Monday, December 17, 2012

Enough is Enough. It's Time to Act.

By Sam Piha

The tragic shootings in Connecticut touched everyone and resulted in a feeling that "enough is enough". If you feel similarly, here are some things you can do that were suggested by a friend of mine:

1) Call Dianne Feinstein’s office and tell her that we support her plan to introduce a bill on the first day of Congress to ban assault weapons (415-393-0707).

2) Call
/write Pres. Obama and tell him that prayers are not enough and that it’s time for him to make gun control a priority (202-456-1111).

3) Call the NRA and ask them how much is enough (1-800-672-3888). Ask why you can buy a gun at a gun show without a background check. Ask them why common citizens need assault weapons designed for warfare. 

4) Pass this on to the people in your network. 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

STEM: Teaching Process Over Outcome

By Guest Blogger, Cathie Mostovoy of Mostovoy Strategies

Cathie Mostovoy

The thousands of people who gathered recently as the Space Shuttle Endeavor journeyed through the streets of Los Angeles to its resting place at the California Science Center offer clear evidence of the degree to which we as a society, consciously or unconsciously, derive our national identity from a tradition of innovation and technological progress.  After a decade of educational policy preoccupied with attaining targeted achievement levels in reading, writing and math, there isn’t a lot of mystery behind the current resurgence of interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programs. STEM is the hot topic in education at the moment, yet getting quality programs off the ground is presenting quite a challenge. What’s the problem?  

“How LIAS Can Strengthen the STEM Movement” (LIAS blog, October 3, 2012) provides a good overview of issues involved and provides points for more in-depth discussion. While a central point of Sam Piha’s Q&A with Carol Tang, Director of the Coalition for Science After School, is that afterschool programs, particularly those that incorporate the LIAS principles, can support STEM education, Tang also explains that well-intentioned programming efforts fall short when “educational materials selected are not matched well with the program's mission, strengths, staff skills or audience.” This reminder that there are multiple factors that can create barriers to success is incredibly important. From the list Tang provides, I believe staff skills may be one of the most critical.

As Ms. Tang notes early in the conversation “we have to be honest and admit that students in school are not receiving science instruction anymore given other priorities.” It is critically important to recognize this isn’t just a problem today. The demise of in-school science programs dates back to 2001 when reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act tied standardized test scores to federal school funding. (Ironically, the act called for schools to employ scientifically-based teaching methods and scientifically-based standardized testing, yet at the same time effectively pushed science programs out of many schools.) This is significant because afterschool program leaders, the staff members who have the most direct contact with program participants, are often college students or recent graduates. These are young people whose elementary, middle and high school years also coincide with this era of missing science programs. Their college educations prepared them to enter a teaching world that emphasizes outcomes over process. And, they came of age in a society that values instant gratification. Teaching in manner that aligns with LIAS principles simply doesn’t align with their own experiences.

During my years running an agency that provides afterschool programs, we interviewed and hired many bright and passionate young people, but it was difficult to find staff members who were comfortable being inventive and experimental. The majority felt most at-home with sequential learning; they liked lesson plans that moved from A to B to C with some specific expected outcome related to each step. And, I was often struck by how hard it could be to get them to think a situation through critically and suggest corrective actions; things were either working or they were not. These things just did not come naturally to them. That is a challenge we need to address, because if teachers aren’t comfortable exploring their students won’t be either.

So, when I think about how LIAS can strengthen the STEM movement, I think that one important way is for LIAS principles to be incorporated into professional development programs. There are many intelligent, dedicated, service-oriented young people in the afterschool ranks, we just need to provide them with the right technical assistance. The success of STEM and how quickly that success can be achieved may hinge on understanding this. 

Cathie Mostovoy is a proven executive leader with more than 25 years’ experience administering youth development and educational programs.  Her expertise is in organizational growth, strategic partnerships, and program and leadership development. As the past Chief Executive Officer for Woodcraft Rangers, Inc., a non-profit organization in Los Angeles she utilized her growth strategy plan and natural assessment skills to grow the organization from under $1 million dollars to over $11 million and increased services to over 17,000 young people. Much of her success as a leader in her work is due to her ability to leverage funding, build strong relationships and maximize youth and community involvement.

