Monday, September 13, 2021

Youth Voice and Self-Expression in Afterschool: Art Projects

By Sam Piha


Providing opportunities for youth to reflect on and express their thoughts and feelings are a critical strategy for any afterschool program. This is especially important as youth return to afterschool programs after a year of isolation.  

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.

Practicing art is a transformative experience that not only gives each student the ability to objectively look within but also critically look at the world. Through various media, art teachers are able to teach the core values of  perseverance, community and belonging, respect, and critical thinking on a daily basis." - Bryan Stanton, Alamo Heights High School, "Building Character Through the Arts"

We interviewed Martha Peña (Coordinator, Expanded Learning Programs Community Schools & Student Services, Oakland Unified School District) on the importance of using art projects to promote youth voice and self- expression. Below are some of her responses.

Martha Peña, OUSD
Q: Why is it important to provide youth with opportunities to reflect on and express themselves and their feelings?
A: It's essential to give students the opportunity to express themselves and their feelings in a safe and supportive environment. It's through these experiences that help a child grow and develop. This is why afterschool programs are so important to youth. Afterschool programs provide a safe and supportive space for students to experience new things, reflect on their experiences, and express themselves without the stress of grades, testing, and judgment. Afterschool staff are supportive caring adults that reflect the community and therefore are able to connect with youth.

Q: Do you think that art projects are a good way to provide these opportunities? Why?
A: Art projects provide youth opportunities to express themselves in ways that inspire and spark their creativity. They also help youth process and interpret their feelings and the world around them. It's through these projects that students are able to reflect on their own personal experiences through a variety of mediums from digital storytelling, music, painting, or dance.


Q: Do staff need special training?
A: Providing professional opportunities to staff is crucial to ensure the success of the program. Instructors not only need to know how to teach the content but how to connect with youth and encourage them to take risks and feel comfortable in their own skin.

Q: Can you provide one example of an art project that you did that provided youth with good opportunities for self- expression? What age were the kids?
A: In one of the afterschool programs, the site leader supported students as they created a video about their community. Youth share their experiences and how they use Yoga and SEL to help them manage their feelings and stresses. Students were able to reflect on their own experiences and provide advice and support to other students experiencing the same things.

Q: For programs that plan to continue working with their youth through distance learning, can art projects be done virtually? If so, can you give an example?
A: Yes, afterschool art programs can be done virtually and successfully if you have a strong plan. Many afterschool providers distributed materials to students during the Grab & Go meal distribution sites. Each bag contained several art supplies and instructions on when and how to sign on to their virtual classroom. At the end of the lesson, students and instructors held a virtual showcase, where students and their families could log on and see their artwork. This gave grandparents and families the opportunity to be a part of the experience. 

Martha Peña is a coordinator for afterschool programs for Oakland Unified School District. In her role she manages grant requirements and applications for all ASES and 21st CCLC grants, builds systems that ensure equity and sustainability across all afterschool programs, manages city-wide partnerships, and supports the implementation of Social Emotional Learning in all afterschool programs.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Civic Engagement and Activism in Afterschool Programs (Part 2): Important Terms and Definitions


By Sam Piha

According to the Afterschool Alliance, “The afterschool field is an essential partner in ensuring that all children have the ability to participate in immersive, relevant, and hands-on civic engagement opportunities.” Not only are civic engagement strategies participatory strategies, they contribute to the positive development of youth and the health of our democracy. 

We are continuing to post a series of blogs to inform and encourage expanded learning programs to start today infusing civic engagement and activism in their afterschool program. NOTE: 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 part 1 of this series here.

In part 2 we offer definitions to a number of terms that are commonly used in relation to youth civic engagement and activism. 

Activism - “Youth activism is used to describe youths which are engaged in community organizing for social change. Young people engaged as activism planners and leaders in the environmental movement, social justice organizations, as well as anti-racism and anti-homophobia campaigns.”1

Adultism - “Adultism is the assumption that young people are inferior to adults simply because of their young age. Adults often act on this assumption by limiting our access to decision-making, information, resources, human rights, and opportunities to voice our thoughts.”2

We've all heard adults tell kids, you have no reason to be stressed. You don't pay bills. You don't go to work. That's what I like to call toxic adulting. Although we might not pay bills or go to work, we go to school, and we deal with other issues. Just because we're younger does not mean our issues should be minor compared to adults.3            -  Jakeelah Blacknell, grade 8

Agency - “Youth agency is the desire and ability of young people to make decisions and drive change—in their own lives, in their communities, and in their larger spheres of influence. Agency allows young people to become the architects of their own future.”4

Here’s what young people need to unlock their agency: 5 


Authentic Learning - “Authentic learning is an instructional approach that places students at the heart of real-life experiences. Armed with a challenge to address, a task to be handled, or content to explore, students develop academic and problem-solving skills in a context that is relevant to the learner.”6

Civic Engagement - Civic engagement encompasses a wide range of actions and behaviors that improve communities and help solve problems. “Civic engagement means working to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes.”7

