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. 
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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.

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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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Sharing Circles: Cyphers

By Guest Blogger, Johanna Masis, Program Director at Oakland Leaf

Johanna Masis
At Oakland Leaf, all of our programs incorporate the practice of Cyphers. We believe in the power of people's stories and life experiences regardless of how many years they have been alive.  There is a collective wisdom that exists and needs to be honored. When we practice Cyphers, or community circles, the benefits are immense. I have seen the culture of a 100 person program change for the better in less than a month by creating the space and putting in the work to Cypher. The benefits of this practice include increased familiarity with people's stories, empathy building, idea sharing, harm repair, healing for the individual who is hurting, and compassion building. The additional value add for our Newcomer youth is that they get to practice their English in a low-risk environment. 

Cyphers are used as a space to do intentional community building in the form of having a discussion on any topic.  The Cypher is meant to serve as an emotionally safe place for each participant to say their piece without interruption or judgment. Youth have very few venues where they can speak their truth without interruption, let alone without judgment. Make sure that if chairs are used, then everyone must have a chair. If you are sitting on the floor, then everyone sits on the floor. Everyone should be able to see each other. Sitting in the circle diminishes hierarchy and overall power dynamics. Everyone is equal. 

There has been mention of some intangible components of the Cypher such as the discussion, the shared values, and emotionally safe space. However, there are tangible components, too. They include: a centerpiece where youth may focus their attention; a talking piece that can be brought by the facilitator or made by the group; and something from nature (a plant, glass/bowl of water) to remind us that we are connected to the earth. I have seen youth bring a toy or a picture of their families to the circle as an offering to the group during the Cypher.

Cyphers are encouraged to happen at least once a week and many of our programs calendar them in so that youth know when they will occur. The values of the collective are held throughout the Cypher. I would encourage you to have youth share a value they bring to the first few Cyphers.  People do not have to speak but are expected to hold the talking piece for 5-10 seconds before passing the talking piece.  If there are people absent on the day of a Cypher, then a place is still held for them in the circle.

Photo Credit: Oakland Leaf

For those considering to integrate the practice they should:

  1. Model and practice with the adults and/or youth that will facilitate. Do not assume adults are natural keepers of this space. Practice with each other in staff meetings to increase comfort levels.

  2. Be honest about your role as facilitator. Based on the reason for the Cypher, if the facilitator has been harmed or has done the harm then they should not facilitate. 

  3. Use Cyphers for different reasons not just to repair harm. You don’t want to “anchor” Cyphers as these intense conversations that make people cry.

  4. Allow time for each person to share at least twice during a Cypher. If the purpose is to plan, then you may be able to have multiple Cyphers to accomplish the task. However, if repair is needed then allow a realistic amount of time for that type of Cypher.

  5. Be prepared for the vibe to get deep. Youth will share extremely personal experiences. Be prepared to sit in that discomfort. Hold everyone accountable to the values if they veer from them because of that discomfort. Remember: it may not be intentional to break from values. Defense mechanisms manifest differently for people.

  6. As the facilitator, have discussion prompts and reflection questions prepared. Sometimes a Cypher can take its natural course and as a facilitator you do not want to lose the capacity to close up the circle. 

The more often you practice having a Cypher, the easier it gets. Youth will come to expect it and for many of our youth in Oakland this is the only part of their day or week where they can speak freely. Honor each other’s voice and experiences. 

Johanna Masis majored in Religious Studies at UC Santa Barbara and did her graduate work at Holy Names University in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL). She started her career as a high school teacher and later joined AmeriCorps. She taught abroad in Japan and has, since then, dedicated herself to promoting creative ways for youth to learn in different capacities. Johanna first joined Oakland Leaf in 2013 and is currently the Program Director. She completed the CalSAC LDI 360/365 fellowship in March 2016, and she has since been an advocate for the powerful, learning experiences and network opportunities the fellowship provided. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Power of Sharing Circles

By Sam Piha

We know that bringing together young people and offering them the opportunity to have their individual voices heard in the larger community is an important practice. We are referring to “talking or sharing circles” - bringing youth together in a circle and asking each individual to speak while the rest of the group practices active listening.

In youth programs, these circle meetings are often called “sharing circles” or “community circles”. In the classroom, these are often called “morning meetings” (see video below). In our next blog post, Johanna Masis from Oakland Leaf will describe their circle practice called “Cyphers”.