Currently she is the Vice-President and Past President for the California School Age Consortium, member of the leadership team for the California Afterschool Network and Chair for the Older Youth Committee. Her past history of service includes serving as State Ambassador for the National After School Alliance, Ambassador for the National VERB, Chair of the Los Angeles Partnership for After School Enrichment and is member of numerous other initiatives and committees for children, families and the community. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Ask Dr Judy: The Essential Neuroscience of Learning

We heard from Dr. Judy Willis, a neurologist turned classroom teacher, via video at our first How Kids Learn conference. Dr. Willis was also interviewed in a two-part blog and agreed to a videotaped interview for an upcoming DVD on the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) principles. You can hear Dr. Willis in an upcoming, free webinar entitled "Ask Dr. Judy: The Essential Neuroscience of Learning" on December 11, 2012 from 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM EST. You can register by clicking here.

Below, Dr. Willis joins us as a guest blogger. 

Greetings Neuro-Igniters,

Dr. Judy Willis
I think I have met more of you in the past year than ever before through my presentations and workshops in 25 states and 10 countries in the past 12 months—or "remotely" through television, radio, and online interviews. 

Unfortunately, I will be unable to attend the How Kids Learn II conference due to prior commitments. However, I was able to contribute to an LIAS webinar and an upcoming video promoting the LIAS principles. I am impressed at your interest and your desire to build your knowledge base of the neuroscience of learning. You'll find a list of places where I'll be giving presentations at conferences and workshops at schools on my website. If you are able to attend one of these, please come by and say "hello"!

It seems that we all share the common challenge of TOO MUCH information students are required to memorize and not enough time to be creative and offer the authentic, project-based, inquiry and discovery learning experiences that are so critical if students are to develop their executive functions. 

Executive functions is the neurological term for the highest levels of cognition designed for decision-making and goal achievement. These include judgment, critical analysis, prioritization, deduction, risk assessment, and transfer of knowledge to novel, innovative applications. In the United States, the Common Core Standards call for students to use these very executive functions that have been described by neurology for over 75 years as emblematic of prefrontal cortex neural processing.

As these neural networks undergo their greatest rate of change (maturation with pruning of unused networks and myelination to strengthen the most used networks) during the school years, educators are the caretakers of the development of our students' highest cognitive and emotional neural networks. Not only are these executive functions those delineated in the Common Core Standards, but they are also the qualities now sought by employers in response to globalization of communication, accelerated information dissemination, and technological breakthroughs.

The success of educators to help all children develop these critical 21st century skill sets will increasingly benefit from the continuing acceleration in the quality and quantity of neuroscience research relevant to how the brain learns best. It will be up to educators to "translate" the implications of the research into strategies for planning and teaching.

As I see your efforts to acquire the background knowledge in neuroscience to take on this task of developing applications of this research, I am confident that you will succeed. I look forward to the impact you will have as you continue to learn and collaborate to insure that students are engaged with meaningful, memorable learning experiences that their brains will construct into long-term, concept memory circuits.

Your students will be prepared with the transferable wisdom they will need to solve new problems that have yet to be revealed and expand on new information as they seize the opportunities for creative innovation in their 21st century.

Keep igniting.
Dr. Judy Willis, a board-certified neurologist in Santa Barbara, California, has combined her 15 years as a practicing adult and child neurologist with her teacher education training and years of classroom experience. After five years teaching at Santa Barbara Middle School, and ten years of classroom teaching all together, this year Dr. Willis reluctantly left teaching middle school students and dedicated herself full-time to teaching educators. With an adjunct faculty position at the University of California, Santa Barbara graduate school of education, Dr. Willis travels nationally and internationally giving presentations, workshops, and consulting while continuing to write books for parents and educators.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Importance of Social-Emotional Learning

By Sam Piha

Joseph Durlak
Joseph Durlak and his team have produced some seminal studies that examine the impact of in-school and afterschool programs that promote social-emotional learning. Two of his most important studies offered a meta-analysis, examining high-quality evaluations of the programs and their many effects on youth outcomes. We urge the readers to review these studies when reflecting on the implementation of their own programs. Readers should also visit the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) website. Below we offer a brief interview with Dr. Durlak. 