Community Service - “Community service is work done by a person or group of people that benefits others. It is often done near the area where you live, so your own community reaps the benefits of your work. You do not get paid to perform community service, though sometimes food and small gifts, like a t-shirt, are given to volunteers. Community service can help any group of people in need: children, senior citizens, people with disabilities, English language learners, and more. It can also help animals, such as those at a shelter, and it can be used to improve places, such as a local park, historic building, or scenic area as well. Community service is often organized through a local group, such as a place of worship, school, or non-profit organization. You can also start your own community service projects.”8 

Equity - Equity is often confused with equality. “Equality means each individual or group of people is given the same resources or opportunities. Equity recognizes that each person has different circumstances and allocates the exact resources and opportunities needed to reach an equal outcome.”9   


Healing Centered Engagement - “A key component of Healing Centered Engagement, is taking loving action, by collectively responding to political decisions and practices that can exacerbate trauma. By taking action, (e.g. school walkouts, organizing peace march, or promoting access to healthy foods) it builds a sense of power and control over their lives. Research has demonstrated that building this sense of power and control among traumatized groups is perhaps one of the most significant features in restoring holistic well-being.”10

Meaningful Contribution - “When we talk about contributing, it’s not just about being kind or volunteering here and there (although both are important). It refers to “contributions of consequence”—actions that have substantial benefits to others that help to reach a shared goal. This type of contributing involves not simply taking a single action but playing an important role within a group—whether it’s a family, school, or community.”11  

Sanctuary - “Youth descriptions of sanctuary often went a step beyond what is commonly referred to as psychological safety, which is defined as feeling comfortable enough to take interpersonal risks; that is, a state in which people feel confident to express their views or make mistakes. A protected space may be considered psychologically safe, and this may be an important component of sanctuary. However, an affirming space does not simply lack physical or psychological danger. Rather, youth were often quick to note that aspects of their identity are celebrated (not just tolerated) in these spaces.”12

Service Learning - According to Vanderbilt University, service learning is defined as: “A form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves.”13  

Social Capital - “The central premise of social capital is that social networks have value. Social capital refers to the collective value of all “social networks” [who people know] and the inclinations that arise from these networks to do things for each other [“norms of reciprocity”]. The term social capital emphasizes not just warm and cuddly feelings, but a wide variety of quite specific benefits that flow from the trust, reciprocity, information, and cooperation associated with social networks. Social capital creates value for the people who are connected and – at least sometimes – for bystanders as well.”14  

Social Justice - Social justice promotes fairness and equity across many aspects of society. “Social justice is the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities.”15 

FOOTNOTES:, Youth Activism,

Youth on Board, What is Adultism?,

NPR, How Indiana Teens Find Resilience During COVID Pandemic,

International Youth Foundation, What is Youth Agency?,


Lexia, Creating Authentic Learning Experiences in the Literacy Classroom,, Civic Engagement,

Christine Sarikas, Definition: What is Community Service?,

Milken Institute School of Public Health, Equity vs. Equality: What’s the Difference?,

10 Shawn Ginwright, The Future of Healing: Shifting from Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement,

11 Meghan Lynch Forder, What Teens Gain When They Contribute to Their Social Groups,

12 Thomas Akiva, Roderick L. Carey, Amanda Brown Cross, Lori Delale-O'Connor, Melanie R. Brown, Reasons Youth Engage In Activism Programs: Social Justice Or Sanctuary?,

13 Heather Wolpert-Gawron, What the Heck Is Service Learning?,

14 Robert D. Putnam, Bowling Alone,

15 The San Diego Foundation, What is Social Justice?,

Monday, August 30, 2021

Civic Engagement and Activism in Afterschool Programs: Forms and Strategies


By Sam Piha

We will be posting a series of blogs to inform and encourage expanded learning programs to start infusing civic engagement and activism in their afterschool program. NOTE: 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

Civic engagement and activism come in many forms. There are a number of ways to help youth build their activism skills. In this blog we detail a number of these forms and strategies. Consider how the following could be included in your expanded learning program setting. 

When their contributions are recognized, young people come to understand their place and value in the world.”
- Meghan Lynch Forder 

Promoting Voting and Census Participation - "Voting and elections happen everywhere and provide valuable opportunities for young people to use their voices and have a tangible impact—and because it can serve as an entry point to other kinds of participation. But young people have political lives beyond the ballot box that meaningfully influence everything from consumer decisions to media and culture. Some youth (especially, for example, young people of color and/or LGBT youth) may see and experience their daily lives as "political" in ways that shape their views and their engagement in civic life."

Philanthropy - "Raising money is a concrete way for students to contribute to community or national efforts to address injustice. From organizing a bake sale around a local issue to fundraising on a larger scale for a national concern like racial disparities in the criminal justice system, raising money helps students feel like they are part of something bigger and backs the cause. Fundraisers can include selling items, auctions, entertainment, sponsoring events and more."2 

Advocacy - "This helps kids build writing skills, understand local, state, and national government, and allow them to voice their opinions about issues that affect them."3 Advocacy activities can also take many forms.  

