Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Affordable Housing Communities: The Third Place for Afterschool


By Sam Piha


Susan Neufeld is Director of Child and Youth Development Services at HOPE Through Housing Foundation, where she has responsibility for child and youth development programming at over 40 of National CORE’s affordable housing communities. She is a leader in promoting young people's access to housing-based quality afterschool programs. Ms. Neufeld agreed to answer our interview questions below.

Q: Can you say just a word about HOPE Through Housing and the Afterschool and Beyond programs? 

Susan Neufeld
A: After School and Beyond is an afterschool program that is delivered onsite of low income apartment housing. Our program model emphasizes children’s social-emotional development as much as their academic development. Consequently, we offer KidzLit (a literacy program), PeaceBuilders (a character development program), and Virtual Vacation (a project-based learning program that helps kids explore their world). 

Q: Can you describe who your program serves? 

A: Currently, we have after school programs serving 35 properties in California and one in Arkansas. We’re poised to expand our programs into Texas. Some neighboring properties share a program. Two of our programs are “tutoring only” because of very small learning centers. One program is a high school program located in Rialto and funded by ASSETs. 

In the 2010-11 school year, we served over 4,000 K-12 youth. 

After School and Beyond


Q: There are those that say afterschool programs should be located on school sites or in the larger community. What are the advantages to offering afterschool programs in housing settings?

A: Our programs do not compete with school or community-based (such a Boys and Girls Club) programs. Most of our properties have large numbers of school-age children – far more than we can serve in our learning centers. We are grateful that youth have many options for after school participation in their community.

Our goal is to serve kids where they live and eliminate many barriers that prevent participation in school and community centers. For example, many of our youth cannot go to a school based program because they don’t have transportation home. We are able to offer an exceptional program in a space that is viewed as an extension of the home. Parents know that their children are safe, well-served, and loved.

Because of our proximity to children’s homes and our strong relationships with property management, we also get to know families and the challenges they face, such as divorce or job loss. This allows us to respond to youth with added supports. 

Q: How are the children and families of affordable housing settings the same or different from other state-funded afterschool programs? 

A: Our youth have the same characteristics as youth who attend a state-funded afterschool program in a low income community. Their families are struggling with economic hardships and they often live in neighborhoods that are challenged. 

However, some of are youth live on properties that are located in affluent communities. In some ways, these families are more challenged by a lack of programs and services that meet their needs. In one community we serve, there is no public bus and the local grocery stores are Trader Joe’s, Bristol Farms, and Pavilions – markets that target middle and high earners. In this context, children can feel “less than” their more affluent peers. The youth in our programs have a shared experience and have a place where they can feel comfortable.  

Q: Many housing-based programs suffer due to difficulties attracting and retaining youth. What is your record in these areas? 

A: Attendance is tough for everyone! We have very high expectations for daily attendance and retention. While we’re improving, we’re still below our target of 85% ADA. In some ways, it’s harder for us than for school-based programs where kids transition from the classroom into the program by walking across the hall.  

There are a lot of reasons for inconsistent or low attendance: evictions, move-outs, shared custody, and involvement in other extracurricular activities. Sometimes latchkey kids are not mandated by their parents to attend program. Our most surprising reason: our kids love the program so much that parents report using it as punishment. When children don’t behave at home, they are not allowed to attend program!

We address this by communicating with parents, hosting family involvement nights to connect parents and children to the program, creating incentives for attendance, and promoting the program when new families move in. That said, we have to work hard all of the time to keep our attendance at our target. Our best strategy is to have a vibrant program staffed by caring and energetic staff that attract youth. 

Q: What do you do within your programs to ensure that they are rich in quality learning experiences?

A: We stress to parents that we are not a homework completion program but a homework assistance program. Our belief is that academic success will only carry our kids so far. To truly succeed, youth need to have a broad vision for themselves – a vision that they can do great things and be great people. 
Virtual Vacation: A Leader's Guide
Available at www.temescalassociates.com

To achieve this, we selected curricula that emphasize exploration while reinforcing academic skills. KidzLit is all about reading motivation – an important component of literacy. PeaceBuilders is focused on creating a culture of peace in the program and community. Virtual Vacation emphasizes global competence, giving youth the opportunity to truly explore other worlds, countries, and cultures. Wherever possible, we integrate these curricula. Youth “travel” to Japan (Virtual Vacation), understand the impact of World War II on Japanese history (PeaceBuilders), read books about Japanese culture (KidzLit), learn key Japanese phrases, and prepare vegetarian sushi.

Q: How do you know whether these programs are effective? 

A: Each year, we conduct a thorough program evaluation that examines program quality (how our programs stand up to industry standards), outputs (what we did), and outcomes (our impact). Currently, we’re engaged with Vital Research to create a new evaluation structure for the 2012-13 school year. Our hope is that we capture the richness of our program and how it’s making a measurable difference in the lives of those we serve. 