Q: In partnership with a number of your colleagues, you conducted two meta-analyses regarding the effectiveness in school and after school efforts to promote social-emotional learning. Can you briefly explain what is meant by social-emotional learning and competencies? 

A: In brief, social and emotional learning (or SEL) focuses on the systematic development of a core set of five interrelated social, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral competencies that help children more effectively handle life challenges and thrive in both their learning and their social environments. These skills fall into five areas:   self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. Representative competencies in these areas include the abilities to recognize and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, appreciate the perspectives of others, establish and maintain positive relationships, make responsible decisions, and handle interpersonal situations constructively (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, 2013).

Q: In your research you were interested in whether youth gained social-emotional competencies and whether this had an impact on school behavior and academic success. What did you learn?

A: Overall, we found that the 213 programs that we evaluated were successful in improving students functioning in all six of the outcome areas we examined.  
In perhaps the most important finding, programs were able to improve students’ academic performance (grades and test scores) to a degree that corresponds to an 11% percentile gain in academic performance.  This type of gain corresponds to what many educational interventions have been able to do based on other evaluative research.  SEL Programs also significantly improved students’ self-perceptions, their social and emotional skills, and their prosocial attitudes (e.g., toward school ) and significantly reduced levels of conduct problems and emotional distress (e.g., symptoms of anxiety and depression).   

Q: In these studies, the effectiveness of these efforts were conditional on the quality of the implementation. You identified some key characteristics of implementation that were vital to the program’s success. Can you briefly describe these characteristics? 

A: Extensive research on both children and adults suggests that skills training is most effective when certain principles are followed. Many of these principles are consistent with educational research on effective teaching practices. 

We found that four characteristics representing four of these principles were associated with programs that were more effective than others.  We constructed the acronym, SAFE, to capture these features. ‘S’ stands for Sequential, meaning that programs had a carefully sequenced plan that was designed to develop SEL skills.   This was usually accomplished by a specific curriculum or protocol that built competencies in a coordinated, step-by-step fashion.  ‘A’ stands for Active and means that active forms of learning involving practice and feedback were used to develop skills. Hands-on learning followed by constructive feedback leads to skills acquisition. ‘F’ stands for Focused, meaning that sufficient time was set aside exclusively for skill training, ‘E’ stands for Explicit and means that the skills targeted in each program were clearly explained to students so they knew what was expected of them. 

Aside from these four program characteristics, we also found that programs that were associated with better implementation were more effective than those that experienced problems with implementation.  Implementation involves several dimensions but basically refers to the extent to which intended programs are conducted as planned. 

In other words, effective SEL programs are both well-designed from the start and well executed when they are put into action.   

Q: There is growing discussion of the importance of non-cognitive skills. How are these non-cognitive skills related to the SEL skills that are promoted by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)?
A: In general, there is now growing evidence that success in school and later life is not dependent solely on one’s cognitive or intellectual abilities.  The different domains of functioning are not independent. We have shown that fostering students’ personal and social development via SEL programs can also improve their academic development.   

Q: The LIAS project is promoting 5 key principles that we should apply in our afterschool and summer programs: learning that is active, collaborative, meaningful, supports mastery, and expands horizons. Can you say a bit about the relevance of these principles and how they overlap, or not with social-emotional learning?

A: There is considerable overlap and sometimes only the terms are different. For example, learning that is active and that supports mastery relates to both the ‘A’ and ‘F’ of our acronym in that students need to practice new skill and we must devote sufficient time and attention to foster student mastery. 

The LIAS principles of collaboration, meaningfulness, and expanded horizons are each consistent with the types of skills that compose SEL such as skills relating to managing one’s emotions, developing and maintaining satisfactory relationships with others, and enhancing self-awareness.  In general, the LIAS principles and the five SEL domains allows flexibility and adaptations to occur for work with different types of youth at different developmental stages, and with different needs and interests.

Joseph Durlak is Emeritus Professor of Clinical Psychology at Loyola University, Chicago. He currently lives in Santa Fe. New Mexico, where he remains active writing, editing, consulting, and reviewing. His primary interests are in prevention programs for children and adolescents, meta-analysis, community psychology, and social and emotional learning programs. He has published major reviews on prevention programs for youth, after-school programs, program implementation, and school-based social and emotional learning programs.  He is currently editing contributions for the Handbook of Social and Emotional Learning, to be published by Guilford in late 2013.   

