Friday, May 29, 2015

What it Means to be a Poor Child in America

Sam Piha
Many of our afterschool and summer programs are serving youth from low-income communities. We believe that poverty is a major issue affecting the learning of these youth.

Below, we repost a newsletter from the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA) on the topic of children in poverty. The BBA has been a strong supporter of the afterschool and summer movement, and of LIAS, specifically. Read the BBA Mission Statement and Accountability Statement to learn more. Use the BBA short video and infographic to spread the word. We urge you to visit their website and reflect on this issue.

This month we explore what it means to be poor in America and how that affects students and their families and schools. Growing up in poverty often means not having enough money for rent or food, but it’s much more than that. We devote this newsletter to various perspectives on the issue. In doing so, we hope to underscore the urgent need for a multifaceted, sustained approach to addressing the barriers to success that poverty poses and reducing its prevalence. Such an approach is critical not only to improving our children’s academic future, but a brighter future for our democracy.

We begin with thanks to Robert Putnam, whose seminal 2000 book, Bowling Alone, documented the growing fragmentation of American society, and the dangers to a democracy when its residents no longer interact regularly with people who have different political, economic, and cultural perspectives. Fifteen years later, Putnam’s warnings have come home to roost, as he writes in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis:  

It’s the American dream: get a good education, work hard, buy a house, and achieve prosperity and success. This is the America we believe in—a nation of opportunity, constrained only by ability and effort. But during the last twenty-five years we have seen a disturbing “opportunity gap” emerge. Americans have always believed in equality of opportunity, the idea that all kids, regardless of their family background, should have a decent chance to improve their lot in life. Now, this central tenet of the American dream seems no longer true or at the least, much less true than it was.

recent commentary for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity shows that the US stands out not only for high rates of general and child poverty. We are also an outlier in how narrowly we define poverty. A “consensual” measure of poverty pioneered in Britain in 1983 and now employed across a range of nations – from wealthy Japan to Bangladesh – “measures poverty using the public’s views on what is an acceptable standard of living in contemporary society.” Based on the majority’s views of life necessities, poverty is defined as the point at which adults lack three or more necessities and children lack two or more, “a level of deprivation at which households are much more likely to experience a range of other significant disadvantages including poor health and serious financial difficulties.” The authors note that, while that standard “has support from all social groups, across classes, gender, age and, importantly, political affiliation,” the US stubbornly clings to an outdated definition laden with value judgments.

So while “the public endorses the idea that in a wealthy country such as Britain, no child should have to do without a decent minimum of essential clothing, or be prevented from going on a school trip because their parents can’t afford it,” a growing share of children in our even wealthier country grow up in exactly those deprived circumstances. Moreover, many politicians suggest that there is nothing we should do about it.

Indeed, music education, which many of us take for granted, isn’t a given among poor students, since “Music classes are usually cut first when schools reevaluate their budget.” This is especially upsetting given a new study showing that music classes enabled low-income students who would otherwise lose ground in reading to maintain their skill level. As the study protocol illustrates, children in low-income communities must rely on private organizations to fill that critical gap: “Forty-two children between the ages 6 and 9 were recruited from the waitlist of the Harmony Project, an organization that offers free music education to children from low-income communities. Children were then randomly placed in a music place or not, with none of the children having previously received music education.”

Last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation looked back on its 25 years of investments in  documenting what it means to be a poor child in America.  In 2003, Casey popularized the term “the high cost of being poor,” spurring a host of federal, state, and local policies to address problems from predatory lending to food deserts. Perhaps most critical, the Foundation has provided advocates and policymakers with detailed state-by-state information to advance policies that help families avoid and stay out of poverty. Indeed, Casey President and CEO Patrick McCarthy joined The Hill to “explore policy ideas aimed at expanding opportunity for low-income children and their families -- from early childhood education and children's healthcare, to expanding the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit, to strengthening food assistance programs.” Check out the April 29 event summary here.

Finally, educators have weighed in on what education policy would look like if we were to take seriously the need to address these aspects of poverty and their impacts on students and schools. The Education Opportunity Network touts the California Build-and-Support model, and the Opportunity Dashboard advanced by Linda Darling-Hammond, over what it terms our current “test-and-punish” model. Targeted support for teachers is critical if school improvements are to succeed, given the difficult conditions teachers face every day in high-poverty schools, and the resulting low morale and high rates of turnover. In her recent YEP-DC Recess blog, a DCPS elementary school teacher agrees, pointing out Congress’ failure to include teachers in requests for “expert” input, and resulting wrongheaded policy choices.
About the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education (BBA) 
The BBA is a national campaign that acknowledges the impact of social and economic disadvantage on schools and students and proposes evidence-based policies to improve schools and remedy conditions that limit many children’s readiness to learn. 

Monday, May 18, 2015

Digital Badges in Expanded Learning Programs

By Sam Piha
Sam Piha
If the expanded learning movement is to continue to prosper, these programs must be recognized as important places of learning. The use and awarding of digital badges to recognize the learning that takes place within these programs represents an excellent strategy to accomplish this. Digital badges can be used to recognize exemplar programs, staff trainers, program staff, and volunteers who have completed professional development and youth who have acquired new knowledge and skills through participation in expanded learning activities. 

