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.


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. 

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.


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.”

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.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What's the Evidence?

By Sam Piha

We are partnering with LA's BEST, UCLA, and the LA84 Foundation to sponsor a Speaker's Forum on September 28, 2017 entitled, What’s the Evidence: Do After School Programs Make a Difference for Kids? Click here to register.

The How Kids Learn (HKL) Speaker’s Forums are dedicated to providing those who are interested in improving youth outcomes with thought-provoking, educational opportunities. The HKL educational events offer access to national thinkers and researchers, innovative practitioners, and networking opportunities.

This Forum is being organized by Eric Gurna, President and CEO of LA's BEST and features an esteemed panel of speakers. Below, we asked Eric some questions regarding this event.

Q: Why is the topic of this Forum particularly important at this time? 

A: When the president's budget director announced drastic proposed cuts to the 21st Century Community Learning Center program as well as other critical supports for families living in economic distress, he said, "There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually helping results." While there has been a great bipartisan outpouring of support for after school since that moment, I think that we as a field need to do better at demonstrating how our programs really do make a difference, for both kids and families. We can't rest on our laurels and rely on years old studies, we need to keep fresh and timely and provide current evidence of the difference we know we are making. Given that the pendulum has (finally) swung back in the arena of high stakes testing, I think now is a great time to measure our progress towards the goals we hold most dear - holistic youth development, community and civic engagement, social skills, emotional growth and intellectual strength and courage.

Q: The Forum will feature a number of presenters. Can you say why you chose these individuals? 

A: This panel is like the all-star game of authentic accountability for youth development. Renata Simril is leading the LA84 Foundation into a new era of community leadership. Going far beyond simply funding youth sport, she is playing a leadership role in a region-wide movement to view critical opportunities for youth as social justice. When Renata talks about focusing on accountability in programs, she recognizes that everyone has a role to play in that conversation - service providers, funders, families, policymakers and the young people themselves. 

Dr. Pedro Noguera is a nationally recognized expert in youth development and equity. He bridges the gap between the university and the community, and has a critical eye and understanding of quality in youth programs and schools. With his national experience, Pedro helps to broaden this conversation so that in Los Angeles and across California, we can build on the successes of our comrades across the nation. 

Moderator Dr. Julia Phelan is a Senior Research Scientist at UCLA CRESST, which has been LA's BEST's evaluation partner for more than two decades. Julia brings deep expertise in evaluation,  and will guide the conversation to keep us focused on the question of the day.

Q: Who is the intended audience that you recommend attend this Forum?

A: We are especially eager to invite foundations and others who are involved with funding and supporting youth development programs. There are high expectations for program providers to show evidence of success, but there is little investment in the research and evaluation to develop that evidence, so it's important for funders to engage in this critical dialogue. We are also hoping that program and organizational leaders attend, to learn and contribute.  

Q: Will there be an opportunity for attendees to join the discussion? 

A: Yes, the idea of this event is that the panel launches the conversation, and the audience then joins in. It wouldn't be after school if we didn't facilitate collective participation!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Now is the Time for Advocacy

By Sam Piha 

I remember the words of a mentor who warned, “Social movements, like the afterschool movement, have a shelf life. Things are going well now, but be prepared to advocate for afterschool resources in the future”.

Now is the time as afterschool providers are under new economic pressures and resources for afterschool programs are being threatened. The California School-Age Consortium (CalSAC) is holding two Advocacy Retreats - one in the Bay Area (September 15-16) and one in Los Angeles (November 4). We think this is very timely and recommend that afterschool stakeholders check it out. Click here for more info. 

We asked representatives at CalSAC to say more about this retreat. Below we offer the responses of Aleah Rosario, Director of Capacity Building Programs at CalSAC.

Q: Why is CalSAC sponsoring this retreat?

A: Every child deserves to experience the enrichment and transformation that out-of-school time programs can offer — no matter their background or zip code.  It’s critical to ensure decision makers understand the importance of these programs and adequately fund them. 

Expanded learning program (ELP) staff, families and youth are the best people to engage as active advocates for policies that value out-of-school time. This retreat is aimed at identifying ways to enhance and grow local, ongoing, grassroots advocacy by empowering those closest to the work.

Q: Is there something in the air that makes advocacy particularly important at this time? 

A: Many people in the field did something new for the first time over the last year – they called or emailed their legislators, collected stories from youth and family members, and they shared actions that their colleagues and communities can take to join the efforts. And this led to results. 

For example, in June, California took a leap forward for students, families, and communities and provided critically needed funding for the After School Education and Safety (ASES) programs that benefit over 600,000 low-income students across California. Governor Jerry Brown signed the California State Budget for Fiscal Year 2017-18, which included an additional $50 million in ongoing funding for the ASES program. This is an essential first step that will allow programs to stay open, and the culmination of a 3-year campaign driven by providers and advocates.

However, the $50 million only goes halfway in meeting the field's current fiscal needs in response to the increased state minimum wage. Furthermore, cuts to the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, which provides federal afterschool funding for 200,000 young people across the country, continues to be threatened. 

So, it is clear that continued advocacy is needed to protect this investment. Together, we can take advantage of the momentum built to further amplify and empower the voices of our field.

Photo Credit: SaveAfterschool.com
Q: Who should attend this retreat? 

A: The ideal participants are people who can drive and/or contribute to actions on-the-ground at the site or local level, i.e. site coordinator, director, community engagement specialist, family engagement liaison, etc. (not EDs, CEOs, policy experts, etc.). 

There will be people attending from across the state, from a variety of organizations (districts, CBO’s, large, small, with geographic diversity) and participants will have the opportunity to interact with others in their area to identify potential collaborative partners and coordinate efforts. 

It is ideal for folks that are outside of the out-of-school time realm to be positioned to and willing to collaborate with their local ELPs in their efforts. We know we have a ways to go to build a strong base, and that includes engaging with other stakeholders like parents/families, teachers/school admin, early learning, etc. We hope that through capacity building efforts like this retreat, we can build bridges with others that also care about the wellbeing of children, youth and families.

Q: Will you be helping attendees distinguish between advocacy, education, and lobbying?

A: In our experience, and for the intended audience of this retreat, advocacy/lobbying rules aren’t necessarily the biggest deterrent to engaging in advocacy. Rather, giving folks resources, tools and experience helps people feel equipped and inspired to act. Our guest speakers have lots of experience with do’s and don’ts of advocacy, and can help field questions about lobbying rules throughout the retreat as they come up.