool staff are between the ages of 20-29 (63%), few are under the age of 20 (just over 8%).  

Source: Examining the Future of the After-School Workforce (2012) 
Below we offer the perspective of a program leader who is a leading practitioner and proponent of this idea. In an upcoming blog, we will offer the views of older youth and program alumni who have been impacted by the opportunity to work within afterschool programs. 

Bob Cabeza
"Over my 34 years working in the after school and youth development fields, I have personally witnessed children become confident, young leaders within our youth development programs. 

Then, finish college and become professional staff within our agency. I have seen our low income youth of color go from being disenfranchised to now entering the upper middle class and becoming a professional engineer, doctor, social worker, architect. I presently have 20 Board Members, seven of which are professionals who were once youth in our programs and now are capable adults doing extremely well financially and paying it forward by both volunteering and donating generously to our programs.

The moral to this story is that we need progressive, seamless programming for our young people to have a place to grow up in throughout their childhood and adolescence and into young adulthood. When we can support, nurture, develop skills and mentor our youth and young adults, then we create a new generation of activists and supporters of the cause of youth development. These young adults are the ones that we need to have take over the leadership of our programs and become our volunteer board members and advocates for the next generation of youth. That is the ultimate visionary goal and I have seen it come to life before my eyes over the past 22 years here in Long Beach. In my experience, that is why after school programs are so important for youth. Providing ladders of leadership for youth is the next strategic step in that continuum.

Youth Institute at YMCA of Greater Long Beach

Engaging youth in the operations of programs is important because it provides young adult mentors for our children who come from the same neighborhood, culture, ethnicity and relatable experiences as those children. It provides appropriate role models for children who model high school graduation, college attendance, etc. It provides hope and examples for our children that they can achieve further education. 

Lastly, young people in adolescence and post adolescence are seen by children as popular and cool! This dynamic enriches the lives of the children by providing a big brother/sister dynamic and enriches the lives of the young adult by them as they become mentors and leaders to younger children. It is much more of a personal and intimate relationship than the institutional teacher/student relationship. It creates a 'camp' positive group dynamic at a school site." 
- Bob Cabeza

Bob Cabeza is Vice President of Community Development at the YMCA of Greater Long Beach & Change Agent Productions. Mr. Cabeza has over thirty years experience in youth development, community development and digital media arts programming, resulting in the ability to build and lead unique programs designed to better the lives of children, youth and families.  Mr. Cabeza has a special focus on youth development and technology equity for underserved communities as it relates to developing both academic and workforce success. 

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Saving 21st CCLC Funding

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Members of the US Senate are, again, threatening funding for the 21st CCLC program. The funding would be consolidated into a block grant available to school districts to use for multiple purposes.

To oppose this, the New York State Afterschool Network  (NYSAN) advises “Taking action is FREE and generates IMMEDIATE RESULTS!
  • Call your two senators and your representative! Calls take about 30 seconds and they matter. Offices track how many calls they get about each issue – we need more calls supporting 21st CCLC! All you have to say to the receptionist is 'Please maintain funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers in the ESEA reauthorization.' That’s it! You can call again weekly to maximize your impact.
  • Forward this email to your contacts! Program staff, parents, grandparents, and even participants can make a difference!"

Afterschool advocates have recommended that rather than focusing on the negative evidence that is being cited by 21st CCLC opponents, familiarize yourself and make use of the evaluation literature that supports the effectiveness of 21st CCLCs. You can go to the Afterschool Alliance website to find important research. 

We reached out to Jodi Grant, Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance, to gather additional evaluation information. She replied:

“Here are the specific findings from other evaluations you can point to:
    Jodi Grant, ED
    Afterschool Alliance
  • An evaluation of Texas 21st Century Community Learning Centers found that the program positively impacted students’ school day performance. Students attending the program—both students with low levels and high levels of participation in the program— were more likely to be promoted to the next grade. The likelihood of being promoted to the next grade increased by 43 percent for students with low levels of participation in the program, and 47 percent for students with high levels of participation. Additionally, ACE students saw improvements in their Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) reading and math scores. (American Institutes for Research, 2013)
  • Students regularly attending Washington’s 21st CCLC afterschool programs saw improvements in their reading and math achievement, as well as a positive impact on their overall GPA, compared to their non-participating peers. (American Institutes for Research, 2014)
  • A statewide longitudinal evaluation of the After School Safety and Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) program—California’s high school component of the 21st CCLC program— found that students participating in the ASSETs program received higher ELA and math assessment scores, and performed better on the ELA and math sections of the CAHSEE than non-participants. (CRESST, 2012)
  • Teachers of students participating in Wisconsin 21st CCLC programs reported more than two-thirds improved their class participation, 60 percent saw improvements in their motivation to learn and 55 percent improved their behavior in class. Teachers also reported that 48 percent of students improved in volunteering for extra credit or responsibility. (Wisconsin Department of Instruction, 2014)
These are just a few studies that show that 21st CCLC programs work.”

She also suggested this fact sheet and a briefing paper on afterschool evaluations.   

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Race and Afterschool: Finding the Gold Within

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Much of our afterschool programs are situated in low income schools, which means schools with a high number of black and brown kids. We all acknowledge the issues surrounding the achievement gap and have conveniently reframed it as the opportunity gap. We design programs to close this gap but rarely do we talk about race and the needs and lives of those same black and brown youth. 

If minority youth are to take advantage of the opportunities we offer, to what extent do they need help understanding their experience being black or brown in America? Stories like the one that came out of Ferguson, MO remind our society that something is going on that we're not talking about. We rarely talk about race in afterschool circles. 

To promote a discussion, we have partnered with Karina Epperlein, the Director of Finding the Gold Within, to offer a number of screenings for the Bay Area afterschool communityFollowing the film, we will host a Q&A session with the film director and young people who are featured in the film. To view a trailer of the film, click here. (As some of you may know, Ms. Epperlein and Kwame Jerry Williams, Drummer and Storyteller featured in the film, presented at our How Kids Learn IV conference in San Francisco. Their presentation can be viewed by clicking here. The conference also featured a presentation by Dr. Shawn Ginwright on the considerations of social emotional learning when engaging youth of color. It can be viewed here. We also offer another presentation by Dr. Ginwright at the first How Kids Learn conference, which you can view here and here.) 

Finding the Gold Within is a feature film documentary that had its world premiere recently at the Mill Valley California film festival. It features a program from Akron, OH named Alchemy, Inc. This group uses drumming, mythology, and journaling to promote the healthy development of inner city African-American children and youth. 

Screenings of Finding the Gold Within will be offered at no cost to afterschool workers and advocates, as well as older youth from those programs. While there is no cost, registration is required. Screening times and registration information is below:

These screening events are sponsored by Temescal Associates, the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) Project, and the Expanded Learning 360/365 Project. Supporters include the Oakland Unified School District; Alameda County Office of Education/Region 4; the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation; the David Brower Center; the RYSE Youth Center; and the San Francisco Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families.