Monday, June 10, 2024

Reed Larson’s Research on Youth Development

Source: Reed Larson, The Youth Development Experience

Kate Walker
By Guest Blogger Kate Walker, Extension Specialist, Youth Development, University of Minnesota Extension. This blog was originally published by the University of Minnesota Extension.

I recently attended the annual meeting for the Society for Research on Adolescence where my mentor Reed Larson was invited to reflect on his influential research career in youth development. Reed first got interested in adolescence because he saw it as a critical period of awakening. Yet he noticed that most research focused on problems more than development, and he discovered that youth programs were powerful spaces for this awakening and development to occur. These insights propelled an impressive body of research that has tremendous implications for our work with and on behalf of young people. 

Young people’s daily experiences and emotions

With his mentor, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Reed began by studying adolescents’ daily experiences and emotions, pioneering the Experience Sampling Method (ESM) where young people were prompted (with beepers back then!) to report on their feelings and the dynamics of their experiences in different domains in their daily lives. He explored their media use, time alone, experience with friends, and school experience.  

Reed Larson and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

He discovered that during their typical experiences in school, young people were challenged (deep attention) but not engaged (intrinsically motivated). Conversely during unstructured leisure time, they were engaged but not challenged. The one unique context where young people reported experiencing the rare combination of high levels of challenge and engagement was in organized youth programs (arts, STEM, leadership, sports). He was intrigued.

Youth programs as developmental contexts

This led Reed to develop a series of studies focused on young people’s developmental experiences in youth programs and how staff facilitate these experiences. His research teams identified the types of key experiences that young people have in high-quality youth programs that facilitate their development of skills for teamwork, solving problems, managing emotions, and sustaining motivation in challenging work. He found that project-based youth programs are settings in which Csikszentmihalyi’s "flow" experience serves as a powerful catalyst for developing vital adult skills.

These findings are widely used to design programs and train program staff. They were the basis for a researcher-practitioner collaboration that resulted in a field guide of key youth experiences and staff practices that build valuable social and emotional skills. His groundbreaking research on the lives of young people and the developmental role of youth programs helped to both launch and legitimize the field of positive youth development. 

I most appreciate how respectfully rooted Reed’s research is in the direct experiences and accounts of young people. Throughout he has always emphasized that youth are agents or producers of their own development. Are there aspects of his research that speak to or influence you and your work? 


Kate Walker, (she/her), is the Extension Specialist, Youth Development at University of Minnesota Extension. Kate provides leadership to the understanding and development of youth work practice. She studies the role that adult program leaders, staff and volunteers play in supporting youth development in programs. She also leads professional development efforts aimed at supporting and improving youth work practice. This includes trainings on social and emotional learning and on the dilemmas that practitioners face in their everyday work with young people. 

The University of Minnesota Extension has a long history of youth development leadership. They are best known for running Minnesota 4-H for more than 100 years. The 4-H program also serves as their laboratory of learning, in which they are constantly improving. Their mission is to improve the lives of all Minnesota young people - no matter where they live or which youth program they choose to join.

Monday, June 3, 2024

Survey Results Point to a Summer of Learning and Engagement Ahead for Young People

Source: Afterschool Alliance

By Guest Blogger Nikki Yamashiro. This was originally posted by Afterschool Alliance on the Afterschool Snack Blog.

As the temperature starts to rise, and in D.C., we start to feel the familiar humidity creep into the air, one’s thoughts can’t help but turn to summer—and for those of us at the Afterschool Alliance, that includes thinking about what the state of summer programming will look like. If this upcoming summer is anything like the last, we anticipate summer programs to be open and ready to provide fun, academically enriching, and hands-on learning opportunities for their students.

Based on a survey of 989 summer program providers conducted late last year—October 31 through December 5, 2023—more than 9 in 10 (96 percent) reported that they offered programming during the 2023 summer, similar to the number of providers reporting that they offered programming during the 2022 summer (96 percent), and up from the summers of 2021 (88 percent) and 2020 (79 percent). Additionally, nearly 1 in 3 programs (32 percent) said that they expanded their summer program to serve more children and 1 in 10 (11 percent) were able to offer summer programs at more sites than in the past. When asked about the type of activities offered, nearly 3 in 10 summer program providers said that they placed a greater focus on ensuring a balance of academic and enrichment activities for their young people (28 percent) and were more intentionally focusing on students’ holistic needs and supporting their overall well-being (27 percent).  

However, providing summer programming wasn’t without its challenges. Forty-four percent of summer program providers said that there was a waitlist for their program, although down slightly from the 48 percent of summer providers who reported a waitlist for their 2022 summer program. Additionally, 62 percent of summer providers said that they were concerned about their ability to meet the demand from families.

