Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Thinking About Equity: Nature and Afterschool

By Sam Piha

When I managed afterschool programs in the SF Bay area, we learned that many of the kids we served had never been on the bay, seen the ocean, planted a seed and experienced it grow into a real plant, walked in a forest or camped outside overnight. Many had never been beyond their neighborhood, owned a swimsuit or knew how to swim. Was this an equity issue? Yes. 

In response, we conducted nature outings, camping trips, and swimming lessons. We even purchased swimsuits for those that didn’t have them. Because one of our lead agencies was the YMCA, we had resources for this. But every afterschool program can contribute by incorporating nature into their program. 
Recent studies focus not so much on what is lost when nature experience fades, but on what is gained through more exposure to natural settings, including nearby nature in urban places. - Richard Louv

Richard Louv
In two previous blog posts, we reviewed the power of nature in afterschool programs. Richard Louv, author and Co-Founder of the Children & Nature Network, has written a lot about the intersection between access to nature and development. He was recently interviewed by the Greater Good Science Center. We share an excerpt and link to the full interview below. 

Q: How will this trend impact pro-environmental attitudes and behaviors in kids?

RL: If nature experiences continue to fade from the current generation of young people, and the next, and the ones to follow, where will future stewards of the earth come from?

Past research has shown that adults who identify themselves as environmentalists or conservationists almost always had some transcendent experiences in the natural world. What happens if that personal experience virtually disappears?

Q: Are there particular kinds of experiences in nature that seem to have the most impact on kids?

RL: The quality of the nature experience depends on how direct the experience with nature is. Are kids getting their hands wet and their feet muddy? These types of activities can help kids learn to have confidence in themselves and power to make independent decisions. 

One reason for this is the risk-taking inherent in outdoor play, which plays an important role in child development. Without independent play, the critical cognitive skill called executive function is at risk. Executive function is a complex process, but at its core is the ability to exert self-control, to control and direct emotion and behavior. Children develop executive function in large part through make-believe play. The function is aptly named: When you make up your own world, you’re the executive. A child’s executive function, as it turns out, is a better predictor of success in school than IQ.

See full interview here

Richard also gave us permission to share some of his interview with youth development guru, Karen Pittman. 

RL: Did you have experiences in nature that helped form who you are today? As a child or an adult?

Karen Pittman
KP: I grew up in a working class, urban neighborhood in a family that emphasized the value of sending children outdoors to play. We did not, however, do any organized outdoor activities beyond family picnics. So it wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized that you could walk the length of Washington D.C. through Rock Creek Park, or stand on the waterfront of the Potomac River. Learning this was liberating. To this day, I seek nature to calm, inspire, reflect, and marvel at the intricacy of life.

RL: How does a lack of access to nature factor into the challenges that youth face?

KP: The Chicago Consortium for School Research defines successful young adults as those who have an integrated identity, a sense of agency, and a range of competencies. Getting to these end states requires young people to have access to safe, supportive, relationship-rich opportunities to act and reflect while being challenged to learn and master new things. 

Nature is an ideal setting for young people to learn new content, try new things, apply their skills in different ways and fail safely. Nature is a new environment for many young people – one that they haven’t explored. One of the challenges many young people face is that they don’t have comfortable opportunities to be in a group of young people in which they won’t be immediately judged for what they don’t know. 

We learned, at High Scope Camp, the importance of challenging groups to learn and do things that none, or few, youth had done (e.g. folk dancing). These are “clean slate” learning opportunities in which some will shine, some will struggle, but it is not clear who will fall into which camp. Beyond exploration, nature also provides young people with ample opportunities to have a sense of agency, to achieve mastery and to flesh out and expand their sense of identity.

RL: Can you share any stories about the benefits of nature for opportunity youth?

KP: I believe that there are studies on the importance of programs like the Fresh Air Fund. But I’ll quickly share a High Scope story. The camp was billed as an educational camp for teenagers. Their jobs, for about 4 hours a day, were to participate in one or two short exploratory classes and longer workshop experience that culminated in a product or presentation. The setting for all of this learning, however, was several hundred acres that included trails, a small lake, and a working farm. In addition, all youth participated in overnight camping or canoeing trips. These were powerful experiences for all of the young people.

But for young people from more distressed communities or stressful situations, the main impact was that they had the experience of learning that nature can be a safe place. One that, unlike their communities, has challenges that you can predict and prepare for. Then, as noted, the second important learning for these young people is that they could become leaders in a broader learning setting in which academics is not the main measure of success.

See full interview here.

There are many resources and articles on development and nature as well as program ideas. Many can be found by doing a web search of “nature and children”. There are also resources listed in the full interviews cited above. We also urge readers to take a look at the Children & Nature website. 

Richard Louv is Co-Founder and Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network, an organization supporting the international movement to connect children, their families and their communities to the natural world. He is the author of ten books, including "Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," "The Nature Principle," and "Vitamin N." His newest book, "Our Wild Calling: How Connecting to Animals Can Transform Our Lives — and Save Theirs." In 2008, he was awarded the Audubon Medal. He speaks frequently around the country and internationally.

Karen J. Pittman is president and CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment, a national nonprofit, nonpartisan “action tank” that combines thought leadership on youth development, youth policy, cross-system/cross-sector partnerships and developmental youth practice with on-the-ground training, technical assistance and support. Karen is a respected sociologist and leader in youth development. Prior to co-founding the Forum in 1998, she launched adolescent pregnancy prevention initiatives at the Children’s Defense Fund, started the Center for Youth Development and Policy Research, and served as senior vice president at the International Youth Foundation. Karen was involved in the founding of America’s Promise and directed the President’s Crime Prevention Council during the William Clinton administration. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

One More Thing

By Sam Piha

We are committed to speaking out on the youth impacts of immigration policies, sustained funding for afterschool, access to mindfulness training and playful learning opportunities afterschool. Below, we offer some additional resources on these topics.

Source: Denver Public Schools
“In the wake of the horrible tragedy in El Paso, Texas, and the ICE raids in Mississippi that have come crashing down on a nation already awash in rising racial tension and vilification of immigrant families, we…are now more than ever focused on being a safe harbor for all of our children and families.” -Denver School Superintendent Susana Cordova (Cordova’s full statement is available in several languages.)

We do know that some school districts have addressed these issues regarding immigrant youth. But what about afterschool programs? According to the Afterschool Alliance, “In communities across the country, anxiety and concern are growing among immigrant children and families in response to new immigration policies and efforts currently underway. Afterschool programs can play an important role in creating a safe and welcoming environment for immigrant students and families and cultivating a sense of belonging and overall wellbeing.” The Afterschool Alliance hosted a webinar with speakers from the National Immigration Law Center and Legal Services for Children. 

The Alliance is also in conversations with the American Constitutional Society for Law & Policy on hosting another webinar next month on the topic of the ICE raids. We will share more information once we know more.

We know that funding for afterschool is not guaranteed. Thus, it is important that we advocate every year. One way is participation in the yearly Lights On Afterschool events. 

“Join more than 8,000 communities and 1 million Americans in celebrating afterschool programs for this year's Lights On Afterschool! This nationwide event, organized by the Afterschool Alliance, calls attention to the importance of afterschool programs and the resources required to keep the lights on and the doors open. To learn more about Lights On Afterschool, register an event, access event planning tools, or to find out what’s going on in your area, visit afterschoolalliance.org.” -Youth Service America
Why not invite a policymaker to visit your program? By engaging them, you begin to build a relationship and educate them about the importance of your program and the issues that matter to you.

Check out Youth Service America’s site on GYSD Advocacy / Public Official Engagement Tools. This page will help you engage public leaders. Voices for National Service has tips for Hosting a Successful Site Visit. The Afterschool Alliance outlines five simple steps to set up a site visit and also provides these three case studies

Too often we have avoided the “F” word, FUN, in afterschool programs.  The National Afterschool Association (NAA) dedicated an issue of Afterschool Today to playful learning. In 2019, The Genius of Play spread its message to afterschool professionals and parents through a new partnership with NAA.  

Source: Laurie Grossman

For years we have been promoting the value of teaching mindfulness. We thought you might enjoy this brief radio interview with a school volunteer that teaches mindfulness to young people in an Oakland school.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Equity: A Different Literacy Lane For Youth Of Color

By Sam Piha

Daniel Summerhill is an Oakland native and a poet, spoken word artist and college professor. He recently led a ten-week writing workshop for young black men in Oakland which explored what it means to be young and black in today’s day and age. A collection of their work from that workshop was recently published in the new book Black Joy: An Anthology of Black Boy Poems.
I first heard Daniel Summerhill interviewed on KALW radio. Listen here. You can also view some of Daniel’s spoken word/poetry on his YouTube channel.  

We thought that Daniel could help us in better understanding the intersection of equity and literacy. This post includes his responses to our interview questions. 

Young folks of color have a different lane into literacy and the world of literature. Most of the canon is Eurocentric and is pretty well guarded to keep it that way. The canon as it stands may not be appealing to young people of color because they don’t see themselves in it. 
- Daniel Summerhill

Daniel Summerhill
Q: There are many people that believe that young people of color and those from low-income communities are not interested in writing or reading. Do you think this is a result of a “bias” issue? Would you also include this in a discussion of equity?

A: Absolutely. That notion is simply not true. In my experience as both a product of a low-income upbringing and my time teaching, I have found that young folks of color don’t have access to a catalog of genres/titles. Just as there is no one size fits all model for pedagogy, there is no one size fits all model for reading and writing. I wasn’t exposed to Shakespeare as a child, and honestly, I don’t know that I would have been interested if I had been. I was much more interested in Hip Hop Culture because that’s what I related to.

Young folks of color have a different lane into literacy and the world of literature. Most of the canon is Eurocentric and is pretty well guarded to keep it that way. The canon as it stands may not be appealing to young people of color because they don’t see themselves in it. That is what I discovered once I reached high school. It wasn’t that I didn’t like to read, it was that I didn’t like to read things that made me feel “othered" or “separate” or “inferior.” It is all about finding what piece of reading interests you. The writing comes naturally after you find the right book.

Q: How did you get involved in writing? Was there an adult that encouraged you?

A: I began writing in middle school. The first person who served as a catalyst for the poetry already inside me was my oldest sister, Tenesha Smith. She is a poet as well. When I was just 12 years old, I found a journal of poems she had written while she was in high school. All it took was for me to recognize what words were capable of. In particular, she wrote a poem called Wishing Upon a 747. In the hood, stars aren’t visible, so her poem, a play on the Wishing on a Star idiom, showed me that I could also use my culture and my discourse to share that story, that vantage point.

Once I got to High School, I had an English teacher named Mr. Ross. We did a unit on poetry. We wrote poems and then we shared them with the class, mine was received well. The next day after class, he pulled me to the side, bought me a brand-new journal, and wrote in it: “so much talent, never waste it.”  Til this day, I still have that journal and I have been looking for Mr. Ross to let him know the effect that day had on my career.

Q: Was there a time or event that got you interested in reading? Was there an adult that encouraged you?

A: During the same time Mr. Ross bought my journal, he also bought me my first book. It was called The White Boy Shuffle, by Paul Beatty. It is a great book and I highly recommend it to any young person (high School). Him buying me a book based on what he knew about me helped me realize that there was a world of writing separate from To Kill a Mockingbird or Lord of the Flies.

When children cannot find themselves reflected in the books they read, or when the images they see are distorted, negative, or laughable, they learn a powerful lesson about how they are devalued in the society of which they are a part. Our classrooms need to be places where all the children from all the cultures that make up the salad bowl of American society can find their mirrors.
- Rudine Sims Bishop; Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors

Q: We have found that young people greatly enjoy reading, being read to, and express themselves through writing be it through journaling or poetry/spoken word. Can you comment?

A: Human beings by nature are empathic. We want to connect and to be understood and heard. For a young person, this is true even more as they are discovering their voice. It is up to adults to provide a scaffold or framework in which they can discover their voice. Poetry, reading, writing is a multifunctional way to accomplish this. Not only are they improving their literacy skills, but they are also learning how to critically think, how to articulate, how to convey information, how to rebel, how to advocate, and how to safely release emotions. All it takes is encouragement, a pen and a paper. Poetry in particular, is universally economical that way.

Q: Can you provide any advice on how to engage young people in out-of-school in reading or writing, especially those who are turned off by school? 

A: If a student is turned off by school, it usually isn’t the student’s fault. It is because adults haven’t found the right method/environment of teaching for that young person. As we all know, there are a slew of different pedagogical methods, and many ways kids learn. Again, human beings are wired to learn. Whether it be in a classroom or in the streets, learning is inevitable. The key to fostering a safe and successful environment is discovering the student’s interest and the ways that they learn. This goes for outside of school as well. “What activity can you engage them in that will aid in their development?” is the question you should ask.

Source: KALW

Q: We have found that older youth enjoy books that are read aloud- something rarely done in after school programs. Do you have book recommendations for young people of color?

A: Chike and the River, Everyday Use by Alice Walker and One Friday Morning by Langston Hughes. Also, check out some poetry collections. They are awesome to read out loud. Some good ones are Joshua Bennett’s’ The Sobbing School and Dreaming in Kreyol by Danielle Collins.

Q: Do you have any book recommendations that young people may enjoy reading alone?

A: It is sometimes challenging for young people of color to retain information when it comes to narrative. I have used short stories to combat this. Lost in the City, a collection of short stories by Edward P. Jones is a brilliant collection to tap into. Best of all, it is a collection of short stories through the lenses of young people. All American Boys is another favorite of mine, by a good friend Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds. Anything by Chinua Achebe.

Hailing from Oakland, CA, Daniel B. Summerhill is an assistant professor of poetry/social action and composition studies at California State University Monterey Bay. He is the author of Divine, Devine, Devine (forthcoming), a semifinalist for the Charles B. Wheeler poetry prize. Summerhill holds an MFA in creative writing from Pine Manor College (Solstice). He has received the Sharon Olds Fellowship and was nominated to Everipedia’s 30 under 30 list.

Daniel has performed alongside greats such as Jasmine Mans, Abiodun Oyewole, Lebogang Mashile, Gcina Mhlophe and others. He co-headlined a European tour and was invited by the University of Kwazulu-Natal and the U.S. Embassy to teach and perform at the annual International Poetry Africa Festival in 2018. He is the 2015 NY Empire State Poetry Slam Champion and a 2015 Nitty Gritty Grand Slam Champion. His poems are published or forthcoming in the Lilly Review, Califragle, Button, Blavity and elsewhere. A chapter of his research, Black Voice: Cultivating Authentic Voice in Black Writers is forthcoming by the Massachusetts Reading Association. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

Supporting Our Youth in Times of Fear and Threats

By Sam Piha

As our young people are returning to classrooms and afterschool programs, our country is gripped by confusion, fear, and anger that is a result of hate speech, mass shootings and deportations. This is particularly true for communities of color and other marginalized groups. It is important that afterschool program leaders think about how they will respond and support their young people in light of this crisis. 

Source: Keranews.org

“My family is documented and we’re residents, but regardless of that fact, we’re just scared. We’re afraid that something can go down. Personally, I didn’t want to go to school. Anywhere I go, I feel threatened.” 
- Roman, 17yrs. old, El Paso, TX

The Arizona Center for Afterschool Excellence (AzCASE) offers the following tips for afterschool providers:

  • Understand and acknowledge that some anxiety is normal.
  • Connect with your community. Talk to parents in your program, talk to others working in your program. Just let people know that you are there for them and the kids.
  • Turn anxiety into action. If your program works with a community that is more deeply impacted and you have the flexibility, find a way to allow the kids you work with to volunteer or find a cause they can support that builds the community up.
  • Be available. Kids hear more than we may think. While you don’t want to introduce a topic that may trigger trauma, make sure the kids you serve know that you are there and willing to talk to them about their concerns and fears.
  • Take care of yourself. These events are hard for adults too. Take your own mental health temperature and know when you need to ask for support or seek help. Remember you can’t help the kids if your trauma has been triggered.
We would add that it is important for program participants have a regular opportunity, such as a sharing circle, for young people to express their thoughts and concerns - not just when there is a local or national crisis. 

Source: Washington Post

It is important that adults and youth do not fall into hopelessness. To avoid this, it is suggested that we find ways to take action for change. Below are some leading organizations, assembled by Youth Service America, that will help you take action:

March for Our Lives
Everytown for Gun Safety
Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence
The Brady Campaign

We are currently researching how  expanded learning programs should respond to ICE raids that impact their participants. We do know that some school districts have addressed this and if your program is school-based, you should seek advice from your school district host. Below are some recommendations from Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), who developed a 10-step guide to help schools and educators support children affected by Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids:

  • Make counselors, social workers, and other professionals available to help students and families who may be experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Identify bilingual liaisons who can, if needed, provide support and translation for students and families.
  • Designate safe spaces, such as school gyms, where students and families can wait for assistance if a parent is detained.
  • Provide the support and legal protections afforded by the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act if students have no place to live.
  • Ensure that law enforcement officers are not on school grounds, unless needed, because their presence could re-traumatize students and discourage families from seeking support.

Source: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Equity and Access in OST Programs

By Sam Piha

There is a new book series entitled Current Issues in Out-of-School Time. The Series Editor is Helen Janc Malone. The Series promotes and disseminates original theoretical and empirical research and promising practices from practitioners to further grow and strengthen the OST field. 

The latest book in this series is entitled Changemakers! Practitioners Advance Equity and Access in Out-of-School Time Programs, edited by Femi Vance and Sara Hill. Because equity and access are such important issues in the out-of-school time field, we approached Femi and Sara with a few interview questions. Their responses are below.

Source: Edtrust.org
Q: There is a lot of discussion among afterschool leaders and providers about the issue of “equity”. Can you define what you mean by equity?