What is a Digital Badge?
“Digital badges are an assessment and credentialing mechanism that is housed and managed online. Badges are designed to make visible and validate learning in both formal and informal settings, and hold the potential to help transform where and how learning is valued.”[1] 

What are the Benefits of Digital Badges?
The Center for Digital Badges (CDB) and our partners believe that by using digital badges to acknowledge the learning of staff and youth participants, these programs will benefit in the following ways: 
  • Because program leaders must think through and explicitly state what learning will take place in program activities or clubs that are to be recognized by a digital badge; this specificity raises the bar for learning accountability. 
  • The awarding of digital badges defines the learning that goes on within a program for outsiders, which is vital if expanded learning programs are to be recognized as important places of learning. Badges can become important, visible evidence that expanded learning programs take learning seriously and apply rigorous standards to learning outcomes. 
  • The adult program staff members often acquire important knowledge and skills through professional development and years of experience. Youth acquire valuable skills and knowledge through their participation in specific expanded learning activities. Both deserve an artifact that documents their learning and—importantly—can be shared with peers, future employers, and those allowing admittance to higher education. 

What are the Steps in Creating a Digital Badge System?
  1. Ask “why?”;
  2. Determine which activities will be included in the first round of digital badges;
  3. Determine the specifics - learning goals, criteria, and evidence;
  4. Determine how the badges will be awarded and managed;
  5. Determine who will create and how the badges will be created;
  6. Design the badge by considering image, shape, color, etc.;
  7. Deliver the digital badge to the recipient using a “digital backpack”; and
  8. How recipients can make use of the digital badges.
For more detailed information, go to

What Expanded Learning Programs Are Using Digital Badges?
California School-Age Consortium 
CalSAC awards digital badges to their trainers and the afterschool staff that participate in their professional development training and programs.

Given the breadth, scale and depth of training and leadership development opportunities that staff and programs access from CalSAC any given year, it seemed clear that there should be a way for them to capture the investment they’re making toward providing quality services for children and youth.” 
- CalSAC Executive Director, Ruth Obel-Jorgensen

Central Valley Digital Badge Project 
This group used digital badges to recognize high school afterschool programs that are exemplar in demonstrating the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) learning principles.

“Based on anecdotal evidence, the digital badge program assessments assisted program leaders and youth identify strengths and weaknesses in activity content and delivery.” - Lori Carr, Fresno County Office of Education

Youth Institute (YMCA of Greater Long Beach) and Replication Sites
 The use of digital badges by the Youth Institute acknowledges the learning of their program alumni and newer youth participants who complete program courses, projects and experiences.

“We saw digital badges as a perfect opportunity for our youth to be recognized for their knowledge and expertise in digital media and the ability to demonstrate mastery of skills in a workforce setting. Every activity in the summer and year-round is product-based; the youth need to show expertise of a subject matter by completing the project. Our program and curriculum model blend perfectly with the badge system.”  – Les Peters, Executive Director, Youth Institute

Other Expanded Learning Programs Awarding Digital Badges
The Center for Digital Badges serves as a clearinghouse for information and research on digital badges. It also offers a number of case studies on the use of digital badges by expanded learning programs. It was created by Temescal Associates and offers badge design and implementation support for expanded learning programs. 

[1] Digital Badges; MacArthur Foundation; []; April 2015

Monday, May 11, 2015

HKL: Providing Thought-Provoking, Educational Opportunities

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) Project and Temescal Associates has sponsored an annual conference since 2012 under the banner of “How Kids Learn” (HKL). These gatherings were designed to provide youth workers and their educational stakeholders with thought-provoking, educational opportunities. 

We are happy to announce that we are expanding our “How Kids Learn” events. In addition to sponsoring an annual conference, we will also sponsor smaller, local events designed to offer access to national thinkers and researchers, innovative practitioners, and networking opportunities. Below, is preview of our upcoming How Kids Learn events scheduled to date. You can get more information on the HKL initiative by clicking here

HKL V: Preparing Youth for Work and Career Success
Our fifth How Kids Learn conference will focus on workforce readiness issues by offering presentations by experts in the field and from the business community. We will also feature practitioners who have developed innovative programs to prepare children and adolescents for the world of work. This conference will be conducted in the Bay Area on December 10, 2015 and in Los Angeles on January 21, 2016. Please save these dates and we will provide more information later. (To view video presentations from our previous conferences, click here.) 

Special, free screenings of Finding the Gold Within 
This feature film documentary had its world premiere recently at the Mill Valley California film festival. It features a program from Akron, OH named Alchemy, Inc. This group uses drumming, mythology, and journaling to promote the healthy development of inner city African-American children and youth. Following the film, we will host a Q&A session with the film director and young people who are featured in the film. To view a trailer of the film, click here.