Q: Do you invest at all in staff training and support?

A: Absolutely. Behind our curricula, we offer hours of staff development, coaching, training, and site visits. Our belief is that staff cannot give what they do not have. If we want our children to feel connected, supported, and engaged, then we must create a community of support, connection, and engagement with our staff. 

Training topics range from afterschool basics (e.g., behavior management, planning a day) to creating a strong site team to responding appropriately to trauma and loss. We have learned that a successful training program is one that includes youth development, afterschool operations, team functioning, and effective communication.  

Q: As you look to the future of the afterschool movement, are there any serious risks and opportunities that you see on the horizon? 

A: My biggest frustration has been raising awareness of our unique program niche. Most funders don’t know about housing-based afterschool programs and the important role that we play. They also do not understand that we are not competitive for state or federal funding through ASES or 21st Century, which favor school-based programs. These funding streams are amazing and have changed the landscape of afterschool in California. Unfortunately, the structure of the funding virtually makes programs like ours ineligible. 

My wish is that funders make room for all types of youth programs – school-based, center-based, and housing-based. Giving youth and families a range of options that meet a range of needs ensures that all young people have afterschool supports and opportunities. 

Q: The Learning in Afterschool & Summer project promotes 5 key learning principles. How do you see these fitting into or guiding your programs? 

A: We strive to embody all five learning principles in our program, especially through our hands-on, project-based programming. I love the LIAS principles because they push our thinking beyond homework, grades, and test scores into the realm of self-efficacy, vision, and mastery. To me, these are essential to the success of our youth.   


__________________________

Prior to her current position at The HOPE Through Housing Foundation, Ms. Neufeld served as the Collaboration Manager for Mustangs on the Move, a consortium of community-based organizations that provides after school programming to high school youth in Northwest Pasadena. She also worked for Communities Organizing Resources to Advance Learning (CORAL) Pasadena, a multi-city after school initiative launched by the Irvine Foundation, first as a program evaluator then as Associate Director. Ms. Neufeld holds a Master’s degree in Applied Developmental Psychology from Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. She currently serves on the Si Se Puede! Learning Centers Advisory Council of the Cesar Chavez Foundation, on the 2012 BOOST (Best of Out of School Time) Conference Leadership Team, and is a part of the Learning in Afterschool & Summer Work Group. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Building Strong Connections: An Interview with Lynn Johnson - Part 2

by Sam Piha

Lynn Johnson
Lynn Johnson is a Bay Area entrepreneur and theater artist dedicated to building strong connections with creative & compassionate people to bring about positive social change. She is the Co-Founder & CEO of Glitter & Razz Productions. Lynn took some time between theater productions, to answer our questions. 

Q: As a youth development specialist and a person who I would describe as a big thinker, what should we be thinking about as we strive to grow and improve the afterschool movement? 

A: I am personally very focused on the need for greater attention for the social/emotional health of young people.  We have all heard the stories of how bullying and relational aggression are ravaging our schools and other learning spaces.  We see kids all the time experiencing depression and disconnection and stress and anxiety and having very little resources to navigate these challenges.  I believe that, as our families and institutions and communities see more and more emotional pressures from issues related to the economy and the environment, it is taking a toll on our kids that we are not quite holding ourselves accountable for.  

We know that kids can’t learn if they don’t feel safe.  In youth development frameworks, providing emotionally safe places and spaces is foundational to the practice.  However, from what I have seen in the field, we don’t go far enough in actually providing the skills and the subsequent time to practice those skills that children and youth need to learn how to regulate their own emotions, to navigate risk, to stand up in support of themselves and each other.  I see a lot of people who care about youth and feel like that caring is enough to make kids feel safe.  It’s crucial, sure, but it’s not enough.  Young people feel lost about what to do with all of the feelings going on inside them because adults rarely give them the time and space to really honor and work through those feelings.  I believe that afterschool can provide that time and space as long as afterschool professionals understand how to teach the skills that will lead to good social/emotional health.  There are organizations that are steeped in research about how social/emotional learning leads to better academic performance and I think that the afterschool field should partner with organizations like these and understand this research. 

Secondly, as part of looking at social/emotional learning in afterschool, I think it will be very important for the field to look more into single-gender learning spaces.  More research is showing that both boys and girls are being limited by the current ways that classrooms are set up.  Boys, who tend to be more physical learners, are suffering through classes where mostly female teachers are expecting them to face forward and “pay attention.”  Girls, who tend to be more focused on relationships, are feeling a lot of pressure to succeed at all costs as they compare themselves to others. They are in classrooms that don’t often support their need to learn through relationships and collaboration.  These same studies are showing that learning can often come easier in single-gender spaces where teachers can be more sensitive to the specific needs of their group of girls or group of boys rather than just trying to play to the middle.  The flexibility that afterschool offers could make it the perfect environment for providing these kinds of dynamic single-gender learning moments.