Summer providers’ level of concern about staffing their program may help shed some light on the issue of waitlists, with three-quarters of providers (75 percent) concerned about being able to hire enough staff for their summer programming, including half (50 percent) who said that they were extremely or very concerned. Summer program providers’ concerns over staffing mirrors concerns afterschool program providers reported about their fall programming, where 81 percent reported concerns about finding staff, retaining staff, or both. 

Looking ahead, nearly three-quarters of summer program providers (74 percent) said that they felt optimistic about the future of their program, which also bodes well for this upcoming summer. To see the full survey findings, visit our Afterschool Program Provider Survey page. If you are a provider looking for ideas, tools, or resources for your summer program, National Summer Learning Association’s Summer Planning Bootcamp webinar series is available now to watch recordings of the two day event. The Wallace Foundation’s Summer Learning Toolkit is another valuable resource, where you can find a planning calendar, sample job descriptions and staff handbooks, facilitation guides, sustainability tools, and more to help you bring your best summer program forward for your students and families.


Nikki Yamashiro 
joined the Afterschool Alliance in June 2012. In her current role, Nikki coordinates, manages, and advances the Afterschool Alliance’s research efforts, including developing the organization's research goals and agenda and effectively communicating findings on afterschool and summer programs to policy makers, afterschool providers, advocates, and the public.

The Afterschool Alliance
is a national organization that works to ensure that all youth have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs by engaging public will to increase public and private investment in afterschool program initiatives at the national, state, and local levels.

Monday, May 27, 2024

Youth Vote 2024: Youth Voice

Source: Our Time is Now: CA Pre-Registration PSA

By Sam Piha

“I registered to vote because youth and women fought hard so people like me could vote. I want to use that privilege to help me make decisions that will make my country better for all. After mailing in my first ballot, I felt like an adult and I was proud that I fulfilled a giant responsibility that makes a difference.” [i] – Anthea, high school student 

What do young people say about voting and elections? Below are a few videos worth viewing and sharing with youth. Click on the images below to view some videos.

Source: Why Should Young People Vote?

“Why should young people vote? As we grapple with racial inequities, violence and a pandemic that has killed 215,000 Americans, this year's presidential election may be the most important in modern history. Many students say they're energized to vote, but will they? Fewer than half of those 18 to 29 voted in the 2016 presidential election…We asked two Boston University students involved in voter registration initiatives to talk about the importance of registering casting your ballot and staying politically involved beyond sporting an 'I voted' sticker. Here's what they had to say about why young people should vote.” [ii]

Source: Kids Voting in FHSD

The above story follows students at Saeger Middle School in the Francis Howell School District (FHSD) and shows how Mr. Van Horn prepares them for a future of choosing the leaders and policies that affect our daily lives.

Source:What would get young people to vote? These teens have some ideas

What would get young people to vote? These teens have some ideas. The News Hour Student Reporting Labs interviewed 300 young people to get the next generation’s take on why it is important to vote.

Source: PBS Learning Media

So, why don’t young people vote as much as older people? Find out in the latest Above the Noise episode.


  • What are you doing to promote youth engagement in the 2024 election? 
  • Would you add any additional resources or comments that would be valuable to afterschool stakeholders? 

Email us at

[i] Youth Voter Movement, About the Movement

Monday, May 20, 2024

Using Art As A Medium To Teach SEL

Source: WINGS for Kids

By Guest Blogger, Cheryl Hollis, Chief Program Officer, WINGS for Kids
This was originally published by WINGS for Kids.

Art has long been recognized as a powerful tool for teaching and learning, not only in terms of creativity and self-expression but also for developing essential social emotional skills. Educators, youth workers, and parents can harness the power of art to help students improve their understanding of emotions, empathy, communication, and problem-solving.

We’ve developed and tested simple yet effective practices in our own programs that you can try with your students when using art as a medium for teaching character skills.

Collaborative Art Projects
A great way to incorporate SEL into class or program time is by organizing collaborative art projects where students work together to create a piece of art. This promotes teamwork, cooperation, and communication skills as students learn to listen to each other’s ideas, compromise, and contribute to a shared vision. 

Involving Local Artists
Know an artist in your community? Invite them to help lead your students in an activity. For instance, a visual artist could lead sessions on mindfulness and self-expression through painting or drawing, teaching children techniques to manage stress and enhance self-awareness. A theater artist could conduct drama workshops focused on empathy and communication, using role-playing exercises to help students understand different perspectives and improve their interpersonal skills. A musician or dancer could facilitate a class on emotional regulation and self-control through rhythm and movement activities, helping children channel their emotions constructively and develop resilience.