Educate others - "As students learn about an issue they care about, their natural instinct is to share their new knowledge and insight with others. Encourage this by providing live and online opportunities for them to teach others, including their classmates, younger students and adults in their lives. This can include school assemblies, community forums, teach-ins, peer-to-peer programs and social media forums. Include opportunities to share the information in interesting ways (written, art, theatre, etc.) and they should also give other students the chance to explore their own thoughts and feelings about the topics."

Create a public awareness campaign that includes social media - "Creating signs and posters using art and photography can be very effective as can videos and live speeches; these are all useful skills that young people can learn. In recent years, the use of social media to raise public awareness has been largely driven by young people and is a useful vehicle for raising issues and effecting change. The use of blogs, social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, videos, memes and online petitions are just a few examples of how words travel fast online and can incite quick and effective action."5 

Advocate for legislation - "The primary advocates for the DREAM Act have been young people known as the DREAMers, who have a personal investment in the issue. With your students, provide opportunities for them to learn about the history and impact of legislative change like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Help them analyze proposed legislation in relation to their goals and assess the extent to which it will have an impact."

Do a survey about the issue and share the results - "Understanding what people think and why is helpful in bringing about social change. Students can learn more about public opinions on issues by participating in surveys themselves and also reading about them. They can also create their own surveys. Using paper surveys or online surveys, students can gain insight into how other students in their school or the larger community feel about an issue. This is useful in organizing others and addressing their concerns and needs; at the same time it builds math, critical thinking and interpersonal skills."7 

Write a letter to a company - "Students can reach out to companies or organizations that they feel have done something unfair or biased. This is something do-able that can make a difference. In crafting a well-written letter with evidence and a clear statement of what needs to change, students learn useful skills in persuasion and at the same time, it has a made a difference."8 

Get the press involved - "Help students understand that bringing publicity to their issue amplifies the message, gets more people concerned and potentially has a greater impact. They can write a press release, do an interview, write an op-ed in their local paper or invite a reporter to see what they are doing and write something about it."

Volunteer/ Community Service - "Youth can engage in community service on issues they care about. Serving the people who are directly impacted gives young people firsthand knowledge of the situation, deepens their understanding and builds empathy."10 

Protesting - "Marching in the streets enables students to express themselves and publicly convey what's happening while meeting and connecting with other people who feel passionate about the same issues. Demonstrations and protests can be uplifting and empowering and can help students feel like they are part of a larger movement. In preparing to attend a protest, have students consider what their goals are in attending the event and think through what message they want to convey. They can create posters, prepare songs or chants and practice symbolism that conveys their thoughts and feelings. They should consider whether they want to do individually or organize a group of students from their school to go together, make transportation arrangements and ensure that safety concerns are addressed."11 

2-11 Ibid

Friday, August 20, 2021

Afterschool as a Teacher Pathway

By Sam Piha

Source: A Natural Fit: Supporting After-School Staff of Color in Teacher Pipelines

Our national teacher shortage predated COVID-19, however there is growing evidence that suggests that the shortage of educators will grow in coming years as due to the pandemic. According to Linda Darling-Hammond “The COVID-19 pandemic has further strained an already faltering pipeline of qualified teachers. Resuming in-person instruction and meeting the needs of students will require a stable, high-qualified teacher workforce. It’s more important than ever that states and districts invest in proven solutions that address ongoing teacher shortages.” 

We also know that families of color were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. This will only exacerbate the shortage of teachers of color. Why is this important? Research findings from Teachers of Color: In High Demand and Short Supply tell us, “Teachers of color boost the academic performance of students of color, including improved reading and math test scores, improved graduation rates, and increases in aspirations to attend college; students of color and white students report having positive perceptions of their teachers of color, including feeling cared for and academically challenged, and greater diversity of teachers may mitigate feelings of isolation, frustration, and fatigue that can contribute to individual teachers of color leaving the profession when they feel they are alone.

Afterschool/ out of school time (OST) programs can be part of the solution. There are many reasons to think about OST as a teacher pathway. The first is that the knowledge and skills that OST workers gain is very similar to those required of teachers. On a personal note, my experience as an afterschool worker led me to serve as a classroom teacher for 10 years. 

Another reason is that many OST workers are people of color and bring a unique understanding of the community that their young people reside in. 

After-school/OST workers, particularly those with longer tenure in those settings, bring essential skills in building relationships with students and families, fostering positive classroom communities, and managing instruction. As teachers of color, they also bring an understanding of the varied strengths and needs of students of color and find a great deal of meaning and commitment in working with students of color. Yet these essential skills are not sufficiently recognized and viewed as assets in the teacher preparation experience.
 - A Natural Fit: Supporting After-School Staff of Color in Teacher Pipelines 

Resources to learn more:
Source: A Natural Fit: Supporting After-School Staff of Color in Teacher Pipelines

Implementing Grow Your Own programs at the district level that recruit teacher candidates from nontraditional populations (e.g., high school students, paraprofessionals, and after-school program staff." - Diversifying the Teaching Profession: How to Recruit and Retain Teachers of Color

To learn about grow your own programs we interviewed Priscilla Parchia (Program Manager, Expanded Learning) and Soo Hyun Han-Harris (Coordinator, Retention and Employee Development) about Oakland Unified School District's (OUSD) After School to Teacher Pipeline program

Q: Can you describe what the Afterschool to Teacher Pipeline is about?
A: OUSD’s After School To Teacher Pipeline is a program designed to support out-of-school-time professionals to make progress towards a California Teaching Credential. We do this through intentional test prep support, peer support through a cohort model, guidance navigating the licensure process, professional development for resumes, interviewing, and professional conduct support as well as a small stipend to support with testing and application fees. Our goal is to help create and nurture a support system that they can continue to use throughout their career in OUSD. The program is also part of a larger umbrella of Grow Our Own initiatives designed to attract and retain teachers in OUSD. Participants commit to teaching in Oakland for 2 years for the support they receive. 