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The How Kids Learn II Conference - SOLD OUT

By Sam Piha

The How Kids Learn II conference in San Francisco is now sold out but interested parties can put their name on our waiting list. The conference will feature leading thinkers from the fields of education, youth development, and the new science of learning. Speakers include Pedro Noguera, Jane Quinn, Robert Granger, Nicole Yohalem, Jenny Nagaoka, Renate Caine, Jodi Grant, and a number of innovative, highly acclaimed program leaders from the Bay Area. 

This one-day TED-like conference is being sponsored by the Learning in Afterschool & Summer Project and  Temescal Associates. Co-sponsors include the WHH Foundation, the Packard Foundation, the John Gardner Center at Stanford University, Region 4 (Alameda County Office of Education), THINK Together, City Span, Partnership for Children and Youth, DCYF, Bay Area Community Resources, LA's BEST, Children Now, and Public Profit.  The conference is being conducted at the Contemporary Jewish Museum on January 9, 2013. If you wish to be on the waiting list, sign-up today at

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Social-Emotional Learning: The Responsive Classroom

By Sam Piha

There has been much discussion of the importance of social-emotional learning. This discussion has been amplified by a recent study showing the effectiveness of Responsive Classroom approaches. This study was recently featured in Education Week. While they focus on the classroom, the principles and practices are very relevant to afterschool programs. Their principles and practices are very well-aligned to the LIAS principles. Below we offer a major excerpt from the Responsive Classroom website. Check it out.

"The Responsive Classroom approach is a way of teaching that emphasizes social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community. Developed by classroom teachers, the approach consists of practical strategies for helping children build academic and social-emotional competencies day in and day out.
Guiding Principles
The Responsive Classroom approach is informed by the work of educational theorists and the experiences of exemplary classroom teachers. Seven principles guide this approach:
  1. The social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum.
  2. How children learn is as important as what they learn: Process and content go hand in hand.
  3. The greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
  4. To be successful academically and socially, children need a set of social skills: cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy, and self-control.
  5. Knowing the children we teach—individually, culturally, and developmentally—is as important as knowing the content we teach.
  6. Knowing the families of the children we teach and working with them as partners is essential to children's education.
  7. How the adults at school work together is as important as their individual competence: Lasting change begins with the adult community.
Classroom Practices
The Responsive Classroom is a general approach to teaching, rather than a program designed to address a specific school issue. It is based on the premise that children learn best when they have both academic and social-emotional skills. The Responsive Classroom approach consists of a set of practices that build academic and social-emotional competencies and that can be used along with many other programs.
These classroom practices are the heart of the Responsive Classroom approach:
  • Morning Meeting—gathering as a whole class each morning to greet one another, share news, and warm up for the day ahead
  • Rule Creation—helping students create classroom rules to ensure an environment that allows all class members to meet their learning goals
  • Interactive Modeling—teaching children to notice and internalize expected behaviors through a unique modeling technique
  • Positive Teacher Language—using words and tone as a tool to promote children's active learning, sense of community, and self-discipline
  • Logical Consequences—responding to misbehavior in a way that allows children to fix and learn from their mistakes while preserving their dignity
  • Guided Discovery—introducing classroom materials using a format that encourages independence, creativity, and responsibility
  • Academic Choice—increasing student learning by allowing students teacher-structured choices in their work
  • Classroom Organization—setting up the physical room in ways that encourage students’ independence, cooperation, and productivity
  • Working with Families—creating avenues for hearing parents' insights and helping them understand the school's teaching approaches
  • Collaborative Problem Solving—using conferencing, role playing, and other strategies to resolve problems with students"

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Skills That Matter and the Role of Afterschool and Summer Programs

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
There is a growing body of research that suggest that young people's development of non-academic skills are critical to their academic achievement and success. In fact, there is good evidence that the acquisition of these skills are better predictors of academic achievement and life success than standardized test scores. These skills are referred to as social-emotional competencies and non-cognitive skills. We believe that afterschool and summer programs are well-positioned to develop these skills and educate stakeholders as to their importance. It is important to note that having an impact on youth outcomes requires strong program design and consistent implementation. 