Source: WINGS for Kids
Students in WINGS afterschool program create a series of collaborative
artworks lead by local artist Amanda Lamontagne of Charleston, SC.

Exploring Emotions Through Art
Encourage students to express their emotions through various art forms such as painting, drawing, sculpture, or even digital art. Provide them opportunities to express themselves creatively using themes related to emotions like happiness, sadness, anger, fear, or gratitude. This allows students to identify and label their feelings in an imaginative and uniquely non-verbal way.

Source: WINGS for Kids

Emotional Alphabet and Coloring Pages
Need help getting started? Download the Emotional Alphabet Skill Builder to help students expand their emotional vocabulary. Next, try the Share Your Emotions Activity Bundle to help reinforce the Skill Builder. Students will practice identifying, labeling, and sharing their emotions to improve their self-awareness skills.

Art Appreciation
Explore diverse artworks from different cultures, styles, and time periods with students. Encourage discussions about the emotions, themes, and messages conveyed in the art pieces. This fosters empathy, perspective-taking, and appreciation for diverse experiences and perspectives.
Source: WINGS for Kids
WINGS students visit the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GA.

Field Trip to the Museum
Maybe you can’t make it to the MOMA, but a field trip to an art or historical museum is a great opportunity to boost social and emotional skills. Museum tours can be structured to include interactive activities such as group discussions about artwork, creative writing exercises inspired by the pieces, and hands-on art projects that encourage self-expression and emotional awareness. Additionally, museum visits provide a stimulating and enriching environment that encourages curiosity, critical thinking, and appreciation for the arts, contributing to the holistic development of students’ social and emotional competencies.

Build Social Awareness and Relationship Skills with Art-Based Role-Playing
Explore role-playing activities where students use art props or drawings to act out scenarios related to social interactions, conflict resolution, or empathy-building. This hands-on approach helps students practice communication skills, emotional regulation, and conflict resolution strategies in a safe and creative environment.

Source: WINGS for Kids

Bring Stories to Life with Puppets
Through puppetry performances and workshops, students can explore complex emotions, develop empathy, and learn effective communication and conflict resolution strategies. Creating puppets provides a hands-on, creative experience that allows students to express themselves and dive into their feelings and perspectives. By incorporating themes such as friendship, empathy, diversity, and resilience into puppetry activities, educators can create engaging and impactful learning experiences that promote social and emotional growth.

Creative Problem-Solving Challenges
Present students with creative problem-solving challenges using art as a tool. For example, ask them to use recycled materials to create a sculpture representing a solution to a social issue or challenge they care about. This activity promotes critical thinking, innovation, and empathy-driven problem-solving skills.

Try These Art-Themed Activities and Games  

There are so many benefits to incorporating art and creativity into new or existing SEL practices. By doing so, educators, youth workers, and parents can create enriching experiences that support students’ holistic development and equip them with essential life skills for navigating relationships, emotions, and challenges effectively.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Testing AI’s Pluses and Minuses in Afterschool Programming


By Guest Blogger Brian Rinker, Youth Today. This blog was originally published on the Youth Today website.

Angel Toscano
When Angel Toscano asked ChatGPT for 10 Halloween-themed activities related to science, technology, engineering, arts and math — STEAM, for short — that could be done with minimum supplies, the popular artificial intelligence bot instantaneously spat out several ideas: Spider web geometry. Pumpkin catapults. Ghost rockets. 

Searching for those ideas offline “would have taken the whole morning,” Toscano said, of that Halloween project in 2023, when he was a family engagement specialist at Austin Independent School District. 

Making them required string, yard, baking soda, vinegar and other readily available household products that, as Toscano wanted, were budget-friendly and kid-safe.  

One of 180 million worldwide users of that AI program, viewed as a time-saver and problem-solver, Toscano, now a tutoring supervisor for that Texas district, started testing AI ChatGPT by having it craft emails for him. He moved on to developing after-school program curricula and activities. Toscano is one side of an educational divide over the arguable merits and dangers of using ChatGPT and other AI bots to teach. While some applaud AI’s seeming efficiencies and its potential to prepare students to navigate an increasingly more AI-dependent world, others are concerned about whether AI adequately protects private information it gathers about students and students’ potential to, for example, use AI to plagiarize their academic papers.  