Lastly, I also have to talk about the role of strong leadership in the afterschool movement.  I believe the field should put a lot of time and energy into promoting and supporting innovation and creativity among leaders and even making room to be influenced by the bold, brave thinkers from other fields.  There are a number of educational movements that I am inspired by right now – community schools, integration of technology tools in classrooms, social entrepreneurship, etc.  I think that any and all of these approaches can improve afterschool.  It doesn’t really matter which approach it is as long as there are outside-the-box thinkers involved at all levels – program, management, district, policy – who hold a strong vision with high expectations and are willing to stick to that vision even if it feels unpopular or uncomfortable to others. 

Q: You mentioned that you “design, create and deliver learning products and processes.”  Can you talk more about these and how afterschool professionals might access these tools?

A: In addition to sending Glitter & Razz teaching artists out to lead our methodology with kids in afterschool programs – like our Go Girls! Afterschool Clubs or our Active Imagination Program for Boys – it is also important to us that we provide opportunities for afterschool professionals to learn from our methodology to provide similar programs without having to bring someone else in.  We have a 2-Day Make a Play Change the World training workshop and a shorter 3 hour workshop called The Peace Place: Classroom Management through Rhythm & Ritual, both designed to help professionals access the arts to create more compassionate and connected classrooms.   

We are also excited that, this month, we are premiering a couple of brand new products for use in homes and classrooms.  Our first book, The Brand New Book: The Creative Kids’ Guide to Doin’ Tough Stuff and Lovin’ It will be out by the end of January and includes lots of activities for kids as well as a section for the grown-ups who love them.  We have also just released our Celebration Cards, a deck of cards that promotes the power of gratitude by helping kids and adults practice gratitude together.  We have both a home and classroom set of cards.  In the coming months, we will be creating more products and will keep your readers posted. They can also keep in touch with us on our website or on our Facebook page.

____________
 
Lynn Johnson is the Co-Founder & CEO of Glitter & Razz Productions. She knew that she wanted to be an actor when she was just 5 years old and has spent her whole life centered around the learning, teaching, and creation of theater.


After graduating from Northwestern University, she founded TurnStyle Teen Theatre, a multicultural teen ensemble. The company used the process of creating original productions to explore themes central to the lives of its members. Later, in Chapel Hill, NC she designed and directed a number of community-based educational programs that focused on literature, oral history, community building, and personal narrative.

Lynn transferred her direct youth service experience to work as a trainer and organizational development consultant at the Community Network for Youth Development (CNYD). Lynn is also a founding member of OutLook Theater Project (with Rebecca Shultz), a community-based professional theater company that explores social issues from a queer perspective.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Building Strong Connections: An Interview with Lynn Johnson - Part 1

by Sam Piha

Lynn Johnson
Lynn Johnson is a Bay Area entrepreneur and theater artist dedicated to building strong connections with creative & compassionate people to bring about positive social change. She is the Co-Founder & CEO of Glitter & Razz Productions. Lynn took some time between theater productions, to answer our questions. Lynn''s full bio is at the end of Part 2 of this conversation. 



Q: Can you offer us a brief description of Glitter & Razz, the organization that you co-founded?
A: Glitter & Razz Productions is a company that supports the social/emotional learning of kids and their families through theater and expressive arts-based programs and creative products.  In addition to leading school-break camps, afterschool classes, parties & events for girls and boys ages 4-11, we also design, create and deliver learning products and processes for parents, families, educators, and youth work professionals related to bringing more empathy, creativity, compassion, and connection to the places and spaces where kids live, work and play. Glitter & Razz also has a dynamic Youth Intern program where we work with young people ages 13-18 as stipend-based volunteers and paid employees who work alongside and learn from professional teaching artists supporting younger children.

Q: You are currently doing programs within the school day at Glenview school in Oakland. Can you describe the goals of this program and the strategies you are employing? 
A: We are currently in a multi-year partnership with Glenview Elementary School to implement and integrate our Go Girls! Theater Project into their school.  Based on our Make a Play Change the World Methodology, Go Girls! Theater Project is a program for elementary school-age girls that accesses theater and expressive arts to teach and reinforce key social/emotional challenges unique to the girl experience.  