There are many benefits of sharing circles that include:

1.  Promoting social and emotional learning (self awareness, social awareness, group belonging, etc.) 

2. Promoting a positive climate and learning environment.

3. Promoting emotional safety and youth voice (see California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs). 

4. Providing youth with the opportunity to express themselves and practice active listening. 

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1. Offer the circle leaders facilitation training to ensure that they are prepared to support their young participants and know how to handle difficult responses. These might be responses that are very sensitive, provoke difficult feelings of the other youth, or raise legal or ethical issues for the facilitator.

2. Decide the schedule and frequency of your circle time. Some programs do this everyday to open the group or once a week.

3. Establish group agreements that pertain to “circle time”. These group agreements can be created by the youth. The question is “what do you need to feel safe and supported when you are sharing?”

4. Discuss what is known as “active listening”. This is very important to promote a sense of safety and support for the group. 

Photo Credit: Teaching Restorative
Practices with Classroom Circles
5. Select a “talking object”. This is an object that each speaker holds when they are sharing, and they pass to the next person, which signifies a new person is sharing. These objects are often things from nature like a beautiful feather or a piece of driftwood. Some programs have several objects in a basket and one youth is asked to choose the talking object for that day. 

6. It is often recommended that the circle facilitator uses questions or prompts that young people can respond to. This can be very helpful for young people who are not accustomed or comfortable with sharing with others. Some programs have a jar of prompt questions which can be drawn by a young person for that day’s prompt. 


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Closing the Communication Gap and Finding Time

Katie Brackenridge
Katie Brackenridge is the vice president for programs for the Partnership for Children and Youth (PCY) and a leading member of the Expanded Learning 360°/365 project. At PCY, she oversees initiatives to improve the quality of and access to after-school, summer and community schools efforts in California. She also makes recommendations and advises decision-makers about policies related to the expanded learning field.

Katie is very active in promoting social emotional learning in classroom, afterschool, and summer learning settings. Below are two articles that she has published around these issues. 


Closing the Communication Gap Between School‑day and After‑school Teams

By Katie Brackenridge, originally published by Youth Today 

As a 23-year-old after-school worker in Brooklyn, New York, my “teacher” role was deeply intertwined with the personalities and interests of my kids. I wanted to know everything about what sparked the interests of each child in my room — what was funny, irritating, intriguing, intimidating.

I weaved this knowledge into the content of units and lessons, adapting as quickly as possible when they let me know that the activities were boring, easy or stupid. I used my relationships to understand when kids weren’t doing what I hoped they’d do.

Rather than enforcing what might have seemed like arbitrary rules, I circled back constantly to talk about how the rules did or did not support their needs or the needs of the group to get work done or to have fun. These practices were instinctual as a young adult with energy and optimism about the intrinsic ability of every child, and these practices were embedded in the youth development trainings I received.

Unfortunately, when teachers at the school saw my class in action, they often had concerns: Why are the children lying on the floor? Who will clean up this mess? What’s all this noise? These interactions intimidated me because I didn’t have the vocabulary to explain what I was doing. I couldn’t affirm confidently that by creating a safe space, listening to students’ voices, offering authentic learning opportunities, I was helping them self-manage, be socially aware, have self-efficacy. In short, I couldn’t translate the youth development practices into school-day language.



Photo Credit: Edutopia

Finding Time: Leveraging After School And Summer Programs’ Social And Emotional Expertise

By Katie Brackenridge, originally published by Transforming Education

Because they understand the importance of out-of-school activities, families with resources pay for classes, sports, and camps so their children continue to advance in the 80 percent of time they are not in school. They know the exposure, skills, and experiences are essential for their children’s academic, social and emotional development. In fact, over the last 40 years, upper-income parents have increased the amount they spend on their children’s enrichment activities, like tutoring and extracurricular programs, by 10 times the amount of their lower-income peers. Students from low-income families have increasingly less access to engaging activities, new experiences, and caring adults outside their families, and fewer opportunities to build social and emotional skills. This unequal access has contributed to a widening opportunity gap, with immediate consequences for academic achievement and long-term consequences for success in work and life.

Fortunately, there is a resource—though often overlooked—to address this opportunity gap. Free or low-cost expanded learning programs (that take place after school and in the summer) can offer an additional 690 hours (or 115 days) of learning time.


Wednesday, April 25, 2018

New Educational Trends and Terms

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
In America, educational trends and thinking don’t evolve. Instead, they tend to swing like a pendulum or cycle back and forth. To see a good example, just look at the writings of John Dewey from the early 1900s. 

Regardless of these swings, it is important for afterschool leaders to keep up on “new” educational trends and related terms. Below are some new terms and their definitions, as well as some resource links to learn more. 