As the debate rages, however, some technology-focused leaders of after-school initiatives say AI is making things easier for what often are cash-strapped, short-staffed after-school efforts. A relative handful of tech-forward afterschool programs are beginning to fully embrace AI, integrating activities such as AI-assisted tutoring, creating chatbots and using AI for everything from the arts to robotics. Yet, many families who are interested in such programs are hard-pressed to find ones that are low-cost or free programs. 

“The barriers are significant” for introducing AI into afterschool, said Shawn Petty, a Westat researcher who advises Texas Education Agency’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers Program.

After-school educators find themselves in this unsure area, Petty added. They acknowledge the potential of AI, yet harbor concerns over privacy due to the technology’s capacity to record and store vast amounts of information. Plus, many educators lack the technical know-how to use AI and fear their jobs are at risk.


The Mark Cuban Foundation has offered after-school AI boot camps for high schoolers in several states since it was founded in 2019, before ChatGPT even existed. 

But free, ongoing programs for elementary school-aged Alabamans are uncommon, said Anh Nguyen, an Auburn University computer science professor. He started a free AI after-school club for elementary students in the 2022-23 school year. 

Nguyen’s on-campus AI club offers weekly hands-on learning for 20 to 30 children from kindergarten to sixth grade who get one-on-one instruction from high school and college student instructors. Kids get the opportunity to code robots to race and navigate mazes. Kids develop their own chatbots. Using robots and iPads, students, incrementally, are ramping up the complexity of activities such as face recognition and training AI to play games by itself. 

Nguyen has made available online the model for his National Science Foundation-funded program, hoping it will inspire similar efforts to launch elsewhere.


Westat researcher Petty said schools that lack AI education risk widening disparities between, for example, those with and without the skills to land better-paying tech jobs in the future. 

Just as the Industrial Revolutions of prior centuries reshaped labor and employment, Artificial intelligence likely will alter such white-collar jobs as those in banking, writing and publishing, marketing, coding, customer service and sales, said Eliza Du, CEO of Integem, which runs after-school technology camps in California.

AI already is eliminating certain jobs. Recognizing the need to adjust to the changes AI is unleashing, Du said families are increasingly enrolling their children in her AI summer camps. 

It doesn’t matter which side of the AI debate a person falls on, the technology h is never going to go away, said Du, whose camps enroll students as young as kindergarten.  

“AI is here,” she said, “whether you are scared of it or not.” 


Brian Rinker is a Pennsylvania-based journalist who covers public health, child welfare, digital health, startups and venture capital.

We recently sponsored a webinar on this topic entitled, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Afterschool Programs. To view the webinar recording, click here.

Monday, May 6, 2024

Learn AI in High School: 7 Reasons To Do So

Source: Inspirit AI

A Guest Blog from Inspirit AI, originally published on the Inspirit AI Blog.

What is Artificial Intelligence (or “AI”) exactly? 

Many people don’t really have a good understanding of what exactly artificial intelligence is, so here’s a quick breakdown. Artificial Intelligence is the process of using machine learning with accurate data analysis to solve a problem. Some might think that AI is just restricted to geeky guys who like numbers and computers, or that AI is figuring out systems and algorithms. 

However, these assumptions are wrong. AI is starting to become the norm of technology, and will also make a giant impact towards the future. 

Why learn AI?

Whether you’re a student or not, and do or do not have an interest in technology, I recommend that you should learn AI for the following reasons:

1. AI is the future of technology and will be incorporated into our everyday lifestyle

You might not think that AI is implicated in your life now, but you are wrong. Most likely, you have a device or machine that is using AI right now without you knowing it! For example, you might have the latest iPhone, which uses face recognition to unlock the phone. This process of scanning and analyzing a user’s face is done through artificial intelligence. 

Likewise, automakers like Tesla incorporate self-driving functions which are based in AI learning algorithms. To no surprise, these functions also use AI in order to observe and learn patterns, and perform specific actions based on what’s happening. Although these AI processes might seem innocuous, these will become the norm in the future. The possibilities of how AI will be utilized are endless, and its impact in the future will be tremendous.

2. Learn AI to combine it with other interests & passions

The usefulness of AI can be applied to any industry, such as the fashion industry and farming industry, among others. How each industry could incorporate AI is endless. 

For example, if you like designing styles for clothes, AI could potentially help. You could use data of popular trends and styles, and then generate new designs based on what patterns and trends the AI learned. By using AI, you essentially are able to come up with new designs for shoes, clothing, and much more. AI is not just restricted to analyzing and creating images, but also predicting outcomes. 

For the farming industry, AI can be used to compute multiple variables such as the crop health, the soil health, or the amount of fertilizer to use. It can help predict what the harvest would be, and also estimate what variables are steady and what variables need to be adjusted. There are so many uses for AI in any field of interest.


