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. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Social Emotional Learning During COVID-19 With A Virtual Comfort Dog?

By Sam Piha

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting stay-at-home orders, and school and youth program closures or distance learning, have been very difficult for young people. This is the perfect time to promote social emotional learning in response to the negative impacts of these events.

Visits by or the presence of a comfort dog would ease these impacts for young people, both in school and afterschool programs. However, COVID-19 restrictions make it impossible to schedule visits by a comfort dog. Thus, we are working to create videos with a virtual talking comfort dog that young people can access online.

My Pal, Luke is designed for youth program leaders, educators and parents. It addresses many social emotional elements through Luke's words and questions, including a check-in with kids. Luke also reads his favorite books with kids and educates them on how they make sense of current events. 

Is there anything more comforting than the reassuring touch of a dog? Scientists have discovered that interacting with animals boosts levels of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin in our brains, and can even improve our immune system. These findings prove that dogs bring comfort to the people they interact with. - American Kennel Club

Please help youth access My Pal, Luke. You can do this by including this in your in-person program or embedding this resource into your distance learning. You can also help by sharing this with educators, parents and parent groups. Follow the My Pal, Luke instagram here or to watch episode 1 on YouTube, click here

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Issues of COVID-19, Distance Learning and Racial Equity: Conversations for Afterschool Providers

By Sam Piha

The last few months have been very challenging for afterschool program providers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for distance learning and national reflection on racial equity. To assist afterschool program leaders, we have sponsored several webinars on these topics. We have linked these resources below, which can be accessed online for free.

"Check-In" With Youth Remotely? There's An App For That- This Speaker's Forum webinar (90 mins) features HelloYello, which is a web-based app that students use to "check- in" with their teachers to express their thoughts and feelings and share their daily experiences. Teachers, educators, counselors, and afterschool staff can use HelloYello to understand all of their students from a "whole child" perspective, monitor their students' emotional wellness, and sustain trusting relationships.

COVID-19 Era- Afterschool's Whole Child Approach- This Speaker's Forum webinar (56 mins) features Katie Brackenridge (Turnaround for Children) and Dr. Deborah Moroney (AIR) presenting on the topic of Afterschool's Whole Child Approach. This webinar covers many strategies including exploring the science of learning and development, and the practices that are most essential in this COVID-19 era.

Not Business as Usual: The Needs of Low-Income Youth of Color in the Era of COVID-19- In this Speaker's Forum Webinar (55 mins) Dr. Pedro Noguera (USC) presents on the topic of the needs of low-income youth of color during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities of color have been hit particularly hard in terms of number of cases and deaths, as well as the negative impacts on youth due to school and program closures and poor internet access.

The Art of Distance Learning in Afterschool- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (66 mins) Autrilla Gillis of ISANA Academies and EduCare Foundation staff share their distance learning models and discuss how they prepared/ supported staff, recruited participants and their lessons learned navigating this new model.

Healing the Impact of Racial Injustice and Inequity: The Role of Afterschool- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (80 mins) Dr. Shawn Ginwright (SFSU) examines how the COVID-19 pandemic and the long list of African Americans killed by police has laid bare the racial injustice and inequity in our society. Should we urge/ support youth to engage in civic action? And, is there a way to do some of this work remotely, as programs may not re-open in the Fall? Dr. Ginwright addresses some of these questions in his presentation and later answers participants' questions.

Pause: Cultivate Grace for Yourself and Your Community- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (56 mins) Stacey Daraio (Temescal Associates) and Laurie Grossman (Inner Explorer) lead a webinar on Mindfulness in afterschool. Grace is most easily found in the present moment. Journey with them to learn mindfulness practices that you can share with your community to live in the present. You will leave calmer and with resources to use and share.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Youth Voice and Self-Expression in Afterschool: Journaling, Poetry and Spoken Word

By Sam Piha
Source: Greater Good Science Center

Providing opportunities for youth to reflect on and express their thoughts and feelings are a critical strategy for any afterschool program. These opportunities are essential to promoting youth voice, healthy youth development, social emotional skills and resiliency, especially those who have experienced trauma. Strategies and activities include sharing circles, poetry and spoken word, journaling, videography, art and the theater arts.

We interviewed Daniel Summerhill (poet, performance artist and Assistant Professor of Poetry/ Social Action & Composition, School of Humanities & Communication, CSUMB) on the importance of using journaling and poetry/ spoken word to promote young people’s self- expression. Below are some of his responses.

Q: Why is it important to provide youth with opportunities to reflect on and/or express themselves and their feelings?

