Monday, March 12, 2018

In the Aftermath of Parkland: What is the Role of Expanded Learning Programs?

By Sam Piha

We were shocked and dismayed by another mass shooting, this one at  Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. As a field that promotes safety, youth voice, and youth civic engagement, we commend the students that have spoken up about gun violence. 

Photo Credit: Rolling Stone

Since the shooting, we have heard a lot about school safety, but little about the role of expanded learning program providers. To gather perspective on this, we created a survey and distributed to our stakeholders. Below is what we learned. 

We received 29 responses from leaders representing state and national expanded learning intermediaries, educational organizations (principals, county offices of education, school districts, and higher education), expanded learning program providers, program trainers, and expanded learning advocates. We asked the respondents what age level of youth they focus on. They reported Elementary age children (75%); Middle school age children (54%); and High school age youth (36%). (Note: The percentages cited in this report exceed 100% as many respondents selected more than one option.) 

We asked respondents to identify what actions expanded learning programs should take. Of the options we provided, respondents selected:
  • Review safety plans with larger school or organization (93%)
  • Develop/review safety plans and train adult staff (89%)
  • Develop/review safety plans with youth participants (85%)
  • Facilitate discussions with youth regarding any feelings about the recent school shooting (78%)
  • Assist program participants in becoming civically engaged to voice their thoughts on school safety (78%)
  • Assist program participants (if they desire) in communicating directly with school shooting survivors (56%)
Photo Credit:

Additional Write In Action Items (33%) included:

Continue to develop our professional skill set for connecting with students and providing them with the opportunities to build deeper, authentic connections with one another.

Create a Youth Voice Advocacy team for Peer to Peer Support through school day and provide safe place for youth to share.

Engage families and community organizations in all of the above! 

We are focused on STEM and our instructors don't have a lot of training in social-emotional learning.

Train adult staff in building strong and supportive school and program cultures and create consistent opportunities for inclusion amongst all youth.

Offer strategies to prevent and/or reduce youth violence (life skills, character education, bullying prevention, social emotional learning, etc.).

We allowed respondents to express their own recommendations. Some of these are cited below. 

I know how challenging our work may be at times, but being there when our children need a caring person makes a tremendous difference. As our society is grappling with essential issues such as gun control and caring for mentally ill persons, we need to also keep in mind our basic human connection, including between adults and kids. I am reminded to take time to connect and "see" one another — to stop and see even those students who may want to remain invisible as they dangerously slip through the cracks and have forgotten that they are valued and loved. My invitation is for us to keep "seeing" their goodness. Please acknowledge yourselves for who you are and all you do. I thank you for your dedication to young people.

Align safety plans with district/ school day; promote emotional safety by focusing on SEL and positive school climate; and collaborate with school-day to responsive solutions for at-risk youth.

Be informed of the signs of mental instability and report to proper agencies; have an emergency protocol that is rehearsed; create opportunities for youth to discuss their opinions and feelings about and experiences with gun violence.

Create safe spaces for children and foster relationships with them and their families. Additionally, we need to give students voice by teaching them how to positively express their view points as students from Parkland have been able to do. They are eloquent and their arguments are sound without being disrespectful.

Implement trauma-informed policies and practices in the programs, in coordination with school and district efforts around trauma.

Protect our youth, provide activities and lessons that promote self regulation, educate students on the effects of bullying, and watch for red flag behavior.

Raise awareness and promote safety in Expanded Learning programs. Receive any necessary training to know what to do in a crisis situation. Make sure the youth have a voice and that they feel like they are in a safe and supportive environment.

We acknowledge that the number of responses were small and that we only had one youth from an expanded learning program respond. We invite adult stakeholders and youth participants to share their views in a second round at this link.

Below are some resources that may be useful: 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

How Not to Lose Your Mind Over Every New Trend in Your Field

By Guest Blogger, Rebecca Fabiano

Rebecca Fabiano
It sometimes feels like risking whiplash to try to follow all the emerging trends in our field and the potential funding, resources and opportunities that come along with them. Every few years, sometimes more often, there are new trends that are often accompanied by or are a part of funding opportunities. Some of these trends stick around for awhile until something newer, younger and sexier gets introduced. Some trends seem to come around in cycles.

Trends that I’ve seen come, go and distract from other, previous trends include (not an exhaustive list!):

Apprenticeships (teens)
Bullying (middle schoolers)
Social Emotional Learning (SEL) (middle and teens)
Family engagement (all)
STEM (and then STEAM) (all)
Girls and sports (middle)
Trauma-informed practices (all)
Digital badges (middle/teens)
Literacy (elementary)
Expanded learning (all)
Out-of-school time (all)
Project-based learning (all)
Service learning (all)
21st-century skills (teens)

Terms like expanded learning and out-of-school time (OST) were used over the last five to seven years to refer to the time outside of typical school hours (7 a.m.-3 p.m.). OST seems to be the term that stuck and is more commonly used to describe the hours after school, on the weekends and even during the summer and school breaks.

Depending on the group you serve, some trends may be more relevant to you, but how do you know for sure if it’s worth “drinking the Kool-Aid”?  
Here are a few tips for deciding if a trend is for you:

  • What age group do you work with? If you are working with elementary school youth, the idea of redesigning your program to align with apprenticeship frameworks may not be that relevant. However you can consider how the things you do with your little ones now will better prepare them for when they are ready to have an apprenticeship.
  • Similarly, what family or parent/caregiver engagement looks like at the elementary school level looks very different at the high school level. Be very clear about why you want families to engage with your program, and adapt what you do and how you engage with them to meet their developmental needs.
  • Do you have the right staff to tackle this topic/trend? Before switching over to STEM programming, assess your staff’s ability to lead STEM activities. Do you have the appropriate space and resources to implement STEM programming?
  • What kind of partners might you need to take on this trend? Do you have the time and capacity to identify, foster and nurture those relationships?
  • Does this trend (or the money and resources that come with it) support your program mission or goals? If not, then why are you doing it? Is there another goal that it supports? Does it create an opportunity for you to shift or try something you’ve been wanting to try?

Here are tips for staying abreast of the trends:

Sign up for newsletters from local and national organizations like:
NOTE from Sam Piha, Temescal Associates: Other sources to follow: 

And, check your local professional development providers, intermediary networks, etc. Don’t underestimate the importance of reading the newspaper and staying abreast of trends in your local community. And pay attention to national trends. Is there a national shift toward clean energy? Will there need to be qualified people to work in that sector? Will there be money available to train young adults to be prepared to take on this work?

It’s easy to feel like you have to integrate every trend into your program and worry that you might miss an opportunity. But the clearer you are about what you do, for whom you do it and the capacity of your staff and partners to do that work well, the easier it will be to say “no” and stay focused on your work.

NOTE from Sam Piha, Temescal Associates: I first met Rebecca in 2004 when she was directing The (high school) After School Program in Lincoln Square. I was so impressed with her approach that I wrote a description of her program for the National Institute on Out-of-School Time. You can view it here

Rebecca Fabiano, master of science in education, is the founder and president of Fab Youth Philly, a small, woman-owned business that supports youth-serving organizations and serves as a lab to create programming for and with youth.

This column was originally published in Youth Today, the national news source for youth-service professionals, including child welfare and juvenile justice, youth development and out-of-school-time programming.