Q: Can you explain how the experience of afterschool workers are relevant to becoming a teacher. What advantages do these experiences offer? 
A: After-school staff are uniquely suited to teaching, particularly here in Oakland. Youth development practices are relationship-centered and focused on the whole child which is directly related to culturally competent teaching practices. Furthermore, many after-school staff have an already established interest in working with youth and often through their experience discover a desire to expand their career trajectory in education. 

Their work in afterschool gives them a unique and important perspective and experience of students and families that they can bring to bear in their teaching practice. In many ways the creative space within after-school programs allows staff to connect with students in ways that classroom teachers often can't. 
In addition, many after-school instructors and program coordinators are not only local to Oakland but to the 10 - 15 block radius of the school. This gives them an unprecedented perspective of a student's experience. 

We are also very drawn to the diversity of after-school program staff as it more closely reflects the demographics of our student populations. We know from experience and from research that being taught by somebody who shares your cultural background can have a tremendous impact on student outcomes. 

Q: What are the responses of OST workers to the program and what results have you seen?    
A: Participant responses have been overwhelmingly positive. The California teacher licensure process can be complicated and the demystification and resource sharing can go a long way in lighting the path for someone who is intent on becoming a classroom teacher. Many are placed at schools they are familiar with and are swiftly thrust into leadership roles because of their experience with classroom culture and engagement. 

Priscilla Parchia
is the Program Manager, Expanded Learning with OUSD. For the past 13 years, she has worked in the Bay Area with OUSD as a youth developer, teaching artist, teacher, and curriculum specialist. Priscilla stands for equity, empowerment, and peace for herself and all others and hopes to uplift the innovative and transformative work that is done in the out-of-school time field while cultivating space for this work to inform daytime school efforts to grow thriving, productive youth leaders with authentic agency.

Soo Hyun Han-Harris
is the Coordinator for Retention and Employee Development with OUSD. She has been an educator with OUSD since 2002. She discovered a passion for supporting the development of teachers while teaching and as the Coordinator of Retention and Employee Development, she supports the development of teacher pathways in OUSD and current and aspiring teachers to become credentialed. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

"Misnakes" Are OK

Source: "Learning From Mistakes: Helping Kids See the Good 
Side of Getting Things Wrong"

By Sam Piha

When I was a classroom teacher, I always had a large sign that read, “Misnakes are OK.” Early in the year my students would eventually ask if I misspelled the word “mistakes”. I would reply that I misspelled the word intentionally to emphasize that mistakes are ok. 

Most people, particularly older youth, are often ashamed or embarrassed if they make a mistake publicly. It’s no wonder that many are afraid to engage to avoid the shame and judgement that comes with mistakes.

Embracing our mistakes is an important part of a growth mindset. GoZen, an online social emotional learning resource, writes, “Carol Dweck rocked the world of education with her research into something she called a Growth Mindset: the belief that a person’s basic abilities can be improved by hard work and determination. A growth mindset is central to a love of learning, perseverance and resiliency. Adopting a growth mindset also allows adults and kids to reframe mistakes into learning opportunities, making them less frightening and less debilitating.” (see LIAS Blog on Growth Mindsets).

I say to myself that I never lose, that I only learn. Because when you lose, you have to make a mistake to lose that game. So you learn from that mistake, and so you learn [overall]. So losing is the way of winning for yourself."- Tanitoluwa Adewumi, America’s 10- year- old Chess Master

And, we are more than our mistakes. Afterschool programs are particularly good at helping youth see themselves as more than their mistakes or school grades.

I particularly struggled with math. But after-school activities redefined the school for me. It wasn’t just the place where I failed my first test. It was where I learned how to sew. And I wasn’t just a person with a bad grade. I was a dancer.- Meril, 17- year- old student

How do afterschool workers view their own mistakes? How do young people in your program think about mistakes? How are program staff trained to address the times when youth may make a mistake? I asked these questions to several afterschool leaders and share their responses below.

Carol Tang,
ED Children's Creativity Museum,
former Director, Coalition for
Science After School
Carol Tang -If you take a step back and look at science, it's not about facts and figures or rote memorization. If you think about what scientists do- they are active, hands on, they make things and break things, they talk to their peers, learn from their mistakes and get better through time.

Autrilla Gillis,
Director of Expanded Learning,
ISANA Academies
Autrilla Gillis -I think that mistakes identify areas of opportunity for both young people and staff. Often times both staff and young people view mistakes as failures, while in reality mistakes are opportunities to try again with targeted supports or a focused action plan to improve the results.