Daniel Summerhill
A: Because they HAVE them and don't always have space to express them. Often outburst or "disruptive behavior" are a sign that a child isn't receiving the proper space to express or reflect. However, many times, us as adults and teachers etc write children off as just being "bad" or "misbehaving."  Misbehavior is merely an expression that goes against whatever construct or rule you have in place. You have to allow space for humans to express. That is why the uprising of black people and allies these days is so healthy. It provides a sense of liberation and expression. Youth are no different.

Q: Do you think that journal writing is a good way to provide these opportunities? Why?

A: Absolutely, even if it's just a stream of consciousness writing. In each of my creating courses at CSUMB, students spend 10 minutes at the beginning of each class dedicated to journaling. The only rule is that they write. They can write, "i hate writing" for 10 minute as long as the pen doesn't stop. Usually, they don't. Even if they begin writing something like "I hate writing," typically their mind is still going and ends up on the page. This is the idea of stream of conscious journaling. Allowing the mind, thoughts and feelings to drive the writing, rather than something external. Journaling allows you to slow down and notice yourself and your thoughts, which is greatly therapeutic!

(From Temescal Associates- Check out this article from the National Afterschool Association, Finding Their Voice: Why Kids Should Journal and the Pandemic Project).

Source: www.soundcloud.com/witf
Q: Do you think that poetry writing/ spoken word are good ways to provide these opportunities? Why?

A: Poetry allows the writer to discover things about himself and spoken word often allows others (listeners/readers) to see things about themselves. So in many ways, poetry is very conversational, whether it be with the self or with others. This idea in its purest form is expression, communication is simply expression. There are very few mediums that allow a person to converse with themselves the way poetry does. You are able to use images and language that you aren't typically allowed to in conventional discourse, that is liberating and allows you as a writer to tap into all of your senses the best way you can.

Q: Do staff need special training?

A: Staff don't need "training," but to need to acclimate themselves with the history, orality and the culture of spoken word. Specifically, the roots in African storytelling and more recently, the beat poets, last poets are now the plethora of good poets out there performing. These are base level things to be learned in order to yield good understanding and teaching of performance poetry. There are some good resources for this, including Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X and Dr. Joshua Bennet has a work of narrative nonfiction, Spoken Word: A Cultural History.

Source: www.medium.com

Q: Can you provide one example of a writing project that you did that provided youth with good opportunities for self- expression? What age were the kids?

A: I used to be a teaching artist and would frequently teach poetry workshops to teens mostly, middle school as well. It wasn't so much me having a prescription for expression. Humans are hardwired to express, but oftentimes don't have the platform or medium to do so. My role wasn't to teach them how to express, they already knew how. They did it by talking, walking, eating, listening to music etc. My role was to figure out how to create the safest and most rewarding space for them to express as fully and as authentically as possible.

For example, Black Joy workshop, headed by Chapter 510 and published by Nomadic Press, had a diversity of young men a part of it. I didn't tell them how to express their interest in skateboarding, activism, sports and food. That is what they were into; however, in that particular workshop, my role was to connect those expressions to "black joy" and to help them understand their expressions as "joy." Joy is an expression. A good one.

Q: Can you recommend any good resources/ websites for afterschool programs that want to learn more?

A: Spoken word is still a growing and semi-new art form, in the modern sense. So there isn't a lot of literature about it other than the two books I mentioned above. Saul Williams has an older film called "Slam" that is worth checking out and the Poetry Foundation might have some good resources. Otherwise, it is best to just get to know the spoken word artist out there. follow them, support their work and immerse yourself in their world. There are a lot of really good spoken word artists out there.

Daniel B. Summerhill is an assistant professor of poetry/social action and composition studies at California State University Monterey Bay. He is the author of Divine, Devine, Devine (forthcoming), a semifinalist for the Charles B. Wheeler poetry prize. Summerhill holds an MFA in creative writing from Pine Manor College (Solstice). He has received the Sharon Olds Fellowship and was nominated to Everipedia’s 30 under 30 list.

Daniel has performed alongside greats such as Jasmine Mans, Abiodun Oyewole, Lebogang Mashile, Gcina Mhlophe and others. He co-headlined a European tour and was invited by the University of Kwazulu-Natal and the U.S. Embassy to teach and perform at the annual International Poetry Africa Festival in 2018. He is the 2015 NY Empire State Poetry Slam Champion and a 2015 Nitty Gritty Grand Slam Champion. His poems are published or forthcoming in the Lilly Review, Califragle, Button, Blavity and elsewhere. A chapter of his research, Black Voice: Cultivating Authentic Voice in Black Writers is forthcoming by the Massachusetts Reading Association.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Using Play to Build a Positive Community: An Interview with Playworks ED, Robert Sindelar

By Sam Piha
Source: www.uchealth.org

(Note: This interview was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has several restrictions on people's ability to play. As a result, Playworks offers a number of play-at-home videos on their website.)

