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.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Mindfulness in Afterschool Programs, Part 2

By Sam Piha
Laurie Grossman

Laurie Grossman of Mindful Impact has been bringing mindfulness training to young people in low income classrooms for many years. She has recently partnered with Temescal Associates and Aspiranet to pilot mindfulness training in Oakland Unified School District afterschool programs. Her full bio is below our interview with Ms. Grossman.

Q: What have we learned from the assessment of mindfulness training for young people? 

A: One of the interesting aspects of assessing mindfulness programs for elementary school students is that surveys basically provided the same results over and over again at different schools. In general, the program’s effectiveness was more dramatic at underserved schools compared with affluent schools, however, all students were greatly impacted. 

Surveys demonstrated that more than 90% of teachers said they had benefitted personally and would continue using mindfulness in their classes. Teachers said 80% their students benefitted from mindfulness. Over 90% of students said that mindfulness has helped them in their life in some way and 85% said they would use mindfulness in the future. 60% said mindfulness helps them calm down and helps them focus better in the classroom. Over 50% said it helps them make better decisions and the same percentage teach mindfulness to someone outside of school. 

Gina Biegel, a mindfulness researcher and founder of Stressed Teens conducted a study in Oakland with 80 students. According to a computerized attention task given before and after a four hour mindfulness program delivered over five weeks, students’ attention improved.  

Q: Are there long term impacts of mindfulness training for children?

A: Mindfulness training for children is a relatively new field and long-term studies have not yet been conducted. That said, there is much anecdotal evidence that many students who learn mindfulness continue to use it after lessons are concluded. Over fifty percent of students who received a 15 lesson  3 and ¾ hour program over five or eight weeks teach someone outside of school how to practice mindfulness. Recently a parent told me that her young teen practiced mindfulness with her younger siblings to calm them down and put them to bed. The mom asked where she had learned mindfulness and she said “in-school.” The young teen learned mindfulness in her elementary school three years ago. When a large funder was coming to review our program, we surveyed schools where we had conducted the program years before. A few new teachers had mentioned observing their students practicing mindfulness without really understanding what it was about. Mindfulness is like riding a bike, once you know how to do it, you will always know how to do it; remembering to do it is what is important. Undoubtedly, mindfulness would be more effective for children if teachers continued the program once outside consultants left. Some do and some do not. This is an important aspect of teaching mindfulness that must be addressed.

Q: Do you think mindfulness training would be effective in afterschool programs?

A: Doing homework, engaging in physical activities, art and music, and 
special projects all require focus. Providing mindfulness training in after-school programs could help children concentrate on the activities at hand. Because mindfulness enhances impulse control, students are more able to collaborate with others and pause if something doesn’t go exactly the way they want it to. Because after-school is not as structured as the classroom, students have more opportunities to make decisions and mindfulness helps students make better decisions. Mindfulness helps build community and could enhance relationships in after-school programs. Once students learn the basic practices of mindfulness, they can lead sessions helping to maintain mindfulness throughout the year. 

Q: How does mindfulness align with the LIAS learning principles?

A: The LIAS principles are vital for learning and mindfulness supports each of them. Mindfulness is awareness. When one is active, one must be aware of how one moves, engages with others and conducts oneself. Mindfulness encourages moment to moment awareness and engagement regardless of the activity. Collaboration requires that one is aware of oneself but also of others; we have been told that mindfulness has reduced conflict on the yard and in classrooms. When one practices mindfulness one is engaged and often sees things anew, so students may find special meaning in activities by paying attention to how they are doing what they are doing. This attention and focus enables students to become more capable and masterful and open to new experiences, expanding their horizons.  

Q: Do you see training mindfulness in afterschool programs as a way to bring mindfulness into the school day?

A: If after-school staff are trained in mindfulness and then trained to teach it, they could eventually be mindfulness teachers for the classrooms. This could take a few years but would serve a variety of purposes. First of all, it would help link after-school and the day program, and provide more clout to the after-school staff. Secondly, funding could be sought to pay after-school teachers to teach mindfulness in classrooms during the day. Since after-school providers are often paid meager wages, this might be a way to improve their pay and keep them from leaving, reducing turnover of staff.  