From the district level, mistakes identify areas of future professional development for my staff and I. We veer away from vilifying staff members and instead investigate what led to the mistake, using our findings to determine whether an individual, school site, or district wide training should occur to ensure that the mistake is avoided in the future. 

Addressing mistakes is one of the most common conversations our staff encounters. Whether the mistakes involve academic feats, student responses to personality clashes, or poor decision making. As adults, we’ve taken the stance that young people must be empowered to work through their mistakes so that they acquire that skill, one that they’ll use for the rest of their lives. 

For our youngest scholars it begins with one-on-one conferences that utilize visuals and worksheets to help students identify the root causes of their decision making that led to the mistake, next we set goals to avoid making the same mistake when the situation is encountered again. As our scholars progress through grade levels we increase the reflective aspect of the process by incorporating journaling and peer support. It is rewarding to see scholars encounter mistakes and work their way through the same process using “self-talk” to get themselves through. 

Rebecca Fabiano
President & Founder,
FAB Youth Philly

Rebecca Fabiano - “'Mistakes are Ok!; Take accountability for, and learn from your mistakes!'

That is the first line of our guiding principles, which we recite in a call and response fashion when we come together as a group. One person chanting the first part, the rest of us responding the second part. We actually changed it this fall to this current statement from 'Mistakes are Ok!; It’s Ok to ask a lot of questions' because we wanted to focus more on accountability and learning. 

The original statement was part of a job description for college interns; we wanted them to really see their time with us as a learning experience and that we didn’t expect them to know everything right away or to even ‘get’ everything the first time, which is why we encourage asking questions. Several interns noted that very sentence was why they wanted to work at Fab Youth Philly (FYP).

We also ask about mistakes during interviews as we see mistakes as teachable moments. As a learning organization, we are constantly making mistakes in part because we are also risk-takers, we are somewhat nontraditional in some of our work and so there are bound to be mistakes made. We also primarily work with teens for whom it is their first job being employed by us so we want them to develop a ‘muscle’ around mistake making, but also seeing mistakes as an opportunity.

The way staff addresses mistakes varies from staff, to staff, and sometimes has to do with confidence and experience. But all of us TRY to approach it as a teachable moment. The more experienced staff tend to see right away the opportunity for learning, and working with the teen to address the issue, as opposed to blaming or shaming. Sometimes as adults, we need coaching too, around suggestions for how to support teens when they make a mistake.  


Mistakes are a natural part of learning, but students cannot develop into critical thinkers if they regularly freeze out of the fear of making a mistake.”- Colin Seale, Thinking Like a Lawyer 

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Youth Voice and Self- Expression in Afterschool: Videography

By Sam Piha
Providing opportunities for youth to reflect on and express their thoughts and feelings are a critical strategy for any afterschool program. This is especially important as youth return to afterschool programs after a year of isolation.

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 Les Peters (Executive Director, Community Development, YMCA of Greater Long Beach) on the importance of using videography to promote youth voice and 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?
A: It’s extremely important to create a nurturing and safe learning environment for youth to express themselves creatively.  In the Long Beach Youth Institute, we have a pedagogy of “Caring, Kindness and Compassion equals Creativity.” Youth Development is our mantra – foundation for everything we do, along with character development and we provide social and emotional support systems that allow youth to develop mechanism to help them deal with real-life struggles and over traumas. Through the process of reflection, we as human beings to start to understand our surrounding and how we are a part it and it is a part of us. Technology becomes an engagement tool to help youth reflect and express themselves through digital media arts. Many youth are not actively engaged in a positive and safe learning environment that allows them to express themselves without recourse.

Q: Is the making of videos a good way to provide these opportunities? Why?
A: It provides youth the opportunity to develop their voice and use technology to express themselves creatively. We have stages of helping youth express themselves: 1) wilderness retreat = around the campfire, 2) family presentations = telling their story of who they are, and 3) creating short films = on their community or teen issues. As the process progresses it allows the youth the develop confidence and find their voice. Digital Storytelling is an opportunity to engage youth to grow from voiceless to advocates in their communities. Youth and staff sharing this process together, strengthens their bond and it allows both to grow from this shared experience. There are academic benefits too, within Language Arts, History, Arts and Mathematics and workforce skills.

Q: Do afterschool programs need special equipment to provide these opportunities?
A: To begin a digital storytelling program, it can be quite simple – as a smart phone and video editing app. In the Long Beach Youth Institute, we have used iPhones and the iMovie app to create PSA for the city of Long Beach. This generation of youth are digital fish – they swim in technology. Give them a theme or topic they are passionate about and let them create and explore. In many communities, technology is accessible, but we still need to work on access for all. Digital storytelling equipment can vary based on your budget and needs. Basic equipment to start: digital video camera, memory cards, mic, headphones, tripod, computer and editing software. “Think big, start small.”