These screenings are intended for Bay Area youth program providers and youth leaders from those programs, and will be conducted between May 17-19th in San Francisco and Berkeley. It is especially appropriate for programs that serve older youth. We also encourage program staff to bring youth representatives. For more details, visit

Monday, May 4, 2015

Dr. Tony Smith - Former OUSD Superintendent Now State Superintendent of Education, Illinois

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha

Oakland Unified School District lost a superb superintendent when Tony Smith left in 2013. He recently resurfaced as new State Superintendent of Education in Illinois this April 2015.

Below we share an interview we did with Dr. Smith when he was in Oakland. You can also view this interview in a 2-part video with Dr. Smith by clicking here and here

Q: The LIAS learning principles were not intended to apply to strictly afterschool settings. In your experience, how are these principles, when taken together, relevant to young people’s learning? 
Dr. Tony Smith, State Superintendent of Education, Illinois
Photo Credit:
A: I think the principles about learning and afterschool time are really about engaging the whole child, which is what I think good educators do and good school systems should be thinking about all the time. The research that has been happening reminds us that young people are active learners in the larger world around them and that we, as adults and communities, must support young people in their learning as they become more pro-socially integrated into the life of our communities.

Q: How are these LIAS principles related to what we are doing in school reform efforts? 
A: The guiding principles that have been pushed forward recently in the afterschool time are helping us think more about the whole child, about community schools, and connecting the world that our young people and families live in with the school house. We have to get much more thoughtful by engaging with community. We want to advance reform so that it’s not just about school reform, its about changing our notions of learning, engaging and inviting a fuller experience for what learning can be. The afterschool time is really pushing that and helping change ideas about what we should be doing inside of school.  

Q: We are focusing our efforts on the idea of improving our approaches to how children learn. Do you see this as an important shift in how we talk about learning in afterschool and summer programs? 
A: The really exciting part of what’s coming from brain research and our knowledge of how young people learn is that we need to change the daily experience inside of school and also remember that kids are in school for only a very short amount of their time. So how are we supporting young people to know, learn, and be productive citizens? 

Photo Credit:
Adults  have to start thinking differently. All of us need to stay close to learning theory and realize that there is more to learn about learning. If we can continue to basically teach and help people who are responsible for education know that they have to be learners themselves, I think that helps us change the conversation. I think staying grounded in the research and talking about the ideas of learning help to change the conversation over time. Then, with more evidence, we can change our behaviors and begin saying, “Hey the whole community should be the learning environment”. We should have more structured opportunities for kids to take the lead on stuff and bring what they’re learning outside of the school back in. That way, I think educators can be the learners also.  

Q: Can you speak to one or more of the LIAS principles that most resonate for you when you think about creating learning environments and activities for kids? 
A: I think the guiding principles are essential. I think it’s so important to have a set of core ideas that you can work around. The way these principles have been compiled are really important. 

Obviously the work of being in a relationship with people, working deeply on stuff, really stuff you care about, matters.  The principle that is fundamentally important to me though is about expanding horizons, about the opportunity for young people to see possible futures. Sometimes, particularly in the urban setting or quite frankly in any setting, young people don’t have folks around them that are helping to expand the notions of what’s possible for them, who are looking into their eyes and saying, “I see greatness in you, and I see more than you see in yourself right now”. 

I think that afterschool time should offer those opportunities. Those in afterschool are less tethered to the school building, can do other stuff, can get further a field and actually get into some uncomfortable and different situations that provoke “huh, I never really thought about it like that”, or maybe “I could”, or “I really liked when we went there”. I think that when you have young people who only know a few square blocks, exposing them to new things can be fundamentally transformative. All of the other guiding principles are really important, but taking seriously that we have a responsibility to encourage, activate, and energize notions of possible futures, expanding horizons, that’s the one where I really think afterschool is uniquely and importantly positioned to do. 

Photo credit:
Q:What happens when we structure youth programs without paying attention to these learning principles? 
A: I think when we don’t pay attention to what really works for young people - about developing mastery, about caring about things, about working closely with others - then we create the conditions for young people to disengage.  This idea of young people dropping out of high school is a slow process of pushing kids out of the system.  If we don’t pay attention to what we know works for human beings, what we’re learning about human development, and all the learning research, then we’re responsible for making it less likely that young people realize their potential, that they’re connected, that they take leadership in positive ways.  

Young people are powerful and they want to have agency and exert energy on the world. Unless we’re helping them do that, working together, and helping with some boundaries,  I think we’re responsible for young people checking out and being outside of the system. 

Q: Which principle do you ultimately want every student to walk away with, more than any other principle?
A: At the end of the day, there’s no excuse for a young person or anybody not developing mastery over time. Many of these principles are facilitating conditions to develop mastery over time.  If in fact we don’t hold ourselves as a community, as adults, as educators, responsible for ensuring that people develop mastery, then we’ve failed in our responsibility. Having some sense of strength and agency is critical for every young person. It is not about seat time, it is about competence. It’s not about how long you did it, it’s about how well you do it. And we need to find ways to help every young person be great at something. 

Let Youth Lead

Source: FAB Youth Philly By Guest Blogger, Rebecca Fabiano, Founder & President, FAB Youth Philly (This was originally published on the ...