3. Learning AI leads to many opportunities in college and jobs

With AI having the ability to be useful and versatile in many areas, this creates more opportunities in colleges and jobs. Since AI is becoming more and more important and impactful in industries, jobs surrounding this field are becoming more prevalent. Thus, learning AI in school or college, even if it’s only an interest rather than a career, can be useful for marketing new skills. 

4. Learning AI will stay in your brain longer than the stuff you learn at school

Learning AI is not something you will learn quickly. It requires time to learn the programming language, and then apply it to the problem. The stuff we learn in school, such as the history of ancient civilizations, or how to interpret themes of a book aren’t going to stay in our brain. This is because there is no use for them in your future (unless you become a History or English teacher). 

With AI however, you need to know how it works in order to use it. It’s the same process over and over when you work on a project, so you need to know how AI works and the process behind it. Likewise, with AI becoming more relevant to the future of technology, it means that more people will need to know programming skills.

5. You can learn artificial intelligence to improve your computer science & programming skills

Whether you have little knowledge of programming and computer science, or know multiple languages of code, learning AI also enables you to understand and advance your skills. With technology becoming more and more significant in the years to come, so will the skills of programming and computer science. Thus, programming will be beneficial in your journey through AI. 

In my opinion, I definitely found it more fun to learn how to code and program stuff than learning about the history of ancient civilizations, or writing three-page long essays. You don’t need to know everything about programming and computer science, but at least trying it and even understanding it will help you in the future.

Source: Inspirit AI

6. AI is more than just systems and algorithm–it’s also problem solving and understanding limitations

AI is an intricate system of algorithms, systems, and networks right? Although AI does include those in the making, there are many other variables that need to be taken into consideration. Such variables include problem solving, the design process, and understanding limitations. These variables also take place in the real world. For example, in AI, you need to figure out what the problem exactly is and how you will approach it. 

Let’s say you need an AI to identify emotions and expressions of a user’s face. How exactly will you approach this? This can relate back to how you interpret someone else’s emotion just by looking at them and understanding body language. The design process is another thing that is important not only for AI, but also for creating anything in general. Last but not least, understanding constraints and restrictions of AI are key factors needed to make an AI work. 

Let’s say someone is making an AI to look at a camera feed and images of people driving, and this AI is supposed to detect when a driver is distracted or attentive. Some problems might be the angle of the camera, the lighting, how good the quality of the camera is, and much more. Just like any problem in the real world, there will be limitations, and problems that need to be addressed to come up with a solution. So implementing AI will help improve your design process skills and understanding of problem solving and constraints.

7. You can use AI to make an impact within your community and the public

AI can be very impactful to not only you or a company, but also to the public. Take facial recognition, self driving cars, deep fakes, robotic limbs, or even computer generated pictures of people or objects. All of these had an impact, whether positive or negative, on how we look at technology and advancements. By learning and utilizing AI, you could potentially make an impact in your community, and even be recognized for your creativeness and be an influencer. 

Such influencers consist of Andrew Ng (Head of Google Brain and a Professor at Stanford), Cassie Kozyrkov (Google Cloud’s Chief Decision Scientist) and Vladimir Naumovich Vapnik (main developer of the Vapnik-Chervonenkis Theory of Statistical Learning). All of these influencers have had significant impacts on technology advancements, and so could you!

AI is not limited to only specific people, jobs, or interests. It’s something anyone can utilize and learn, and incorporate into their daily life, hobbies, and career. The variety of uses for AI allow it to be used by anyone in almost any scenario. This is why AI is becoming so significant in technology. AI will be impacting our lives almost every second in the future, so being a part of this new era and even contributing to it will help make our world better. 


At Inspirit AI, AI Scholars inspires curious high school students globally by exposing them to the defining technology of our times: Artificial Intelligence. AI is already present everywhere: in our voice-activated devices, smartphone face recognition systems, and autonomous vehicles. The potential to apply this technology for good is limitless.

We recently sponsored a webinar on this topic entitled, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Afterschool Programs. To view the webinar recording, click here.

Monday, April 29, 2024

How High School Students Can Prepare for an AI Enabled Future

Source: Inspirit AI

A Guest Blog from Inspirit AI, originally published on the Inspirit AI Blog.

Artificial Intelligence is Everywhere

While Artificial Intelligence today is nowhere near having the broad intelligence and context-adjusting abilities of the human brain, the diversity of its applications is astounding. We interact with artificial intelligence more than we even realize.