Q: Do staff need special training?
A: We learned early on that anyone can learn technology. But it takes a special person – a youth developer. A youth magnet, an adult who the youth are drawn too. That can provide an impactful, meaningful and positive relationship to allow growth and the opportunity for youth to share and express. In the Long Beach Youth Institute, we thought 17 years ago let’s hire a filmmaker to teach our youth about digital storytelling. The technical skills they taught met our goals, but their youth development skills did not. It was challenging for the filmmaker to create a positive adult relationship with youth. They became very cautious with how fast the youth learned filmmaking, because they feared the youth would be better at it and they would have competition in the job market. To train staff on the process of digital storytelling, it starts with your youth developers and finding an organizing who understands the importance of youth development and how to use technology as an engagement tool to promote academic success, creative expression and workforce development to train your staff.  From our experience, you must build a relationship first before you can teach them anything. Youth listen to people, not rules.

Les Peters
YMCA of Greater Long Beach
Q: For programs that plan to continue working with their youth virtually, does any aspect of using video/ movies work?
A: I believe with thorough planning you can have a virtually digital storytelling program. Items to consider:

  • Do all youth have access to the internet and access to the required tools to fully participate in the program. If they don’t then you need to make sure you provide resources that would allow them access. The Digital Divide is still an issue in many low-income communities and in rural communities that do not have the infrastructure to support broadband. 
  • Curriculum designed for distance learning needs to be engaging for youth. Youth need structure and lessons that utilizes universal design to engage all learning styles. 
  • Instructors who have experience in distance learning, who are youth developers and have some technology skill sets to troubleshoot any issues that arise with internet connection, software issues, etc. During this crisis, we have had to adapt to a virtual platform for everything we do. Engaging youth in a virtual environment, will be challenging and it will take innovative thinking and an experienced youth developer to develop strategies that will provide positive engaging experiences for youth.

I don’t see us engaging in face to face programming any time soon. Given the spike in positive case throughout the US and many of our states are taking steps back in the reopening process. Virtual/distance learning is one of those options, we as youth developers can use to maintain our relationships and provide experiences that are engaging and meaningful.

Q: Can you recommend any good resources for afterschool programs that want to learn more?
A: There are many companies and organizations in the afterschool field who offer trainings and tools to start a digital media arts program. The old adage of “build it and they will come,” can be true for some afterschool programs. But if you want to provide a meaningful and impactful experience for youth, you need to look at those who 1) use best practice research, and 2) methodologies/pedagogies that foster positive youth development, and 3) practitioner-based trainings on experiences rather than theory-based. Another recommendation, evaluation on your program. You need to prove success of your program to gardener recognition and future funding. Find an evaluator who understands afterschool programs and youth development, it will cost to have reputable evaluator.


I recommend the Long Beach Youth Institute for additional resources and evaluation outcomes that have been published in 6 academic journals on youth development, technology, and workforce. You can view some of the youth produced videos at our Youtube channel by clicking here.

Les Peters currently works for the YMCA of Greater Long Beach, Youth Institute, a national recognized Teen Youth Development & Digital Media Arts program as the Executive Director of Youth Institute & Curriculum Development. He has over seventeen years of experience in youth development and over fourteen years in digital media arts technology. He develops and implements after-school and year-round programming for low-income urban youth of color, provides diversity training and develops creative academic & social skills through the use of multi-media technology. Mr. Peters also develops and implements hands-on, project- based content standard Digital Media Arts Curriculum for clients of Change Agent Productions. He provides technical and curriculum support to 18 Youth Institute Replication sites throughout the US, Canada and South Africa. Prior to Youth Institute, Mr. Peters served as an Education Specialist & Assistant Camp Director for the Yakama Nation Summer Camp Program in Toppenish, WA. He is a national trainer on middle & high school Youth Development, Project-Based Learning, 21st Century Learning Skills, Internet Privacy & Safety, Digital Media Arts and technology in after school and with the national YMCA of the USA for developing new Y-Arts programs. He is also a Guest Lecture for the American Indians Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Advantages of Informal Learning Environments


By Sam Piha

During this past year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have an even greater appreciation of the informal learning environment in afterschool (sometimes referred to as expanded learning). We know that afterschool is not in competition with classroom learning, rather it is a complement. Afterschool learning has several advantages, which are described below. 

Topics of Interest: Afterschool programs have the flexibility to pursue topic areas that young people find personally interesting and relevant. These topics include the sciences, visual and performing arts, civic engagement and community service, and physical activity—all of which can easily be aligned with school standards. In many communities, the ability of schools to offer these subjects is adversely affected by budget shortfalls and the need to shore up student performance in language arts and mathematics. Afterschool programs ensure that children who cannot afford fee-based enrichment programs have access to these important learning opportunities. 

Learning in Small Groups: Afterschool programs have child-to-adult ratios that are lower than most classrooms. Small group settings enable adults to focus on the individual needs of young people, form personal supportive relationships, and engage young people in hands-on, experiential learning. 