Jenny Nagaoka
Pedro Noguera
The Learning in Afterschool & Summer project will use the upcoming How Kids Learn II conference and several future blogs to highlight these important skills. At the conference, we will hear from Dr. Daniel Goleman (via video), Founder of Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) and the author of Emotional Intelligence. The conference will also feature a presentation by Jenny Nagaoka, University of Chicago, on the role of non-cognitive skills in adolescence. We expect that we will also hear about the importance of these skills from presenter, Dr. Pedro Noguera from NYU. 

Joseph Durlak
A future blog will focus on the Responsive Classroom approach - a way of teaching that emphasizes social, emotional, and academic growth in a strong and safe school community. In addition, future blogs will feature interviews with Joseph Durlak and Paul Tough. Dr. Durlak is known for his meta-analysis studies of the impact of in-school and afterschool programs that worked to promote social-emotional learning and key features of implementation that are required for impacting youth outcomes. Paul Tough is a writer whose articles and books examine the importance of non-cognitive skills. His latest book, How Children Succeed, is having a major impact in the fields of education and youth development.  

Practitioners can find more articles on social-emotional learning and activities that promote these competencies on the Edutopia website. 

Monday, November 5, 2012


By Guest Blogger, Jennifer Peck, Executive Director of the Partnership for Children and Youth

Jennifer Peck
It is very rare that the Partnership for Children and Youth formally weighs in on ballot measures, but we believe Proposition 30 is so important to the schools, families and students that we serve, that it is essential for us to speak out.

If Proposition 30 fails, a huge number of California school districts will have no choice but to cut two weeks from the school year.  The Partnership invests a great deal of time and energy building quality summer programs for low-income children, because we know that long summers have staggering impacts on student achievement and health.  A shortened school year would mean more summer learning loss, more health and safety risks for children, and growing economic challenges for working parents.

Proposition 30 would provide revenue for schools and local government to combat these threats and keep the school year intact.  Proposition 30 is an important step in the right direction towards rebuilding essential services and confidence in our public systems.  To learn more, go to:
The school year matters, summer matters, and so does your vote.  We at the Partnership strongly urge you to go to the polls on Tuesday and vote Yes on Proposition 30.  

Jennifer Peck was a founding staff member of the Partnership For Children and Youth in 2001 and became its Executive Director in 2003. Jennifer leads a coalition of California organizations advocating for new federal policies to improve the effectiveness of after-school and summer-learning programs. She was also one of our speakers at the How Kids Learn Conference in January 2012. Jennifer was recently honored by the Afterschool Alliance as an Afterschool Champion

Thursday, November 1, 2012

This November, Learning Is on the Ballot

By Sam Piha
Below is a blog submitted by guest blogger, Jennifer Peck, Executive Director for the Partnership for Children and Youth. This blog was originally posted in the Huffington Post.
Sam Piha
Here, in California, there are two initiatives that will impact school funding and the length of the school year - Proposition 30 and Proposition 38. It is very important to note that Proposition 38 provides additional funding support for K-12 schools. Whereas Proposition 30 also includes additional funding support for our community colleges. Please make your decision carefully. Also, local ballots may include initiatives to provide additional funding for local schools.

By Guest Blogger, Jennifer Peck
Jennifer Peck
When voters go to the polls next week, it's critical to know what's really at stake for our children's education.
Across the country, and here in California, if statewide and local school funding measures do not pass, it will result in shorter school years, longer summers, and even greater obstacles to learning for students.
A shorter school year, and longer summer, means that more students will struggle academically and teachers will be forced to spend more time on catch-up and remedial 911 once the new school year begins. Decades of research tells us that children excluded from meaningful summer learning opportunities experience "summer learning loss" -- the loss of critical academic skills and knowledge that sets students back when summer ends and the new school year begins.
Without access to summer camps, vacations, and private summer enrichment programs, children from low-income families are disproportionately at risk for summer learning loss. In addition, we know that students without summer learning opportunities are less likely to be physically active and eat well, increasing the conditions contributing to America's childhood obesity epidemic. A shorter school year isn't just about fewer days in class; it's also about what happens, or doesn't happen, for kids over a longer summer. The result will be more barriers to students' mental and physical development.
Fortunately, high quality summer learning programs have been proven to combat summer learning loss and improve students' health. Summer learning programs are a vital complement to the regular school year, and we need adequate resources for both in order to effectively educate all children.
So when you go to the polls this November, keep in mind what's at stake for our schools and communities. The school year matters, summer matters, and so does your vote. Of course simply protecting what we've got is not enough, but it's a critical step to rebuilding the educational system all our students deserve. Join me and vote "yes" on investing in our schools.