Laurie Grossman has spent her career seeking social justice and educational equity for low-income children and communities. At Park Day School in Oakland, California, she created a Community Outreach Program to develop public/private partnerships for 19 years, Mindful Schools being the most recent. With a group of committed colleagues, Grossman and team brought mindfulness programs to 11,000 children in 42 schools (71% of them low-income students) and training to 1,500 educators before separating from Park Day School to become an independent non-profit organization.  Grossman has recently founded a new organization, Mindful Impact, to continue her commitment to bringing mindfulness to low-income communities. She is currently working with Temescal Associates to take mindfulness programs into afterschool settings.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mindfulness in Afterschool Programs, Part 1

By Sam Piha

Laurie Grossman
Laurie Grossman of Mindful Impact has been bringing mindfulness training to young people in low income classrooms for many years. She has recently partnered with Temescal Associates and Aspiranet to pilot mindfulness training in Oakland Unified School District afterschool programs. Her full bio is below our interview with Ms. Grossman. 

Q: Can you briefly explain what mindfulness is?

A: Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment without judgment. 
Many of us miss a lot of our lives because we live in the past or the future; we spend most of the time in our heads reliving what has already happened or worrying about what is going to happen. By practicing mindfulness, one learns to live more often in the present moment; benefitting from what is actually occurring right now. One of the most common ways to practice mindfulness is to focus on the breath as an anchor to the present.  

Q: In what sectors is mindfulness being used?

A: Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn founded Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. The program, used in hundreds of hospitals and clinics throughout the world, has grown rapidly because of the benefits received by those who take MBSR classes. Those benefits as described by the MBSR website include: 
  • Lasting decreases in physical and psychological symptoms
  • An increased ability to relax
  • Reductions in pain levels and an enhanced ability to cope with pain that may not go away
  • Greater energy and enthusiasm for life
  • Improved self-esteem
  • An ability to cope more effectively with both short and long-term stressful situations.
In addition to the physical and mental health communities, mindfulness is being used in corporate settings such as Google, Facebook, EBay, Genentech, and General Mills, just to name a few. The National Institute of Health just awarded the US military $900,000 to research the use of mindfulness with the army. 

There are 40 research papers published monthly on mindfulness utilized in a variety of sectors. The website which features these papers is

Q: Why is mindfulness effective with young people? And why are they easily engaged?

A: Mindfulness lessons are interactive, short and impactful. When teaching mindfulness we are teaching children about themselves; the curriculum is relevant to them and therefore engaging. Students tell us they can concentrate more easily on their schoolwork, they can calm themselves down, and they feel less stress.  The benefits of mindfulness occur rather quickly, students feel better as a result and they like to practice. 

The very first mindfulness lesson we offered in an Oakland public school resulted in this comment from a third grader, “I think if we do this every day we won’t fight anymore.” I was stunned because the school was one where violence in the community was common. How could 15 minutes of listening to sound result in an eight year old saying he wouldn’t fight anymore? The answer lies in neuroscience. Mindfulness helps create new neural pathways in our brains. Being in the present moment, that is being aware of your breath and knowing that you are aware of it stimulates a variety of positive hormones and stimulates the rest and digest side of the nervous system. In other words, most students like to engage in mindfulness because it feels good to do so. 

Most of us spend a large percentage of our lives in our heads, instead of in the present moment. When a student arrives in the classroom, he or she may not be ready to learn; perhaps the student is preoccupied with other things - an argument in the home, walking by a drug dealer on the way to school or a disagreement with a friend on the playground. Without using mindfulness, that experience might be what preoccupies him or her during the English or math lesson. Mindfulness brings students into the present moment – paying attention becomes easier to do. 

Students find that they have more control over their emotions when they use mindfulness because awareness enables them to respond to a stimulus rather than reacting to it. Instead of lashing out at someone and getting in trouble for it, they are able to use their words or ask for help. Making better decisions and responding instead of reacting feels good and students engage with mindfulness because the benefits become apparent rather quickly. 

Q: Why do you think mindfulness is an important school-based tool? 

A: The benefits for children in school are multiple. Mindfulness teaches children to pay attention, it enhances their impulse control, reduces stress for student and teacher and helps to build community.


Laurie Grossman has spent her career seeking social justice and educational equity for low-income children and communities. At Park Day School in Oakland, California, she created a Community Outreach Program to develop public/private partnerships for 19 years, Mindful Schools being the most recent. With a group of committed colleagues, Grossman and team brought mindfulness programs to 11,000 children in 42 schools (71% of them low-income students) and training to 1,500 educators before separating from Park Day School to become an independent non-profit organization.  Grossman has recently founded a new organization, Mindful Impact, to continue her commitment to bringing mindfulness to low-income communities. She is currently working with Temescal Associates to take mindfulness programs into afterschool settings.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How LIAS Can Strengthen the STEM Movement

By Sam Piha

Carol Tang
The LIAS project is focused on bringing a definition of engaged learning and quality OST programming resources. In this interview with Carol Tang, Director of the Coalition for Science After School, we discuss how LIAS might serve the STEM movement. Dr. Tang was a speaker at our first How Kids Learn conference 2012. 