Time to Learn: Some learning requires more time than can be allowed in a classroom setting, especially in middle and high school, where youth move from class to class. This learning involves projects that require extra time to plan, to work within a larger team, to analyze problems and persevere until solutions are found. Some learning requires reflection on important lessons that were gained and the opportunity to share and be recognized for one’s accomplishments. This sharing may come in the form of a presentation, a play or a recital, an art exhibition or service project, which may allow children to be acknowledged in ways they never experienced during the school day. Afterschool programs have flexible schedules that can allow young people to immerse themselves in a single program activity for the entire afternoon, if needed. In other cases, young people can participate in projects that build over several weeks or more. These kinds of projects promote important skills such as goal setting, project planning, teamwork, time management, and self- assessment. 

Learning Beyond Place: Afterschool programs have the flexibility to go outside, beyond the walls of their facilities, using the surrounding neighborhood as a classroom. They are also able to bring the community into the school, by enlisting the talents and resources of individuals and surrounding businesses. Connecting to the local community broadens the variety of activities and experiences available to young people, honors the value of their own communities, provides young people with opportunities to contribute to others, and allows community members to see the learning and positive development of their children in action. 

Active Learning: The learning environment in afterschool is often less formal than in school. Children are allowed to learn by doing and learn as part of a larger team. This approach is very attractive and motivating to young people who may be struggling in the traditional classroom setting. 

Parental Access and Involvement: Because programs extend into the late afternoon and early evening, afterschool staff can often engage young people’s family members in ways most schools find difficult. Afterschool programs can serve as a communications bridge between the school and parents, thereby promoting a stronger partnership between them, especially when the afterschool staff live in the same community and share the language and culture of the parents and guardians. Afterschool workers are in a position to use parents as resources to better understand the experiences and needs of participants and to provide input on programming. 

Diverse Teachers and Resources: Afterschool programs rely on a wide variety of workers, including certified teachers, paraprofessionals, youth workers, college students, and community members. This flexibility allows afterschool programs to engage a diverse pool of workers that reflects the cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds of the young people in the program. These workers often present ideas, activities and resources that make education and learning feel relevant and compelling to young people, and thus inspire greater interest and motivation during the school day.  

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Practice Q&A: Complimenting, Not Replicating, Schools

By Sam Piha

Youth workers 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 4 of our Q&A series. See part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 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 respondent.)

Q: How do we best support our young people in SEL when educators are focusing solely on academic loss during the shelter-in-place and distance learning not reaching those who don't have the technology to participate? - Youth Worker, serving youth 5-11, Humboldt County, CA
Katie Brackenridge,
Turnaround for Children
A: I think youth developers have an incredibly important role to play on several levels. Let's start with relationships - your relationships (or ability to create relationships) with youth and families are likely to be stronger than the districts. In many cases, districts have had trouble even finding the students who haven't connected with distance learning. It would be really helpful and smart for after school and summer providers to offer their support to districts in finding those students. You may be more successful than district staff because of your in-depth knowledge about young people in your programs, their friend networks, their families and other places and people in the community they may be reaching out to for help.

Similarly, you may already know family members in a way that district staff don't. And even if you don't already have relationships with specific students and families, you may be better equipped to reach out because of your network of relationships with other young people and your connections in the community. Most importantly, this service would be helpful to the families that have been excluded by distance learning. It would also be a strategic way to demonstrate your value as a district partner.

The second role that youth developers can play is supporting the social and emotional needs of young people. This is a completely crazy and stressful time for everyone, and particularly for young people who are in unstable or unsafe environments. As a youth developer, you probably already know which young people from your program need help right now and will need additional support to re-acclimate to the expectations of the school environment. Students who come back to school having experienced trauma - and there will be many - will not be able to sit down and focus on learning. We know that from the science of learning and development - specifically, the fact that the parts of our brains that manage emotions, concentration and learning are interconnected. That's why it's so hard to focus under stress - as many of us have been experiencing. Caring, supportive adults can help calm students' brains so that they are ready for learning. You can do this with all the youth development strategies you already have in your toolbox - for example, one-on-one check-ins with students; safe, supportive environments for peer connections; mindfulness practices; and physical activity.

I'll leave you with those two ideas, though there are many more. This blog on the BOOST Collaborative website provides some more of the science grounding related to youth development practice. You may also want to direct district staff to research reports on the SoLD Alliance website to ground them in the science of learning and development.
- Katie Brackenridge, 
Turnaround for Children

Source: Wings for Kids
Q: How do we make sure organizational practices in schools support our expanded learning program staff, recognizing that we are often better equipped and available to promote healthy youth development? - Youth Worker, serving youth 5-11, Humboldt County, CA
A: It seems like the youth development field has been mulling over this question forever... and yet, getting schools to acknowledge the value of afterschool programs and partner effectively is still really challenging. There are many different answers and resources for thinking intentionally and strategically about school/after school partnerships. Here, for example, are a link to a video about partnerships and a set of case studies about partnerships from the California Afterschool Network. Other state afterschool networks, the National Afterschool Association and many other intermediary organizations will also have guides, reports and videos for partnerships.