We know that building a sense of a positive community is foundational to promoting character building and SEL skills. We also know that play is very important for young people’s development. This is why we have devoted previous blog posts to the importance of play. Play comes natural to young people, but it is important that the adults take the time to think about and learn how to promote healthy play. This can include the teaching of conflict resolution and leadership skills. 

According to Playworks, “schools and youth programs can and should create play environments that help kids be their best. Studies show that recess/free play matters: a thoughtful approach to recess/free play improves children’s physical health and social and emotional learning. They help schools and youth programs make the most of recess/free play through on-site staffing, consultative support, professional development, free resources, and more. 

We conducted an interview with Robert Sindelar, Executive Director of Playworks California, in late 2019, about how they help schools and youth programs make the best use of recess and free play. Below are some of his responses.

Q: How can play impact the school and afterschool community?

A: When youth leave the structured and safe space of a classroom, recess/free
Robert Sindelar, Playworks
play can be an unknown. There are often new youth, unclear boundaries, confusing games, and a higher chance of conflict. Play is critical to the development of children but can be challenging to implement in the context of some school day and afterschool programs. Bullying, overt conflict, and injuries can be common during times of play. 

In my experience with Playworks, it is typical for partners to join our program as a result of the high amount of incidents experienced during recess/free play. Youth’s frustration, conflict, fear, or isolation can carry over from those times of play into the classroom or the after school program and negatively impact the overall community. If implemented well, it is possible for play to have the opposite effect on the community. 

Q: What does Playworks do to build a positive community?

A: The Playworks program leverages the power of play to bring out the best in every kid. We add consistency in rules, expectations, and leadership on the playground. We reinforce positive sportsmanship by incorporating a verbal “good job, nice try” when youth are not successful during a game, which is paired with a high-five. When adults are modeling this kind of behavior, youth are quick to follow. We also introduce rock, paper, scissors as a tool to reduce conflict and empower youth to solve their own problems. These tangible practices create an environment for safe, healthy, and inclusive play.

Playworks also incorporates a “Junior Coach” program. This is a leadership development program that engages a group of 4th and 5th graders who become role models for their peers by facilitating games at recess/free play, supporting other youth in conflict resolution, and building relationships. Student leaders on the playground hold both themselves and others accountable, fully taking on leadership during recess/free play. 

Source: Playworks

Unhealthy playground tendencies flow back into classrooms and programs, impacting community. The positive impacts of play do that as well. Our Junior Coaches step up, being more helpful for teachers and more participatory in class. Healthy play fosters positive relationships between youth and their peers as well as relationships between youth and adults. Positive relationships build more trust and bring about a positive community.
Youth who were formerly causing trouble have turned into leaders. The faculty has been able to concentrate more on the curriculum rather than fixing the issues, and the classrooms have become more peaceful and a safer learning environment.
- Sally Sansom

Principal, East Midvale Elementary, UT

Source: Playworks
Q: What role do you see afterschool professionals having in building community?

A: In California, over 800,000 youth are served through afterschool programs annually. We are inspired by the vision of these children experiencing healthy play and building a healthy community because of it. Afterschool professionals, like all youth-serving adults, can leverage the power of play; it is not bound to recess/free play or a school yard. By incorporating healthy play into programming, they can not only empower the youth served, but build a healthier community at their site and beyond.

Q: How does Playworks support afterschool professionals in building healthy community?

A: Playworks offers professional development workshops for anyone working with youth, including afterschool professionals. Our workshops teach proven strategies to prevent and redirect challenging behavior, support youth engagement, and enhance opportunities for learning. Taught by professional Playworks trainers, each workshop draws on various learning styles and builds on core principles of youth development. 
This was an amazing opportunity to learn how to engage with the youth we see on a daily basis better. And to keep things new and exciting for them.
 - Before/After School Time Staff in Indiana

Workshops include The Power of Play, Group Management, Game Facilitation, and Indoor Play Design. These trainings provide opportunities for afterschool professionals to understand how to build up youth leaders, empower youth to solve their own conflicts, and structure play for inclusion. These skills will begin to build positive community. 
If you do a web search, you will find a number of resources for group games. Ones that we liked include Playworks and Playmeo. If you prefer video, you can search the name of the game on YouTube. Also below are a number of papers on the importance of play:

Robert Sindelar joined the Playworks team in 2013 as the Executive Director of the San Francisco office. Prior to becoming part of Playworks, he served as District Vice President with the YMCA of San Francisco, where he worked for many years. Robert holds a master’s degree in Nonprofit Administration and is an avid runner. His current favorite game is Ninja.  

Playworks helps schools and districts make the most of recess/free play through on-site staffing, consultative support, professional development, free resources, and more. They also support youth programs and other organizations that wish to improve playtime. Organizations like The Centers for Disease Control, and City Year all look to Playworks to inform practice and policy.

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 e...