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Trauma-informed practice involves adults recognizing the high likelihood that some (or many) youth participants have or are currently experiencing trauma. Skillful adult mentors possess a basic understanding of how trauma can impact children’s behavior and development and they strive to organize a program that is sensitive to the vulnerabilities and triggers of trauma survivors. 

They focus on providing a safe, supportive environment to promote healing from trauma and healthy development so youth may not only survive, but also thrive. They orchestrate activities and form networks of care aimed at restoring a sense of belonging to young people, their families and communities. (Dr. Marnie Curry, UC Santa Cruz)

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Culturally Responsive Teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning (Ladson-Billings,1994).

Some of the characteristics of culturally responsive teaching are:

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Restorative justice aims to shift the conversation away from how a punitive legal system can enact retribution on an offender and instead looks to help the offender make reparations to their community, usually through justice mediation, counseling, or even reparations. (Scott Johnson, Social Solutions)

Competency-based learning is a student-centered approach to instruction and assessment where students advance upon mastery of a set of skills and knowledge as they progress through their education. (AYPF, Forum for Thought Blog)

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Personalized Learning is student-centered education that involves a significant amount of student voice and choice. Personalized Learning can be broken down into five principles: competency-based learning, flexible learning, student-driven learning, dispositions for learning, and authentic learning. (Center for Collaborative Education)

Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. (

Character education addresses many tough issues in education while developing a positive school climate. Educators from a diverse array of schools have transformed their school cultures, reduced discipline referrals, increased academic achievement for all learners, developed global citizens, and improved job satisfaction and retention among teachers.Character education includes and complements a broad range of educational approaches such as whole child education, service learning, social-emotional learning, and civic education. All share a commitment to helping young people become responsible, caring, and contributing citizens. (

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

SEL Drive in Schools Is Opportunity for Youth Developers

By Katie Brackenridge 

Originally Published in Youth Today

Katie Brackenridge
Schools are finally noticing what youth programs have known for decades. The way kids feel about themselves and how they connect with other people really matters. It matters narrowly for how they do in school and more importantly for their long-term choices and opportunities for a happy, productive, fulfilling life.

What we call youth development, the school day has started to focus on as social-emotional learning (SEL). Schools’ interest in SEL is a pendulum swing away from the No Child Left Behind focus on standards and standardized tests. This is exciting news for youth developers because we have expertise in this work. It allows us to partner authentically — not about homework help and test scores — but around the deep work of self-awareness, social connections, confidence and perseverance.

The drive for schools to embrace SEL is coming from a variety of national movements. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to define “nonacademic” indicators, giving examples like student engagement, school culture and climate, and staff engagement. This won’t feel different for many districts that have already noted the symbiotic relationship between SEL and Common Core-style teaching, both of which require and support collaboration, communication and critical thinking.

Photo Credit:
Rodel Foundation of Delaware
The shift is also driven by an extensive body of research showing that a foundational set of skills, beyond those traditionally identified as academic, are needed for students to really be prepared for the demands of higher education and the workplace. These skills, labeled SEL (or 21st Century Skills or noncognitive or soft skills), are ones that the education system had long taken for granted. When we look at them, they make perfect sense — the ability to control one’s emotions and behaviors, build relationships, feel confident in one’s ability — are skills that teachers and employers alike want to see in young people and adults.

Youth development programs — whether school- or community-based — offer an amazing resource for schools around SEL, but we need to be able to clearly communicate our value. The first and most obvious value is time. While schools last, on average, six hours per day and nine months of the year, kids are playing, learning and growing all day and all year. After-school and summer learning programs can offer an additional 690 hours (or 115 days) of learning time.

Another key asset is expertise in SEL. With deep roots in youth development, expanded learning programs help young people understand their potential and reach for it. Staff are deeply committed to creating safe spaces, giving kids the opportunity to learn and practice skills, encouraging their ideas and actions, and teaching them about their impact on each other and the world. The essence of youth worker skill is captured in the many after-school quality standards that many states including California have adopted.

In California, the Partnership for Children and Youth (PCY) has gathered best thinking from partners and stakeholders across the state to be as clear and concrete as possible about what expanded learning has to offer. A foundational document — Student Success Comes Full Circle — explicitly maps California’s quality standards and practices to defined SEL outcomes. Finding Common Ground clarifies how SEL is already embedded in many existing initiatives and practices — from youth development to Positive Behavior Intervention Systems to restorative justice. These reports may be helpful messaging tools in your community.