Glitter & Razz has developed this program over the last 5 years from a strong background in arts education, youth development, drama and expressive arts therapies.  Up until this point, the program has been successfully implemented exclusively in out-of-school time settings (summer camp and afterschool) and has been specifically redesigned for this partnership as a whole-school intervention.
In its first year, the Glenview Go Girls! Project is focused on all girl students from grades K-5.  This choice was made due to the fact that Glenview’s data revealed that most of the challenging social/emotional issues were stemming from girl/girl friendships as well as girls lack of tools in navigating the pressures of girl/boy social dynamics.   Year 1 of Go Girls! is made up of in-school elective classes, afterschool classes, day-long retreats for girls to acquire and practice the necessary skills to address these issues.  Year 2 will begin to integrate boys into the programming.  

The Go Girls! Project expands even further as it includes professional development for staff in the form of classroom observations, coaching, and instructional tools for teachers as well as a 12-session parent education that bridges the art and science of raising girls today.  Systems are currently in place to measure the effectiveness of the program through pre and post-test assessments of the girls and their parents.  We plan to measure the changes in attitude and behavior as a result of participation in Go Girls!

The visual and performing arts skills that are taught in Go Girls! are specifically designed  to promote active listening, public speaking, literacy, empathy, reflecting on work, giving and receiving feedback, facing fears and overcoming challenges.  In addition to these process-based skills, the girls also learn key social/emotional skills through the content of the art itself.  Each session of Go Girls! is centered around a particular theme related to forming pro-social, peaceful, self-actualized ideas and action.  The major themes in this project are:
  • Facing and standing up to bullying and relational aggression
  • Overcoming perfectionism and feeling comfortable making mistakes and taking risks
  • Learning what it means to make and be a good friend

Q: Would you reflect on the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles?

A: At Glitter & Razz, we are completely aligned with the 5 Learning Principles as defined by the Learning in Afterschool & Summer project.  I have been a teaching artist and youth worker leading arts-based experiences with children and youth for 20 years and I am passionate about the opportunity for kids to learn in creative and engaging ways during out-of-school time.  What I admire so much about the LIAS principles is that they simply breakdown the essential elements common to all high-quality out-of-school time learning experiences – it doesn’t matter the content.  So, although my programs are centered in the arts, I feel like our main responsibility is to provide an active learning environment that honors the diversity of learning styles and to help build the essential skills that young people need to create success in their own lives and contribute to something bigger than themselves.  The 5 principles very effectively express this idea and put us in the same boat as every other out-of-school time program focused on quality learning – from science to cooking to sports to leadership. As a result the LIAS principles help to create a common vocabulary amongst providers and ultimately strengthen the field.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Expanded Learning and the LIAS Learning Principles

By Sam Piha


The Afterschool Alliance, among others, has been very active in working to better define extended learning opportunities. They have published two excellent pieces which offer a framework for defining effective expanded learning principles. They have a longer document and also a one-pager that people can use when working on these concepts with stakeholders.

They offer eight principles: 

  • School-Community Partnerships
  • Engaged Learning
  • Family Engagement
  • Intentional Programming
  • Diverse, Prepared Staff
  • Participation & Access
  • Safety, Health, & Wellness
  • Ongoing Assessment & Improvement


Eight Effective Expanded Learning Principles
In a recent posting (March 9) on the Afterschool Alliance website entitled Recognition for Afterschool as a Learning Environment, author Erik Peterson cited the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project as doing an excellent job for defining engaged learning. He goes on to describe the five LIAS learning principles

Peterson ends the piece by stating "These [LIAS] principles serve as a great messaging piece to further spread the word that afterschool and summer learning programs are more than keeping young people safe.  Organizations and individuals can sign-on in support of the Learning In Afterschool and Summer principles and help continue to make the case to policy makers that the engaged learning taking place in afterschool and summer learning programs contributes to student success." 

Monday, April 2, 2012

House Block Grant Proposal Puts Federal Afterschool Funding in Jeopardy

By Sam Piha

California relies on federal 21st CCLC dollars to fund numerous afterschool programs within high-risk communities and the entire ASSETs initiative which provides afterschool learning opportunities for high school youth. This is potentially threatened by recent developments in the House of Representatives in Washington, D.C. Proposed changes would divert these funds into a larger education block grant. Below we quote an alert authored by the Afterschool Alliance and urge afterschool advocates to contact their representatives in Washington to demand the protection of afterschool funding. If these changes are agreed to by the Senate, how will the California Department of Education respond to this block grant approach? Stand by and be ready to act!


FROM THE AFTERSCHOOL ALLIANCE
"A key education committee in the U.S. House of Representatives has voted to merge the only federal funding stream dedicated to afterschool, before-school and summer learning programs into an education block grant, as part of legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  “These recent developments make it more important than ever that afterschool leaders and supporters come to Washington, D.C. for the Afterschool Alliance’s Afterschool for All Challenge in May, and in other ways make the case to lawmakers for a greater federal investment in afterschool programs,” said Afterschool Alliance Executive Director Jodi Grant."