When I was an afterschool site coordinator, my most important asset was relationships - all across the school. Of course, making sure the principal knows what you're doing and how it supports their school priorities is critical. But, it's also important that every teacher is pleased with your work, and sees how it also supports their goals for students. This is a one-on-one strategy between your staff and teachers, and also a school-wide strategy requiring the site coordinator's participation in school staff, school site council, PTA and other meetings. And of course, you can't ever forget staff who clean the school, work in the front office, drive the buses and other essential supporting roles in the school. If they like your staff and your program, they can make sure it runs smoothly and help resolve any hiccups - the opposite, of course, is also true.
- Katie Brackenridge, 
Turnaround for Children

Katie Brackenridge joined Turnaround for Children in 2019 as a Partnership Director. Katie has worked in and with schools, school districts and community organizations for her entire career. Before becoming a consultant, Katie was the Vice President of Programs at the Partnership for Children & Youth (PCY). Katie’s work is grounded in her nine-year experience as Co-Executive Director for the Jamestown Community Center, a grassroots youth organization in the Mission District of San Francisco.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

SEL and Character Building Program Practices

By Sam Piha

There is great agreement that social emotional learning skills are very beneficial in preparing youth for success. While we hear a lot about the “why” of SEL and character building, little is heard about the application (the “what” and “how”) within expanded learning (afterschool) programs. Expanded learning practices need to be uplifted so that the field can begin to see what good character/SEL practices look like.
Source: CASEL

We were interested in how programs promote these skills, so we put out an announcement asking afterschool programs to submit a program practice. We compiled these practices into a paper entitled, “Promising Activities, Practices and Resources: Promoting SEL and Character Skills in Expanded Learning Programs”. Each submission included a description of the submitting organization, a contact person within the organization, and a description of the practice or activity (i.e. purpose, time needed/frequency, target audience, and supporting resources).
The concept of social emotional learning has come to a frenzy in the past couple of years. Where does afterschool fit in to all of this? You would hope that we’d be right at the forefront. We’ve been doing this for years we know how to do it. – Karen Pittman, Forum for Youth Investment
Below are some practices that programs submitted:

Source: Temescal Associates
EDUCARE- Guided Visualizations. Visualizations are guided around a particular theme. There are a variety of mindfulness and centering practices they enjoy using and have found valuable. An example theme: Gratefulness. Youth close their eyes and review on an imaginary movie screen, images of who and what they are grateful for or appreciate - friends, family members, their health, people who support or inspire them, opportunities they have at school or elsewhere, etc.

Source: Ever Forward Club
EVER FORWARD CLUB- Mask Making. Youth are given a handout and asked to follow 3 steps anonymously. They are also asked to keep their eyes on their own paper. 1. Draw a mask on the left side. 2. Write 3 words on the front of the mask that represent qualities they let people see. 3. Write 3 words on the back of the mask that represent the things they don’t usually let people see. Adult leaders collect the masks and then have a few volunteers read a few of the responses anonymously. Youth are then invited to share how it felt hearing about the front and back of the masks of their peers. This would be a good time to discuss their commonalities and differences. Deeper processes can be created depending on the level of safety that has been generated in the room.

Source: LA's BEST
LA’S BEST- Sanford Harmony Cards. These cards provide engaging questions and activities to explore with a "buddy". The students then get to know each other and connect, which prepares them to handle future challenges and conflicts and opportunities to collaborate in a meaningful and constructive way. Sanford Harmony also provides recommendations of how and why to pair students together. The "Meet Up" strategy provides a way to strengthen a program's daily routine by incorporating practices that allow the entire group of students to explore how they treat each other and how they communicate with one another.

CALSAC- Regular Check Ins. This is an intentional space created for staff and youth to share how they are showing up in that space. Participants typically sit or stand in a circle during the check in. Next, a volunteer is asked to start and then chooses a direction for participants to follow. The information shared allows everyone in the room to understand what may be going on for them and honor that each individual may be coming into the space with varying life experiences. This allows everyone to see each other more wholly and create safety for people to be authentic in the space. It is recommended to create an opportunity for everyone to lead the check-in. (From Temescal Associates: It is recommended that each speaker holds a talking piece, such as a feather or item chosen by the group. The talking piece is held by the person speaking and then passed around the circle. Those not holding the talking piece are engaged in active listening.)

Source: Greater Good Science Center
GREATER GOOD SCIENCE CENTER- Gratitude Letter. In this activity, youth are guided to complete the Gratitude Letter practice, where they write a letter of thanks and then try to deliver it in person. To introduce the activity, the following script may be helpful: 'Most everyone enjoys thanks for a job well done or for a favor done for a friend, and most of us remember to say “thank you” to others. But sometimes our “thank you” is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless.' In this activity, you will have the opportunity to express your gratitude in a very thoughtful manner. Think of the people—parents, friends, coaches, teammates, and so on—who have been especially kind to you but whom you have never properly thanked. Choose one person you could meet individually for a face-to-face meeting in the next week. Your task is to write a gratitude letter (a letter of thanks) to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be specific about what he or she did that affected your life. It is important that you meet him or her in person. Don’t tell this person, however, about the purpose of this meeting. This activity is much more fun when it is a surprise to the person you are thanking.

Youth Voice and Self-Expression in Afterschool: Art Projects

By Sam Piha Source: Providing opportunities for youth to reflect on and express their thoughts and feelings are a ...