Beyond the reports, PCY has been running a learning community for nine districts and their after-school programs for the past three years. They are working together to plan and implement concrete strategies for better coordination and better programming in both the school day and expanded learning. The work is not easy, but districts and their partners have succeeded in creating joint staff development, shared meeting and planning time, assessments to measure and improve quality, and most importantly, a deeper understanding of the value and potential of each other’s work. Ultimately, we expect these steps will result in kids having a consistently positive SEL experience from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and throughout the year.

As SEL momentum grows across the country, we must seize the opportunity to communicate the value of after-school and summer learning, and become authentic partners with the school day. This work will stretch our own SEL skills, as well as our students’, as we find new ways to collaborate, communicate, think critically and be creative. The time is ripe for expanded learning programs and the school day to leverage each other’s expertise, resources and time so every child succeeds.

Katie Brackenridge is the vice president for programs for the Partnership for Children and Youth. She oversees initiatives to improve the quality of and access to after-school, summer and community schools efforts in California. She also makes recommendations and advises decision-makers about policies related to the expanded learning field, and is a member of the Expanded Learning 360°/365 project

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Worth Noting

By Sam Piha

Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week is a joint effort of community partners, afterschool programs, youth and child development workers and individuals who have committed to declaring the last full week of April each year as a time to recognize and appreciate those who work with youth during out-of-school hours. Join us for celebrations and display your appreciation to thank afterschool professionals who make a difference in the lives of young people. 

- National Afterschool Association 

Photo Credit: National Afterschool Association
For more information and full toolkit, click here.


Diane Ehrensaft
Better understanding the issues surrounding gender, LGBTQ youth, and particularly transgender youth, is important for youth program leaders. 

Diane Ehrensaft, Ph.D. has helped us better understand these issues by contributing to our LIAS blog and by presenting at the How Kids Learn V conference in San Francisco. Ms. Ehrensaft is a developmental and clinical psychologist in the San Francisco Bay Area and the Director of Mental Health and founding member of the Child and Adolescent Gender Center, a partnership between the University of California San Francisco and community agencies to provide comprehensive interdisciplinary services and advocacy to gender nonconforming/ transgender
children and youth and their families. Her most recent book, The Gender Creative Child acts as a guide for parents who are raising children in a time of progressive change in cultural, medical and legal ideas of gender and identity.

For those who would like to learn more from Ms. Ehrensaft, she will be appearing at an upcoming City Arts & Lectures forum on June 13, 2018. For more information, click here


In our LIAS blogs and our How Kids Learn VII conference, we featured the issues surrounding childhood trauma and trauma-informed practice. We were very happy to learn that Oprah Winfrey is taking this on as an important issue for all communities to be aware of. View her 60 Minutes segment and CBS This Morning segment.

Photo Credit: CBS News

Milbrey McLaughlin

Milbrey W. McLaughlin is a leading researcher and advocate for youth development programs and the community schools movement. She is the David Jacks Professor Emeritus of Education and Public Policy at Stanford University, and the founding director of the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities. Dr. McLaughlin served as MC for our first How Kids Learn conference and is a frequent contributor to our LIAS blog. A future blog post will feature an interview with Milbrey regarding her work. 

Dr. McLaughlin authored a new book entitled You Can’t Be What You Can’t See. The result of a five-year research project, the book documents what happened to more than 700 Cabrini-Green youth two decades after they attended the Community Youth Creative Learning Experience (CYCLE), a comprehensive after-school program offering tutoring, enrichment, scholarships, summer camps, and more. Through data collection, and in-depth interviews with participants and staff, she finds that almost all had graduated high school and escaped poverty, and so had their children.

McLaughlin describes the design principles as well as the core features of the program that participants say were key to their success: mentoring, exposure to activities and resources beyond their neighborhood, and a culture of belonging in which staff committed to “never give up on a kid.” You Can’t Be What You Can’t See offers lessons for policy makers, educators, community activists, funders, and others interested in learning what makes a youth organization effective for low-income, marginalized children. To learn more, click here


Jane Quinn
Jane Quinn is Vice President and Director of National Center for Community Schools at the Children’s Aid Society. She has been a leading voice advocating for youth development programs for several decades. Ms. Quinn was a presenter at the How Kids Learn II conference in San Francisco and a frequent contributor to the LIAS blog.

Over 25 years ago, Ms. Quinn led a team at the Carnegie Corporation of New York, which released a report entitled, A Matter of Time: Risk and Opportunity in the Nonschool Hours. This report pointed out how the hours outside of school provided a major opportunity to address some glaring needs of young people. It changed the national conversation about the needs of youth in the out-of-school hours and the value of afterschool programs. To learn more, click here.