Wednesday, September 19, 2018

How this Chicago After-School Program Helped Shift the Arc of Kids’ Lives

By Sam Piha

We promote social emotional learning, character building, and participation in afterschool programs by promising that these things will help young people succeed in “school, work and life”. We are all familiar with research and evaluation that confirm that these things increase academic outcomes in both the short term and down the line.

We now have a study looking at how participation in an afterschool program changed the arc of young people’s lives. According to Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post,“ ‘You Can’t Be What You Can’t See’ is a new book by Milbrey W. McLaughlin that looks at the long-term effects of an after-school academic program in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini-Green public housing project, a violence-wracked complex that was located on the Near North Side of Chicago and was once home to some 15,000 people.”   

David L. Kirp
We interviewed Milbrey McLaughlin in a recent LIAS blog post published on June 19, 2018. We now invite you to read a review of her book and commentary entitled How this Chicago after-school program helped shift the arc of kids’ lives — for the long term. This is written by Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post and David L. Kirp from the Graduate School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Immigration and Afterschool

The harsh rhetoric surrounding immigration and the aggressive policies of this Presidential Administration has been very hard on the youth and communities we serve in afterschool. The Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) Project has published several blog posts on this issue, including guest blog posts by youth and practitioners working to address these issues with young people. Below, we call your attention to several of these important posts.


My name is Angie. In my infant years I didn't know who my mother was, for she had immigrated to the United States after I was born, leaving me and my brother under my grandmother’s wing. READ MORE


School officials report anxieties have reached new heights since Donald Trump’s inauguration, with possible consequences on young people’s ability to focus on school work, the willingness of parents to attend school events, or even to bring their children to school. READ MORE


Be aware of the joking and poking that happens in schools. Create a close to zero tolerance space for immigration jokes. For many students, it is not a joke. Also, be aware of the conclusions many undocumented students are coming up with through their time in the educational system. Residents and undocumented students with undocumented parents might conclude that higher education is not an option for them. READ MORE


California is home to the largest undocumented population in the country. Approximately 250,000 undocumented children are enrolled in California schools and an average of four students per classroom throughout the state have an undocumented parent. “Mixed status” children, children who have legal status but their parents do not, are as susceptible to the ramifications of enforcement as their undocumented peers. READ MORE


In expanded learning programs, we are seeking to learn the effects of childhood trauma and design programs that integrate trauma informed practice. Thus, we were horrified by the Trump Administration’s practice of “zero tolerance” which inflicts trauma on children and youth. READ MORE

Monday, August 13, 2018

SEL and Afterschool Are the Perfect Match: 5 Reasons Why

By Guest Blogger, Bridget Laird

Bridget Laird
Recently, I wrote a piece for Education Week regarding why SEL and after-school are a perfect match. Below I offer an excerpt from that article

Social and emotional skills are a critical part of every child's development. Likewise, after-school and out-of-school programming have a significant impact on young people and provide them with the opportunity to explore new ideas and develop important skills through real-world experiences and engaging activities.

After-school programs that incorporate social and emotional learning set kids up to succeed in the classroom, be prepared for the workplace, and thrive in life. Here are five reasons why social and emotional learning and after-school are the perfect match.

Photo Credit: Youth Institute, LBYMCA
1. Non-traditional learning environments help kids develop and practice social and emotional skills. Building kids' social and emotional skills can happen anywhere, from math class to the basketball court. But the energetic, flexible, and supportive nature of after-school programs creates a unique opportunity for kids to learn and practice these skills in ways that feel less like the classroom and more like real life.

2. Kids can prepare for successful careers before they leave elementary school. After-school programs provide kids with the opportunity to explore interests and develop skills that will lead to success in college and career. When students select the activities they're interested in, take on leadership roles in group projects, and participate in service learning, they build key skills like problem-solving, communicating clearly, and embracing differences that translate into competencies employers look for. 