For example, Alexa and Siri are virtual assistants that we interact with every day, empowering us to be more productive. Netflix, Spotify, Google, Amazon, and countless other services of everyday life are driven by artificial intelligence at their core.

In addition to these applications, AI can drive significant positive impacts across sectors such as healthcare, journalism, agriculture, and many more.

From helping doctors to identify diseases more easily and treat more patients, to detecting and preventing the spread of fake news, the possibilities of AI for social good are limited only by our imagination.

AI Leaders of Tomorrow Need to Start Today

Today’s students are poised to be the drivers of this revolution. However, education around AI remains inaccessible to most. Given its widespread effects, AI innovation should involve not only computer scientists but also policymakers tasked with regulating this powerful technology. It is essential to introduce students to AI early on and give them the tools to navigate its complex ethical implications.

Source: Inspirit AI

Through education, they can advance these technologies in an effective and responsible way. It is also critical to empower students with diverse backgrounds and interests to participate in AI — the design, production, and deployment of AI should be led by people who reflect the diversity of our rapidly changing world.

High school students can explore AI by enrolling in programs like Inspirit AI to pursue this exploration in a guided environment. Even a general understanding of AI can be a huge leg up in almost any field.

For those interested in developing a deep understanding of cutting-edge developments in AI, there are a number of entry points. For example, you may consider majoring in Computer Science, Electrical Engineering, or Information Sciences. Beyond college, knowledge and passion for AI will set you up for a rapidly expanding career market as well.


At Inspirit AI, AI Scholars inspires curious high school students globally by exposing them to the defining technology of our times: Artificial Intelligence. AI is already present everywhere: in our voice-activated devices, smartphone face recognition systems, and autonomous vehicles. The potential to apply this technology for good is limitless.

We recently sponsored a webinar on this topic entitled, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Afterschool Programs. To view the webinar recording, click here.

Monday, April 22, 2024

Youth Vote 2024: Benefits of Youth Civic Engagement


By Sam Piha

The 2024 election offers a number of opportunities to engage older youth. But these opportunities require input from youth and staff, organizing and planning- so start program planning NOW! This blog is an excerpt from our recently released briefing paper entitled, How Can Afterschool Programs Promote Civic Engagement and the Youth Vote in 2024.

Research and experience tell us that involving young people in civic engagement and activism activities brings benefits to youth participants. Benefits are also accrued by the organizational partners and the larger community, as well as adult program staff. 

“In economically distressed communities who are the targets of structural racism, we have seen how youth benefit from the opportunity to reflect critically on the world — to ask questions and denaturalize what feels like “normal” by visiting neighboring communities and imagine radical futures and the opportunity to generate solutions through policies or public narratives. These experiences contribute to a sense of agency and belonging that prepares young people to navigate the world with confidence and critical analysis; in some cases it can also offer a context for “healing” that involves personal and social transformation.” [i]

Benefits of Civic Engagement and Activism for Youth Participants

  • Helps them make new friends and contacts and increases their social and relationship skills
  • Helps them build social capital
  • Increases self-confidence and promotes a positive sense of agency and empowerment
  • Combats depression and helps them stay physically healthy
  • Supports healing from trauma
  • Opportunities to serve others and give back to the community
  • Prepares them for leadership roles
  • Opens their minds to new ideas and people
  • Fuels passion and purpose
  • Teaches collaboration
  • Brings fun and fulfillment to their lives
  • The happiness effect: Helping others kindles happiness, as many studies have demonstrated
  • Learn valuable job skills and can offer career experience
  • Increases connection to the community
  • More likely to remain civically engaged as adults.” [ii]

How is youth engagement in elections and voting good for the community? 
According to Chat GPT, “Youth engagement in elections and voting is beneficial for the community in several ways: 

  1. Representation: When young people participate in elections, their voices and perspectives are represented in the political process. 
  2. Policy Influence: Increased youth engagement can lead to the prioritization of issues that are important to young people, such as education, employment opportunities, climate change, and social justice. Elected officials are more likely to address these issues and implement policies that benefit young people when they see them actively participating in the electoral process.
  3. Civic Education and Participation: Engaging in the electoral process encourages young people to become more informed about political issues and candidates. It also fosters a sense of civic responsibility and encourages them to take an active role in shaping the future of their communities and society as a whole.
  4. Long-Term Impact: Encouraging youth engagement in elections establishes a habit of voting that can last a lifetime. Research has shown that individuals who vote in their first few elections are more likely to continue voting in subsequent elections throughout their lives. 
  5. Social Cohesion: When different age groups within a community actively participate in elections and voting, it can promote social cohesion and a sense of unity. 
  6. Accountability of Leaders: When young people participate in elections, they hold elected officials accountable for their actions and decisions.