Jennifer Peck was a founding staff member of the Partnership For Children and Youth in 2001 and became its Executive Director in 2003. Jennifer leads a coalition of California organizations advocating for new federal policies to improve the effectiveness of after-school and summer-learning programs. She was also one of our speakers at the How Kids Learn Conference in January 2012. Jennifer was recently honored by the Afterschool Alliance as an Afterschool Champion

Monday, October 29, 2012

Free Screening of Brooklyn Castle in Oakland for Afterschool Educators

By Sam Piha

There will be a free screening of Brooklyn Castle for afterschool and educational workers on November 13, 2012 from 7pm-9pm at Park Day School, Oakland. This feature film documentary is the remarkable and improbable true story of an afterschool program at I.S. 318 in Brooklyn; defying stereotypes, it has the highest ranked junior high chess team in the nation. This film will open in Bay Area theaters on November 16. 

Please forward on this invitation to others in your network. Seating is limited and people can register here.

To see a preview of this film, click here.
For a review of the film in the New York Times, click here
For our recent blog post of an interview with the filmmaker, click here

This special screening is sponsored by the Learning in Afterschool & Summer project, Temescal Associates, Partnership for Children and Youth, OUSD’s The Family, Schools, and Community Partnerships Department, Public Profit, and Park Day School

For our friends across the Bay, a San Francisco screening on November 8, 2012, sponsored by DCYF, the Learning in Afterschool & Summer project, and Temescal Associates, can get more information and RSVP by clicking here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Brooklyn Castle: Coming to a Theater Near You and Interview with the Filmmaker

Katie Dellamaggiore
By Sam Piha

Brooklyn Castle is a documentary about Intermediate School 318 – a Title I school where more than 65 percent of students are living below the federal poverty level, that happens to have the best junior high chess team, bar none, in the country. This documentary will be shown in the Bay Area beginning November 16, 2012 at the Opera Plaza Cinema in San Francisco and the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley. 

There will be a free sneak preview of Brooklyn Castle in San Francisco on November 8, 2012 for educators and afterschool leaders at Landmark's Embarcadero Center Cinema - One Embarcadero Center. You can RSVP by clicking here and view the trailer by clicking here. (We are currently trying to arrange a free screening in the East Bay and will keep you informed.)  

The team wins almost every tournament they compete in, and regularly defeats schools with resources I.S. 318 can only dream about. Chess is the cornerstone of I.S. 318’s vibrant roster of afterschool programs, and it has transformed the school from one cited in 2003 as a “school in need of improvement” to one of New York City’s most highly regarded. Assistant Principal John Galvin credits chess and the school’s more than 40 other afterschool classes -- as well as its tireless, dedicated staff -- with achieving this sea change, and creating a “culture of success” within I.S. 318. That success is now seriously threatened by a series of recession-driven budget cuts. 

Below is an interview with Katie Dellamaggiore, Director and Producer of Brooklyn Castle. 

Q: What drew you to the chess program at I.S. 318?

A: I was intrigued by the idea that the story defied expectations. People don’t expect a Title I school (a school with more than 60% of students from low-income households) in Brooklyn to have the number one chess team in the nation. I certainly didn’t, and I’m from Brooklyn! I was really proud to find out that we had this little gem of a school right here in our backyard, and I thought it was a really inspiring story that others would want to know about, too. 

Q: Based on what you saw there, how do you explain their success?

A: When I first got to the school, I didn’t know what to expect. The thing that surprised me most was how compelling it was to watch Elizabeth (Vicary) Spiegel teach the kids chess. Although I’m not a chess player, I was completely enthralled with watching her teach, even though I couldn’t figure out what she was talking about. I thought, "You must be a pretty darn good teacher," because even without following her, the level of enthusiasm that she had and the connection she was making with the kids was palpable. You could see it in her face and in the kids’ faces. There was just a great energy in the room and I think Elizabeth's passion and energy for teaching chess is just such a huge part of why the team is so successful.