Q: Can you explain the new emphasis on and popularity of the introduction of STEM activities in and outside of the classroom? 

A: There is a growing uneasiness that while much of our economic future is dependent upon scientific and technological innovation, we are not seeing the numbers of young people pursuing these fields of study. It's been reported that even while unemployment rates are high, there are thousands of jobs unfilled because of the lack of applicants with the requisite technical and math skills. But I think there is also an urgency that is not related to economics alone: I would argue that many of our global challenges need scientific solutions and young people need to have the tools to think critically about these challenges and the solutions.

Q: Some say that out-of-school time programs are uniquely positioned to offer engaging STEM activities. Do you believe this to be the case? And if so, why?

A: First, I think we have to be honest and admit that students in school are not receiving much science instruction anymore given other priorities. But I believe that the answer goes much deeper than that. I truly believe that afterschool and summer programs are already aligned toward fostering student interests, providing hands-on experiences and are more tolerant of noisy and messy activities! As a paleontolgist and former geology professor, I know that the best science activities are ones which are open-ended, inspire more questions than answers, and encourage young people to work together. This should sound familiar to afterschool programs!

Q: Given how rapidly STEM activities have been introduced, what have you seen about the quality of these activities? 

A: The good news is that many afterschool and summer programs really have embraced STEM and have not hesitated in trying things out. But as you suggest, sometimes the result is that the programming and educational materials selected are not matched well with the program's mission, strengths, staff skills or audience. Because many afterschool practitioners haven't had a chance to experience the best kind of STEM engagement themselves, they may not know what to look for when selecting activities or how best to implement them. The good news is that I've seen cases where afterschool staff who have participated in some training, are part of a learning community and who care about their performance can and do deliver high-quality activities right away. I also know that there are good science activities which were designed with a co-learning model in mind; in other words, they work well when the adult is discovering scientific principles along with the children through hands-on activities. 

Q: Can you briefly speak to the value of LIAS learning principles to the STEM movement?
A: By coupling STEM with LIAS principles, we elevate the discussion about science afterschool--rather than debate which topics to cover, we can instead focus on the characteristics evident in high quality science programming. If youth workers embrace LIAS, they will understand the fundamental elements which will make STEM successful in their programs. In this way, we not only increase the quality of afterschool science but we can also foster an environment where science activities are sustainable in the long-term.
Q: Can you speak a bit more about the need you have experienced for training on learning principles to guide the development of quality STEM activities? 
A: There is a misconception that STEM is about imparting a set of facts or concepts. Thus, training staff on effective learning principles in general is a way to guide the selection, development, and implementation of high quality STEM activities. If youth workers can recognize the factors which promote active engagement and learning, then they can select science activities which engage youth and foster scientific skills--such as asking good questions, sharing ideas and testing hypotheses.

Q: The LIAS principles stress the importance of learning activities that are active and hands-on, collaborative in nature, meaningful to the participants, support a growing mastery, and expand young people's horizons. Do you think that any particular principles are important to STEM or are they all fully relevant to implementing STEM activities? 

A: I think all of the LIAS principles are relevant to STEM and reflect the reality of the practice of science. Instead of the stereotypical "mad scientist" working alone to destroy the world, real scientists often work in teams to conduct hands-on experiments which have relevance to the world around us. And we know that we cannot inspire the next generation of scientists without giving them skills and helping them see that they can succeed as scientists. So all are relevant and taken holistically, I think it breaks the stereotype that science learning only comes from a textbook and an exam. One would hope that someday these principles could be used for guiding classroom science education as well.

But, at the same time, I don't believe that every afterschool program needs to emphasize all five principles equally in order to be successful with STEM. The key is to identify which elements you can successfully implement given the unique factors in your own program. For example, a high-quality STEM program could just consist of bringing in a role model to help expand youth's career perspectives--it fits the LIAS principles and it's a key component for encouraging young people to pursue science. The key is to be intentional about implementation, be true to your organization's mission and strengths, and do what's best for the young people you serve.

Carol Tang is currently the Director of the Coalition for Science After School, hosted by the Lawrence Hall of Science at U.C. Berkeley. In this position, she facilitates strategic partnerships to increase the quality and quantity of science education in out-of-school time learning environments. Before entering the informal science education field, she was a paleontology professor at Arizona State University. Carol spent the last ten years at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. 

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