Thursday, October 23, 2014

Making a Commitment to Character

By Sam Piha
Sam Piha
We all know that preparing young people with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed as adults is a primary function of a society. But who is really responsible and what skills and knowledge are needed? 

To begin, we believe that adults and institutions where children spend their time need to think about their role. Naturally, the family, media, and broader culture comes into play but it is time that schools and youth programs step up to the plate by promoting social and emotional skills and opportunities to practice them. 
Photo credit:
http://hummingwords.blogspot.com/
2013/12/to-children-with-love.html

In the recent past, school leaders claimed that their only responsibility was promoting academic skills as measured by test scores. We would argue that the responsibility for developing a positive school climate and developing social emotional skills is vital to academic learning and healthy development. In a new study released today by the Brookings Institution, "Non-cognitive skills and character competencies have as much of an effect on success as academic skill". This joins a growing body of research on non-cognitive skills, social emotional learning, school climate, growth mindsets, and the brain that points to the importance of these skills to academic learning in promoting healthy development - something that youth development researchers have been saying for a long time. 

Photo credit: http://wkirwan.edublogs.org/committocharacter/

Expanded learning youth programs, whether they are school-based or after school, also have an important role and there is room for much improvement in this area. According to research, afterschool programs that include social emotional learning are the most successful in positively impacting young people in every domain including academic success. And let's not leave off the role of parents and guardians.  

People ask, "What exactly are these skills? What can we do?". Because children are increasingly growing up in a "mean culture", now is the time for everyone to come together and promote these skills and opportunities to practice them. We will expand on these issues in future blog posts.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lights On Afterschol

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Every year there is one day dedicated to raising awareness and celebrating the contributions of afterschool programs. As everyone knows, this national day is called Lights On Afterschool and it will be celebrated on October 23, 2014. 

You can participate in this celebration at the California State Capitol. You can find more information by clicking here. You can also join others in showcasing afterschool programs. Plan your event by using the planning guide, found here.
Register your event here.

Hats off to afterschool programs!



Monday, October 6, 2014

Celebrating 20 Years: Honoring Beacon Pioneers

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
This year, the San Francisco Beacon Initiative is celebrating its 20th anniversary. I had the privilege of serving as Managing Director for the initiative for six years. During that time, I had the opportunity to learn alongside Milbrey McLaughlin, Jim Connell, Michelle Gambone, Connie Dubin, Sue Eldredge, and many others.

It was Sylvia Yee, Vice President at the Haas, Jr. Fund, who had the vision of bringing together city leaders, the school district, community leaders, and representatives from multiple foundations to build the initiative. This was an initiative where commonly held rules and conventions were changed if they interfered with the mission of the Beacon Centers. This was an initiative where leaders from philanthropy, the school district, and city government held each other accountable for the early promises of support. This was an initiative where foundations checked their egos at the door by agreeing to pool their funds and accept a common proposal and common report to minimize the administrative burden on the Beacon's Directors. 

Sue Eldredge
Lastly, we can thank the Beacons for helping to school Michael Funk, long-time Director of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center, who is now the After School Division Director at the California Department of Education. It is important that we note that the Beacons are rooted in youth development. They came before 21st Century Learning Centers, ASES, and the academic agenda to raise test scores. Even though they embraced the academic agenda with grace, the Beacon Centers were, first and foremost, always youth development centers.

To learn more, view  these two brief videos:

Photo Credit: www.snbc.org

Thursday, September 25, 2014

School Climate and LGBT Youth

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
We know through research that school climate has a large impact on how kids view their education, their mental health, sense of well being, and school attendance. It is not clear what impact an afterschool program can have on an entire school climate, but we do know that a sense of emotional and physical safety is key to promoting youth development and is an important component of the new Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs in California

Afterschool programs are responsible for the climate within their programs providing a safe place, physically and emotionally. This is particularly important for LGBT youth who are often more vulnerable to bullying and mistreatment at school. 

A recent blog post authored by Matthew Lynch in Education Week called for schools to  improve the climate for LGBT youth. What can afterschool programs do to improve the whole school climate? Below, we share a few strategies that he proposed in his blog. What else are schools and afterschool programs doing to explicitly address this issue? 

Photo Credit: http://www.campkc.com/

"1. Disallow discrimination based on sexual orientation. The National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development have all passed resolutions asking their members and all school districts to step forward to improve the educational experiences of LGBT students. These resolutions call for providing a safe environment, support groups, and counseling options for LGBT students and by employing anti-harassment rules and practices.  In nine states, the state government has instituted legislation prohibiting the harassment and discrimination of LGBT students. We need to continue this trend until every state has these rules in place, in every district and school - no exceptions.

2. Expand "inclusion" policies. There are some schools in which LGBT students are accepted and accommodated.   Same-sex couples are invited to school dances and there are unisex washrooms for transgender students.  School districts in some states include LGBT students in non-discrimination policies with the goal of making schools safe places for all students, parents, faculty and staff.  However, there are also states where it is illegal to even utter the word homosexual and in which the word homosexual (or lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) can only be portrayed in a negative light within the classroom.  This makes it difficult for teachers to teach about sexual orientation diversity or to make their classrooms and school environment safe and accepting of LGBT students.  Regardless of location, teachers can explain to students that they don't have to agree it is okay to be gay or lesbian, but they do have to agree that it is not okay to discriminate against them.

3. Promote LGBT student groups. It is important that all students, regardless of who they are or their sexual orientation, have a safe environment in which to learn and grow as an individual.  Gay and lesbian organizations have been at the forefront of trying to create safe and accepting environments for LGBT students.  Students have also taken up the cause and student groups have begun springing up in schools all over the country.  There are currently approximately 4,000 Gay-Straight Alliance Groups registered with the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).  These groups are alliances between straight and LGBT. They work together to support each other and promote education as a means for ending homophobia."

Photo Credit: http://www.jonnydrubel.com/

There are a number of good resources that go into more depth. We have included a few below: