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: 

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