Photo Credit: WINGS for Kids
3. After-school program leaders become role models and mentors. After-school program leaders are caring, trusted adults who can have a profound and positive influence on the kids they work with. When social and emotional learning is emphasized in both programming for kids and training for after-school leaders, adults are able to model their own skills and intentionally infuse them into every interaction with kids. 

4. Research shows the positive impact of high-quality after-school social and emotional programming. A growing body of evidence tells us that quality after-school social and emotional learning has far-reaching, positive effects on students. We see that kids with strong social and emotional skills are more likely to earn a high school diploma, attain a college degree, and have a full-time job. Studies also show that regular participation in these programs results in increased empathy and self-confidence, improved grades and test scores, positive behaviors, and an increased attachment to school. WINGS' recent randomized control trial (RCT) study provides firsthand examples: students who participated in WINGS for two years exhibited improved executive function and self-regulation, reduced hyperactivity and negative behavior, and improved quality of relationships with teachers.

Photo Credit: NHP Foundation
5. Social and emotional learning in after-school changes lives. Research reports can tell us a lot about the effects that we can see, but only those who participate in and lead these programs every day can truly share the impact they feel. For example, Jessica, a former program leader, used lessons that we teach in our program and our Words to Live By to help a student get through a difficult time after moving away from her home. 

Bridget Laird is Chief Executive Officer of WINGS for Kids, a nationwide after-school program focused solely on bringing SEL to at-risk kids. Follow WINGS on Twitter at @wingsforkids.

To view a guest blog post by Julia Rugg, Chief Strategy Officer at WINGS for Kids, click here

Friday, August 3, 2018

Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement

By Sam Piha

Photo Credit:
Shawn Ginwright is a university professor, author, activist, and youth program leader. He is also a leading voice in the expanded learning field, deepening our understanding of new concepts and frameworks by bringing in the importance of context, culture, and race. 

Dr. Ginwright recently authored an article entitled Shifting From Trauma Informed Care to Healing Centered Engagement. Below we offer a few excerpts from his article and urge everyone to read it in its entirety.

“Practitioners and policy stakeholders have recognized the impact of trauma on learning, and healthy development. Trauma informed care broadly refers to a set of principles that guide and direct how we view the impact of severe harm on young people’s mental, physical and emotional health. Trauma informed care encourages support and treatment to the whole person, rather than focus on only treating individual symptoms or specific behaviors.

While trauma informed care offers an important lens to support young people who have been harmed and emotionally injured, it also has its limitations. For me, I realized the term slipped into the murky water of deficit based, rather than asset driven strategies to support young people who have been harmed. Without careful consideration of the terms we use, we can create blind spots in our efforts to support young people.”

Dr. Shawn Ginwright
He goes on to explain how current formulations of trauma informed care presumes that the trauma is an individual experience, rather than a collective one:

“To illustrate this point, researchers have shown that children in high violence neighborhoods all display behavioral and psychological elements of trauma…

Second, trauma informed care requires that we treat trauma in people but provides very little insight into how we might address the root causes of trauma in neighborhoods, families, and schools. If trauma is collectively experienced, this means that we also have to consider the environmental context that caused the harm in the first place. By only treating the individual we only address half of the equation leaving the toxic systems, policies and practices neatly intact.

Third, the term trauma informed care runs the risk of focusing on the treatment of pathology (trauma), rather than fostering the possibility (well-being). What is needed is an approach that allows practitioners to approach trauma with a fresh lens which promotes a holistic view of healing from traumatic experiences and environments. One approach is called healing centered, as opposed to trauma informed. A healing centered approach is holistic involving culture, spirituality, civic action and collective healing. A healing centered approach views trauma not simply as an individual isolated experience, but rather highlights the ways in which trauma and healing are experienced collectively.”

Dr. Ginwright goes on to offer some thoughts on practice and policy: “Shifting from trauma informed care or treatment to healing centered engagement requires youth development stakeholders to expand from a treatment based model which views trauma and harm as an isolated experience, to an engagement model which supports collective well-being. Here are a few notes to consider in building healing centered engagement.
  • Start by building empathy.
Healing centered engagement begins by building empathy with young people who experience trauma... However, building empathy is critical to healing centered engagement. To create this empathy, I encourage adult staff to share their story first, and take an emotional risk by being more vulnerable, honest and open to young people. 

Fostering empathy allows for young people to feel safe sharing their experiences and emotions. The process ultimately restores their sense of well-being because they have the power name and respond to their emotional states.
  • Encourage young people to dream and imagine!
An important ingredient in healing centered engagement is the ability to acknowledge the harm and injury, but not be defined by it. Perhaps one of the greatest tools available to us is the ability to see beyond the condition, event or situation that caused the trauma in the first place.

Research shows that the ability to dream and imagine is an important factor to foster hopefulness, and optimism both of which contributes to overall well-being. Daily survival and ongoing crisis management in young people’s lives make it difficult to see beyond the present. The greatest casualty of trauma is not only depression and emotional scares, but also the loss of the ability to dream and imagine another way of living.

By creating activities and opportunities for young people to play, reimagine, design and envision their lives this process strengthens their future goal orientation. These are practices of possibility that encourage young people to envision what they want to become, and who they want to be.
  • Build critical reflection and take loving action.
Healing and well-being are fundamentally political not clinical. This means that we have to consider the ways in which the policies and practice and political decisions harm young people. Healing in this context also means that young people develop an analysis of these practices and policies that facilitated the trauma in the first place. Without an analysis of these issues, young people often internalize, and blame themselves for lack of confidence. Critical reflection provides a lens by which to filter, examine, and consider analytical and spiritual responses to trauma. 

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

Dr. Ginwright has spoken at three of our How Kids Learn conferences. You can view his presentations here: 

HKL 1, part 1

HKL 1, part 2

HKL 6 

Dr. Shawn Ginwright is Associate Professor of Education, and African American Studies at San Francisco State University and the author of Hope and Healing in Urban Education: How Activists are Reclaiming Matters of the Heart.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Immigration & Inclusion in Schools

By Sam Piha

California, like many states, is home to a large number of documented and undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients. Thus, the recent changes to our immigration policy has huge implications for our schools - teachers, parents, and youth. 

The California County Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA) has developed an excellent report on the effects of the immigration policy changes on our public schools. This report entitled California: Immigration & Inclusion in Schools has very little text, only infographics which makes it a powerful communications tool for educators and afterschool providers. Perhaps those in other states can identify similar numbers. 

We highly recommend that you take a look at this brief report (8 pages). In reviewing this report: 

  • What surprised you? 
  • What implications do these facts have on your program design and/or practice? 
  • With whom could you share this with (youth participants, program staff, school staff, parents, or others)? 

**NOTE: All infographics and images are from the California: Immigration & Inclusion in Schools report by CCSESA

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Collateral Damage: New Immigration Policies and Education in California

By Guest Blogger, Michelle O'Neill

Michelle O'Neill
Immigration reform is headline news. The post-election changes in immigration policies and increase in enforcement have resulted in profound fear and anxiety within our immigrant communities. Immigrant students are one of the most vulnerable populations served in public education. Research shows the changes in policies have negatively impacted immigrant students, and the public schools and programs that serve them. New studies reveal a discernible decline in academic performance, school attendance, enrollment in school based programs and children’s health services. 

California is home to the largest undocumented population in the country. Approximately 250,000 undocumented children are enrolled in California schools
and an average of four students per classroom throughout the state have an undocumented parent. “Mixed status” children, children who have legal status but their parents do not, are as susceptible to the ramifications of enforcement as their undocumented peers. Each equally live in fear of being separated from their parents and the possibility of having to leave everything they have known. This issue is of great significance for our state’s educators as they have the overwhelming responsibility of supporting the social-emotional and academic success of each of their students.

Though more undocumented immigrants were deported under the Obama administration than any other presidential administration, the level of anti-immigrant rhetoric and propaganda shared by the Trump administration is unparalleled. Immediately following the last election, hate crimes committed against immigrants increased by over 11% in California. The most violent type of hate crimes in Los Angeles increased by 50%, with over half of those incidents involving bias based on race, ethnicity or national origin. Schools have been a particularly common location for hate crimes. Studies show an increase in racial and religious bullying on campus, even between young children. Children as young as three-years-old are deeply aware of the anti-immigrant sentiment and the possibility of losing a parent. 

The news has recently been inundated by shocking stories of young immigrant children being taken away from their parents upon crossing the southern border. While this new approach to deterring illegal immigration is horrific and inhumane, it only shines a light on the treatment of families who have just arrived into the U.S. Out of the spotlight, immigrant families across the country are being torn apart every day. Immigrants who have lived here for decades, often longer than they have lived anywhere else, and without any kind of criminal record, are experiencing alarming rates of detention and deportation.
The recent termination of several federal programs such as Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has left hundreds of thousands of upstanding immigrants, many with U.S. citizen children, susceptible to being permanently removed from the country. While the media has focused primarily on illegal immigration reform, there are significant changes also being made to legal immigration policies in an effort to make it more difficult for immigrants to enter or remain in the country legally.

The fear of being separated from loved ones creates significant emotional stress for children and the experience of having a parent deported can result in lifelong trauma. When children do not feel safe, they cannot be ready to learn. Public schools and afterschool programs have already been hard pressed to effectively support the extent of challenging behaviors and social-emotional needs of the students they serve. A recent report by the Children’s Partnership, a California based children’s advocacy organization, found a 50% increase in immigrant children receiving diagnoses for anxiety and depression. Increases in student mental health issues coupled with climbing rates of bias-related bullying and harassment at schools is deeply troubling for educators.

As the presidential administration continues to become more aggressive in its efforts to curb immigration, educators must prepare to support more intensive student needs with less economic resources. Programs assisting low-income students such as Head Start, Free and Reduced Lunch, Medi-Cal and after school services, have experienced a significant decline in enrollment. Immigrant parents are too fearful to complete applications, terrified to share personal information that may identify them, or utilize services that may label them as a “public charge” damaging the possibility of changing their immigration status. Public schools and agencies that depend on the critical funding enrollment in these programs generates have cause for concern. With the steady decline of public school enrollment across the state, many school districts have already found themselves in a financial lurch. If immigration enforcement continues to impact participation in these programs, the financial trajectory public education agencies face in California is dismal. 

[NOTE: Graphic images above come from California: Immigration & Inclusion in Schools by the California County Superintendents Educational Services Association] 

Michelle O'Neill works for the Los Angeles County Office of Education under the Student Support Services Division.  Her career has been dedicated to serving under-resourced students in public schools. Michelle has served as a school counselor, as well as a school and district administrator. She has coordinated district wide programs that address attendance improvement, drop-out prevention, early intervention services, mental and behavioral health and alternative education. She currently serves as the County Office of Education’s Immigration Coordinator.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Five Things You Can Do Now to Increase Emotional Safety

By Sam Piha 

Sam Piha
We have known for decades that promoting young people’s sense of physical and emotional safety is foundational for any expanded learning program. This has been reinforced by research on the brain, learning, and trauma-informed practice and is the number one quality standard created by state and national entities.

The knowledge about the importance of safety in expanded learning programs is so ubiquitous that we chose to not include it in our LIAS learning principles. However, recent events at the southern border has shined a light on the importance of promoting young people’s sense of safety.

Below, we share text from a chapter on promoting safety from the Community Network for Youth Development’s Youth Development Guide: Engaging young people in after-school programming.


1. Develop group agreements regarding safety and regular group meetings to ensure that everyone feels physically and emotionally safe.
Conduct a meeting with the program participants early on to express the commitment that in your program “every person has the right to feel safe, included, and accepted.” Ask participants to define what these terms mean to them, and what agreements and rules they want to make to ensure the right of safety. Decide together what happens when the safety agreements are broken. Train young people in a process to resolve differences and decide at what point an adult should be asked to intervene.

Photo Credit: Great Valley Writing Project
2. Institute a regular group or “community” check-in meeting.
If issues of safety and relationship building are important, set aside a regular time for the group to reflect on their experience in the program and to suggest ways in which the peer group can work together even better. Make room in the meeting for people to share appreciations for their peers who are contributing to making the program a positive, safe place. [See previous LIAS blog posts on this topic.] 

3. Include “no put-downs” in your group agreements.
When developing group agreements with young people, a request for a “no put- down” rule will usually surface early in the discussion. [Note: for those preferring an alternative agreement avoiding the negative "NO", try “respect yourself and others”. This is a broad agreement and needs to be “unpacked” with the participants.] 

It is important to discuss with the young people how everyone will support its enforcement. This takes real commitment, as many young people have learned to use “put-downs” as a defense against being hurt themselves. Adult staff members will have to follow through with great consistency, offering reminders that ask members to hold to this agreement, especially in the beginning. Take every slur you hear seriously, even if it is in a teasing tone or participants claim it is okay. It is not okay because slurs hurt. It is helpful to hold group discussions or activities around “put-downs”, why they hurt, and what we can do instead. As young people come to trust that you will enforce this policy, you will see a reduction in the number of “put-downs”, and the sense of safety in the program will grow. Learning the benefits of interacting without this kind of hurtful behavior at an early age teaches young people a profound lesson in the value of mutual respect. 

4. Assess the cultural, gender, ethnic, and family structure background of your group.
Without asking unnecessarily probing questions, do what you can to learn who is in your program. Do the staff members and volunteers reflect these backgrounds? Do images and books in the classroom? Program activities and celebrations? Are there differences in who comes to program, who participates in which activities, which parents feel welcome at events?

5. Expand the group’s knowledge of particular groups and cultures. 
Photo Credit:

Start by educating yourself. Avoid tokenizing young people or others in your program or school by asking them to explain their culture. Instead, go to the library, look on the internet, attend local cultural events, and call or visit organizations promoting equity for the group you are researching. Learn what you can about the history, art, literature, music, food, celebrations, and struggles of a culture or group. Then help the young people in your program study different cultures and celebrate the contributions of different groups. You might learn about women, people of color, and gay people who have contributed to your neighborhood. Celebrate various holidays as they are celebrated in different countries. Celebrate Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Gay Pride Month, or Cesar Chavez’s Birthday. Young people can present what they’ve learned, and adults may be willing to share food, decorations, or music. Don’t make assumptions about what any particular person might share. Be sure that these celebrations are part of an ongoing process of inclusion and education, and that some groups aren’t just segregated to certain “diversity days.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Family Separation and Childhood Trauma

By Sam Piha

In expanded learning programs, we are seeking to learn the effects of childhood trauma and design programs that integrate trauma informed practice. Thus, we were horrified by the Trump Administration’s practice of “zero tolerance” which inflicts trauma on children and youth. 

Below, we post a statement by our colleagues at the Forum for Youth Investment on this topic. We have also published several LIAS blog posts on the issue of immigration and young people.  

The Forum for Youth Investment stands with our partners and peer organizations in expressing deep concerns over the Trump administration's immigration policy and its impact on children and families.

On June 20, President Trump issued an Executive Order to reverse his administration's policy of separating children from their parents. The "zero tolerance" policy that separated more than 2,300 children from their parents was inhumane and unjustifiable, but the approach that is likely to replace it is only a small improvement and falls far short of what we should demand of our nation.

In particular, the policy to allow indeterminate detention of entire families is morally indefensible.  It is also counter to everything that science tells us about child and youth development, health and well-being and the impact of trauma on young brains. As many physicians' associations have noted, these children are experiencing trauma that will likely follow them for the rest of their lives.

Photo Credit: SparkAction
Therefore, we implore the Trump administration to move swiftly to end this inhumane practice and to focus on reunifying separated children with their families as quickly as possible. We also strongly advocate for the President to work with bipartisan congressional leaders to craft just and responsible long-term immigration solutions that have at their center the health and well-being of children, young people and their families.

Please visit SparkAction's Immigration Resources page for more resources and actions to take.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

What Difference Does It Make? An Interview with Milbrey McLaughlin

By Sam Piha

Milbrey McLaughlin
Milbrey McLaughlin has been a leading thinker, researcher, and advocate on youth development, out-of-school time youth programs, and community schools for decades. Dr. McLaughlin teaches at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and is Founding Director of Stanford’s John W. Gardner Center

Dr. McLaughlin recently released a new book entitled, You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: The Power of Opportunity to Change Young Lives. Below are her responses to a few questions regarding her work. 

Q: Can you say a few words about the subject of your new book and why you decided on this? 

A: My 1994 book Urban Sanctuaries chronicled the successful youth outcomes associated with CYCLE (Community Youth Creative Learning Experience), a neighborhood-based youth program operating in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini-Green housing project. CYCLE provided the high-poverty black youth growing up there with concrete alternatives to gangs and school failure, occasions to experience life outside the four square blocks of their dense neighborhood, and opportunities to imagine futures different from the concentrated poverty they saw around them. 

While Urban Sanctuaries documented participants’ encouraging outcomes in the early 1990s, it could say little about whether these positive attitudes and behaviors could or would be sustained over time given the powerful challenges of poverty and negatives of life in Cabrini-Green. You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: The Power of Opportunity to Change Young Lives follows up with around 700 CYCLE participants 30 years later and provides a rare opportunity to see the long-term impact of a youth program on their lives, and the lives of their children.

CYCLE had remarkable success in enabling Cabrini-Green’s low income, African-American youth to make it through high school and move into positive adult lives. In a community where around 30% African-American females and less than 20% of African-American males graduated from high school, and where gang membership and early pregnancies were the norm, CYCLE participants’ accomplishments are extraordinary. Around 90% of the youth involved in CYCLE’s scholarship programs and other activities during the 1980s graduated from high school. They subsequently achieved careers such as educators, doctors, office workers, social workers, managers, youth leaders, tradesmen and law enforcement officers. Many attained success in higher education. In addition to earned Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees, CYCLE participants from the 1980s include 11 doctorates, 2 MDs, and MAs in programs such as architecture, social work, education, and business. 

Today, CYCLE alums have stable jobs, families and friendships; they are active in their communities and in their children’s lives. And, a majority of their children are high school graduates headed for higher education. 

Q: What were the key takeaways? 

A: There were several:

  • The impressive accomplishments of CYCLE alums and their children show that the negative outcomes predicted for kids who grow up in concentrated poverty like Cabrini-Green—school failure, early pregnancy, involvement with gangs, drugs—are not inevitable. They result not from a so-called “culture of poverty” but from a poverty of opportunities. But sadly, nationally, the youth who most need out-of-school opportunities like CYCLE in fact have the fewest. Kids, especially black youth, growing up in the most impoverished communities have scarce constructive things to do once school is out.
  • Attention to the character of the context available to high-poverty youth may be the single most important ingredient in transforming poor kids’ sense of who they are and what they might become. CYCLE’s experience counsels that the most productive approach to improving low-income youth’s social and academic outcomes involves changing the nature of their environment rather than zeroing in on “fixing” the kid. CYCLE demonstrates that a comprehensive, youth-centered, relationship-based program that exposes poor kids to new places, options and pathways, supports their academic and personal efforts unconditionally, and gives them the tools needed to reach their goals can transform the lives of even the most disadvantaged, marginalized youth.
  • This follow-up project highlights the importance of taking a ‘life-course’ or long-term perspective to understand the consequences of a youth program on participants’ lives. While near-term program outcomes such as high school graduation or postsecondary enrollment provide important markers of program effectiveness, they can say nothing about whether [or not] the positive developmental outcomes these benchmarks predict in fact occur, or are sustained. Arguably, the intergenerational consequences associated with CYCLE participation—what happens to their kids— may provide the ultimate gauge of sustained effects.

Photo Credit:

Q: Were there any findings that you were surprised by? 

A: Interviews, alums’ personal friendship networks and social media provided information about the lives of more than 700 CYCLE alums. Although I expected to hear many reports of alums’ rewarding personal and professional lives, I found the extent of these positive life accounts stunning. All but a handful of CYCLE participants enjoy productive middle class lives today, and former participants credit CYCLE for this success. CYCLE represents an extraordinary return on investment!

Q: Several years ago, you led qualitative research on the San Francisco Beacons. To conduct this research, you hired youth ethnographers. This was very unusual at the time. Why did you choose to conduct research in this way and what were the benefits? 

A: It seemed to me that youth would be especially perceptive observers of Beacon activities and contexts, as well as effective interviewers of youth about their Beacon experiences--better in many instances than Stanford researchers and graduate students! Stanford researchers interviewed youth and staff, observed, and reviewed record data as part of the Beacons research. The youth ethnographers’ reports and perceptions brought important ‘validity’ and insight to our work. In several instances youth ethnographers pointed out features of program settings we did not see or fully understand—particularly around staff/youth interactions. For instance, youth ethnographers considered the Beacon center that the quantitative [survey] research deemed ‘best’ not all that attractive. They preferred the Beacon center that quantitative research deemed disorganized; it was their choice because they found it welcoming and supportive in ways the other more by-the-schedule Beacon was not.

Q: In 1994, you wrote a book entitled Urban Sanctuaries, in which you describe how urban leaders create and sustain youth programs in spite of enormous challenges. Based on what you've seen and learned since then, have any of your views changed or been altered? 

A: When we began the research that led to Urban Sanctuaries in the mid-1980s, the term “positive youth development” was not widely in use among youth practitioners, if at all. Greg Darnieder, CYCLE’s founder, certainly had never heard of it! Thirty years ago, successful out-of-school programs like CYCLE generally were the work of committed, passionate individuals like Greg. Little organized support existed to foster systems or networks dedicated to providing or expanding youth development opportunities. The advice offered in Urban Sanctuaries to create more CYCLES was “go find a wizard!”  Today, however, many more resources are available to promote and enable effective OST programs. This encouraging development changes my recommendation about how to enable more effective youth programs from ‘go find a wizard,’ to advocacy for efforts that coordinate youth-focused funding streams and resources within and across local, state and federal policy systems, and so provide productive system contexts for those wizards and the youth they serve.


Milbrey McLaughlin, Ed.D. is the David Jacks Professor of Education and Public Policy, Emerita, at Stanford University and the Founding Director of the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Communities. She also is Co‑Director of the Center for Research on the Context of Teaching, an interdisciplinary research center engaged in analyses of how teaching and learning are shaped by teachers’ organizational, institutional, and social‑cultural contexts.

McLaughlin has focused throughout her career on the various institutional contexts and policies that shape youth outcomes—schools and community-based institutions most particularly. The Gardner Center embodies McLaughlin’s interest in identifying and understanding the cross-institutional issues that shape with settings within and through which youth move, and in advancing a youth sector stance to inform policy and practice.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Mindfulness Techniques in Afterschool: Experiences of a Youth Worker

By Sam Piha

The use of mindfulness techniques with young people have been shown to promote social emotional skills (self-awareness, emotional regulation, social awareness, and empathy, etc.). For years now, they have been used by schools and expanded learning programs. Mindfulness techniques are also being used to promote self-care for adults in stressful jobs (youth workers, health workers, and others). 