Overall, youth engagement in elections and voting is essential for a healthy democracy and contributes to the overall well-being of the community by ensuring diverse representation, influencing policy decisions, fostering civic education and participation, and promoting accountability and social cohesion.” [iii] 

Source: Center for Tech and Civic Life

Below are some resources that may be useful. NOTE: This is not a comprehensive list, as there are many program resources on the topic, some of which are detailed in our paper, Youth Civic Engagement and Activism in Expanded Learning Programs. You can view previous LIAS blogs on this topic here. You can also view a recent recording of our webinar we conducted on this topic here.







[ii] IBID.
[iii] Chat GPT, How is youth engagement in elections and voting good for the community?

The 2024 election offers a number of opportunities to engage older youth in civic engagement. But these opportunities require input from youth, organizing and planning- so start program planning early because there is no better time for youth to be involved in making a change than through the ballot box. We can frame these efforts as “meaningful participation”, “civic engagement”, “youth leadership” or “community service.”

This webinar will review the benefits of youth engagement in the elections and what programs can do to encourage youth involvement and voting. We will also talk about how to involve youth in voter registration and determine what news is reliable and which is misinformation. We will also talk about how youth who are under 18 and unable to vote can be involved.

To learn more and register, click here.

Monday, April 15, 2024

The Importance of Arts Education in Afterschool

Source: Oakland Leaf

For several years there has been an on-going decline in the funding for arts education in schools which we have been discussing as a major problem. (See previous LIAS blogs on art here.)

Afterschool programs are perfectly positioned to fill this gap. Below, we offer 2 guest blogs from Oakland Leaf on the importance of creativity and arts education.

Oakland Leaf Afterschool Program Manager on The Power of Creative Arts Education

By Guest Blogger, Jonathan Higgenbotham, Bret Harte Middle School Afterschool Program Manager. (This blog was originally published on Oakland Leaf.)

Middle school can be tough on self-esteem. Social comparison becomes more intense and can lead to feelings of unworthiness that affect everything from healthy decision-making to academic performance. When I was in middle school, participation in team sports boosted my confidence and kept me on a positive path. As the manager of an afterschool program with a strong emphasis on the visual arts, I have had the opportunity to observe how creative pursuits can have a similar transformative impact on a young person’s life. 

Source: Oakland Leaf 

At the beginning of the school year, after more than a year of remote learning, most of our afterschool program students experienced some degree of social anxiety or awkwardness. A handful of students, however, suffered much more intensely than others. I remember one of our students, an only child who had virtually no contact with other kids while school campuses were closed, was extremely insecure and struggled to communicate or even make eye contact with his peers.

He flourished in our visual arts classes though and, quickly, everything began to change for him. The vivid imagination and endless ideas that he had been unable to share in words began to fly out of him onto the paper, canvas, and screen. He started to get tons of positive feedback from his classmates. He developed friendships with other students with a passion for anime and comic books, across surprisingly diverse peer groups, and he no longer spent lunch and recess during the school day alone. 

Of course, engagement with the arts isn’t some kind of magic fix for every kid’s experience of marginalization. But I have seen with my own eyes, time and time again, how participation in the arts has connected the most unlikely kids.  And how it has inspired them to be more expressive and authentic in other areas of their lives…more willing to step outside of their comfort zones and try new and hard things. 

I think this is especially the case in creative youth development programs like Oakland Leaf’s, where all activities have an integrated social and emotional learning component that promotes creative risk-taking, peer appreciation, and bridge-building across differences. And where all of our educators, including our art teachers, are trained in multicultural education, trauma-informed practices, and restorative justice.

Cultivating Creative Spaces: A week in the life of Oakland Leaf afterschool programs

by Guest Blogger, Isa Gonzalez, Director of Community Programs (This blog was originally published on Oakland Leaf.)

“Oakland Leaf has emphasized creative expression since our founding project, a citywide youth talent show. An abundance of research confirms what we have seen again and again in our work with youth: arts education strengthens young peoples’ academic, problem-solving, and social skills, and boosts confidence and motivation. And equally important, by cultivating creatives spaces, we are cultivating joyful spaces where young people feel empowered to be their full authentic selves.” - Oakland Leaf blog 

I started my work with Oakland Leaf as an intern in a media arts program called Youth Roots when I was just 13 years old. After I graduated from college, I returned to Oakland Leaf as an After-school Program Instructor and then, later, I was promoted first to Program Manager and then, earlier this year, to Director of Community Programs. I’ve had very different responsibilities in each of these roles, but my underlying goal has always been the same: to cultivate safe spaces for youth to be their full authentic selves. 