Q: For the kids who participate in the chess program, how do you think this will affect them in the near and distant future? What did they learn that you believe will help them in their later life?

A: From the time I spent observing the chess team I definitely saw that learning chess, and becoming good at chess, nurtures the kind of critical thinking skills and self-reflection that kids need to face all kinds of challenges in life. But I think the real specific benefits of participating in the chess program differ from kid to kid. In the movie, each of the five kids we follow have very unique goals they are reaching for -- from overcoming ADHD, to gaining more confidence, to learning leadership skills -- and the lessons they learn on the chessboard definitely translate into the real life lessons they use to achieve their individual goals. One of the mantras of the I.S. 318 chess team is that if you work really hard and apply yourself, you can be successful. And the impact of that lesson, especially for kids that are already dealing with the hardships of poverty, can't be underestimated. 

Q: What do you believe are the lessons about learning that other schools and afterschool programs can take from this documentary?

A: I think this emphasis on afterschool and enrichment activities during the school day and after the school day at I.S. 318 is an excellent example for other schools to follow. Under the leadership of the late I.S. 318 principal Fred Rubino afterschool programs at I.S. 318 are not seen as "extras" but as a critical to educating the whole child. Mr. Rubino would hire teachers that also had a special talent they could channel into an afterschool program, like music, art, guitar or dance. And many of the forty plus afterschool programs that are offered at 318 are also offered as electives that kids can choose to take during the school day as a graded class. So there's this kind of this seamlessness to the school day, where a student can take a chess class during the day and then they can also be part of the chess team after school. Their afterschool chess instructor is also their chess teacher during the day, so there's also a real positive mentoring relationship being formed between teacher and student. And the kids are happy to be at school and to stay at school past 3 p.m. because they know they are going to get to participate in the activity that they've chosen, and that they're starting to build a passion for. 

Q: There is a good deal of attention being paid to the development of character and non-cognitive skills (like grit, persistence) because research is suggesting that these are more important to success than academic skills. Did you get any sense of this in your work at I.S. 318?

A: Well, I don't know if I can say that one is more important than the other, but I absolutely think that you can't expect kids to be successful by only teaching them traditional academics without also offering them the kind of non-cognitive development skills they need to become happy, successful, self-reliant, curious adults. The I.S. 318 chess program is featured prominently in Paul Tough's new book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character exactly because Ms. Vicary's style of teaching chess encourages the development of these non-cognitive skills and I think that's made evident in the stories we captured in Brooklyn Castle.

Q: The Learning in Afterschool & Summer project is promoting 5 principles of learning that we believe all programs should embody: 
Learning should be active, collaborative, meaningful, supports mastery, and expand the horizons of participants. Did you see any of these principles demonstrated in the chess program that you document? Which do you think were most important?

A: Yes, all of these principles are demonstrated in the chess program. I guess the most important one I witnessed was that learning should expand the horizons of participants. In the film there's this quote from Diego Rasskin Gutman that states there are more possible chess games than there are atoms in the universe. And just being able to impart this idea of limitless possibility on a young mind is such a great gift to give a kid, whether they are contemplating all of the strategic and creative moves they can make on the chessboard or all of the strategic and creative moves they can make in life.

Katie Dellamaggiore is a documentary producer and director whose work has appeared on MTV, A&E, HBO/Cinemax and VH1. Over the course of her career, she has held various production and outreach roles on award-winning documentaries including 39 Pounds of Love, To Die in Jerusalem, 51 Birch Street and American Teen. Katie co-produced After the Storm, a nonprofit theater and film project that used art to revitalize the lives of young people in post-Katrina New Orleans, and directed, produced and shot UR Life Online for A&E Classroom, which explored sexual solicitation and cyber bullying and received an Emmy nomination for Single Camera Editing. Brooklyn Castle, Katie’s feature directorial debut, has received support from IFP Independent Film Week 2010, Chicken & Egg Films and the Fledgling Fund.

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...