For some, these techniques are about relaxation, self-care, and time to regain calm. For some, they involve awareness of breath or more formal lessons on meditation. 

For others, this sounds too “touchy-feely” or "religious" for expanded learning programs. We disagree and have created a 16-week curriculum for use with young expanded learning program participants and have offered trainings for school districts and county offices of education across California. 

Below is a guest blog from an afterschool worker describing her use of mindfulness techniques in her program. 


My name is Erika Chavez. I am currently 22 years of age. I have been an after
Erika Chavez
school academic instructor for the POWER program at Pioneer school for 3 years now. I am also in the process of becoming a certified Holistic Health Coach. 

I am deeply passionate about bringing awareness concerning health and complete overall wellness to those around me, whether it is through social media, events, or in my classroom. My vision is to someday be able to start a movement that encourages and inspires a balanced and an all-round healthy lifestyle - physically, mentally, and spiritually. 

Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s own awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. 

I have been practicing mindfulness with my students for 3 years now. It all began with a pretty Fiji water bottle full with gold glitter. You see, I needed a visual way for my students to understand what mindfulness was and the purpose it had. So, I showed them the still water bottle with the glitter resting at the bottom of it. I asked them if they were able to see through the water bottle and of course their response was “yes” since the water was clear and calm. 

Photo Credit: Able Data
After I shook the entire water bottle, I then asked them again, “can you see through the water bottle now?” They all responded “no” with such wonder in their eyes. I then explained to them how that water bottle was our brain and the glitter represented our thoughts. When I introduced mindfulness to them, I explained how it was a powerful tool to help us calm that glitter down in our brains so that we could be able to clear our waters in order to make wise decisions. They then understood how it all worked and they were all motivated to calm their glitter. [See "Just Breathe" video].

I had them all lay down on the floor with their eyes closed and focused on their breathing. I then played a children’s guided meditation and they followed… sure enough there was one or two students who couldn’t stay calm but what’s new, right? However, with lots of patience and understanding, those few students who couldn’t seem to settle down began to slowly sink into the activity. I must admit, seeing all my students laying down on the floor, with their eyes closed, hands crossed on their chest, and breathing calmly was one of the most rewarding and soothing feelings ever. 

Mindfulness has allowed us as a group to come together and form a bond of understanding, kindness and support. Now they even come to me asking if we can please meditate! Especially when they’re hyper, that’s when I realize they ask for it the most. Best part is seeing them tell one another, “calm your glitter, you need to relax and make better choices”. I’ve seen them grab the water bottle and take it to that student so they can be reminded of what’s going on. It’s seriously amazing!

I’ve seen some students mature, others striving to be better, and I’ve heard others open up with very intimate things that were weighing them down. One student in particular taught me a lesson I will never forget. She opened up and talked about a very serious, sensitive and painful situation that had occurred to her. She broke past a wall that had been holding her back for some time, making her feel trapped. I was able to see the strength coming through her as she let it go. She became present and was able to acknowledge her feelings and thoughts. 

This also helped me as a teacher to better understand why she acted the way she did and I was able to support her in a much more effective way. Now she is a better student and her behavior has improved radically. This is the POWER of mindfulness.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Does the Afterschool Movement Have an Expiration Date?

By Sam Piha

Social movements come with a shelf life or expiration date. The afterschool movement is no exception. This means that all of us must get engaged to protect the future of afterschool. 

At the federal level, the Trump Administration will continue to seek the elimination of 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC). You can learn more from the Afterschool Alliance and how to get involved by clicking here.

At the California state level, many stakeholders are working together to ensure that ASES funding is increased to keep up with rising costs. You can learn more from the California AfterSchool Network and how to get involved by clicking here