Source: Oakland Leaf

I have found creative expression to be one of the most powerful tools for fostering authenticity. Talking about personal feelings can make people feel vulnerable, and children especially don’t often have the language to describe what they are going through. And it is not uncommon for young people to be closed off, especially if they feel judged or marginalized by their family or peers.

Nonverbal tools, and especially art activities, help kids identify and express their emotions, and share their authentic selves. Studies show that artistic expression can decrease feelings of anger and depression and can help students regulate their emotions. Creative expression is embedded into both our social and emotional learning and our restorative justice programming.

For example, as part of our conflict resolution work, before facilitating a conversation, we have the students fill out a reflection form sharing their version of events, how things could have gone differently, what harm was done, and how it might be repaired. Students have the option to share their thoughts as words or as drawings. The experience of writing, for many kids, is automatically associated with academics and this stifles their expression. Drawing, on the other hand, is associated with play and this supports many students to open up in a way they wouldn’t otherwise. Similarly, during our mindfulness sessions, we give students the option of coloring or drawing, rather than just sitting or lying still. 

Source: Oakland Leaf

When students have positive experiences with the creative processes and tools we expose them to, they adopt them as life-long practices that they can turn to for self-expression, self-regulation, and self-understanding long after they age out of our programs. The skills, knowledge, and sense of purpose and connection that I acquired as an Oakland Leaf youth program participant continue to serve me to this day.


Jonathan Higgenbotham is Bret Harte’s Afterschool Program Manager and was born and raised in Oakland. He attended Pine Manor College and entered into the field of education. He is a former Science and PE teacher and greatly enjoys building upon the curiosity and intelligence of young minds. He is also a high school basketball coach and has worked and volunteered with the Black Cowboy Association for about 5 years. He strives to embrace and empower young generations to be the greatest they can be. He is a huge proponent in leading by example as well incorporating as much fun and joy into the work on the daily.

Isa Gonzalez is Oakland Leaf’s Director of Community Programs. Before transitioning into her current role, Isa served as the Program Manager at one of Oakland Leaf’s afterschool programs. As a minority in Oakland, she has been labeled as a female who is statistically designed to fail, and lives in a city labeled as a “malignant place.” But Isa refused to let others define her, and always was eager to realize her dreams. Isa discovered her passion for equity in education and Feminism through an Oakland Leaf critical media afterschool program. Isa is a life-long learner and is passionate about sharing her knowledge with those who surround her. At Oakland Leaf, Isa continues her mission of providing youth with the resources that they might not be able to attain elsewhere, and gives them the tools to be active agents of change in our communities.

Oakland Leaf was founded in 2001 by a collective of East Oakland educators intent on empowering youth voice. At the time, Oakland was experiencing a surge in crime and violence, the country was about to enter a war, and many kids in Oakland didn’t have an outlet or a platform to examine and express their fears, anxieties, hopes and dreams. Oakland Leaf’s first program was the All Oakland Youth Talent Show. More than two decades later, they have evolved into a highly regarded leader in the fields of youth development and out-of-school time learning. 


Almost every day there is a piece in the news about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its dangers. AI is all around us, and whether or not you realize it, people use artificial intelligence every single day. Many young people, even those who are very tech savvy, know little about this topic. Adults, including those in afterschool programs, know even less. Yet, AI is being used by companies more and more. As we venture deeper into the digital age, understanding AI and its educational potential becomes more crucial than ever.

We believe that youth need to understand more about AI, and afterschool is a perfect place to do this. But are afterschool leaders equipped for this? It’s important for educators to understand AI so they can help their youth make sense of a technological development that is predicted to be a huge force in the world, experts say. It’s crucial for educators to be AI literate, to be able to explain what it is, and to understand its powers and limitations.

To learn more and register, click here.

The 2024 election offers a number of opportunities to engage older youth in civic engagement. But these opportunities require input from youth, organizing and planning- so start program planning early because there is no better time for youth to be involved in making a change than through the ballot box. We can frame these efforts as “meaningful participation”, “civic engagement”, “youth leadership” or “community service.”

This webinar will review the benefits of youth engagement in the elections and what programs can do to encourage youth involvement and voting. We will also talk about how to involve youth in voter registration and determine what news is reliable and which is misinformation. We will also talk about how youth who are under 18 and unable to vote can be involved.

To learn more and register, click here.

Reed Larson’s Research on Youth Development

Source: Reed Larson, The Youth Development Experience Kate Walker By Guest Blogger Kate Walker, Extension Specialist, Youth Development, Uni...