A: With this volume we want to add to the discussion on “equity” and we cannot do that well if we all mean different things when we use the term. With that in mind, we define equity early on in the volume; it is “when young people have the tools, resources, and other supports they need to achieve desired outcomes”.

We also caution against confusing equity with equality, which is when everyone gets the exact same resources. As we know, each young person is an individual with unique needs, equality will provide some support but it may not be the kind of support each young person needs to succeed. Equity, as we see it, requires us to provide tools and resources that are intentionally aligned with, and match the needs of youth.

Q: Many afterschool programs, per their funding, are located in schools that serve black and brown families and those from low-income communities. Do you think this covers the issue of access?

A: It’s a start but it is not the full picture. A few of the chapters in the volume draw attention to strategies that we can use to improve access for youth and families and to resources for programs. Based on her work with her program, Rachel Loeper suggests concrete outreach and retention strategies to meet young people where they are and encourage programs to examine their existing practices that result in the most vulnerable youth being unaware of or worse feeling excluded from programs. Suzanne Stolz pushes us to think about how we can meet the needs of disabled youth and Andrés Henriquez and Sonia Bueno share how to get immigrant families “in the door” and provide meaningful opportunities for immigrant families to participate in and contribute to programs based in a science museum.

And, yet, we are just scratching the surface. For example, there is still a rather large unmet need for programs in the nation, and particularly in communities with concentrated povertyWhat, beyond funding, is behind that? We should also be discussing access to programs for youth who live in rural communities and how we can ensure that youth continue to access resources during the summer. Locating programs in low-income schools is just the beginning, not the end.

Q: What can programs do in the way of promoting different experiences to address inequity? 

A: One of the most impactful techniques that programs can use is to train staff to use a critical youth development approach with young people. In the volume, Merle McGee makes the case for why programs should invest in critical youth development and offers some practices and activities that can help programs to get started. In a nutshell, critical youth development helps youth to articulate, understand, analyze, and push against power, privilege, and oppression. Staff will need to examine and reflect on their own beliefs and attitudes about these issues to effectively use critical youth development.

We also encourage organizations to learn about implicit bias, or the beliefs and attitudes that unconsciously affect our thoughts and behaviors, both positively and negatively. Management and other professional staff can examine how implicit bias shows up in organizational policies and practices. In her chapter, Kathryn Sharpe taps into equity-minded OST leaders for recommendations on how to build equity and mitigate implicit bias. We think her chapter is a go-to resource for organizations ready to take that step.

Q: At the systems level, equity in afterschool concerns both issues of access and program experiences. Can you comment?

A: What we are currently lacking is an agenda that names the most pressing issues around equity and access so that we can begin to think through how we can address them. Legacy organizations, e.g. Boys and Girls Clubs, The Ys, 4H, because of their national span, may be the ones who can get this agenda rolling. Statewide intermediaries are also in a position to help set an equity and access agenda. As we have alluded to in our responses to earlier questions there is no shortage of issues that we can tackle. The tension will be deciding which issues to focus on first and the strategies to do so.

We can share a few equity and access issues that are currently on our minds. One is the misalignment between quality standards that call for equity, diversity, and inclusion and quality assessment tools that rarely address this issue thoroughly. Another is ensuring that people of color are better represented at all levels of the afterschool field, including the systems level.

A final topic that we have been paying attention to is how to recognize and respond to resistance, from people and organizations, to equity-driven practices. Equity can be uncomfortable for people to discuss because it requires us to examine the effects of privilege, power, and oppression on your daily lives. Undoubtedly, there will be resistance and knowing that, we can think through how to address it. We are currently collecting anecdotes of resistance to efforts to promote access and equity in OST programs, so if any of your readers would like to share their story, they should feel free to contact us.

People are already doing work on each of these topics, so there is progress. Again, we need a more intentional and unified approach to equity and access.

Femi Vance, Ph.D. is a researcher at American Institutes for Research (AIR) where she researches and evaluates out-of-school time programs and provides technical assistance to youth development professionals. She strives to translate her research into practice via board service, training, and practical and relevant blog posts and guides. Dr. Vance holds a Master’s in Public Policy from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in Educational Policy from UC Irvine.

Sara Hill, Ed.D. has over 25 years of experience in youth development, curriculum and instruction, nonprofit management, evaluation and research. Dr. Hill has designed and delivered professional development for hundreds of educators at all levels, including youth and staff at community based organizations, public school teachers and administrators. She received her M.Ed from Harvard University School of Education and her Ed.D. from Vanderbilt University, Peabody College.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Importance of Gender-Based Programming for Boys, Part 2

By Sam Piha

There's an emerging trend in afterschool to focus on the needs of boys,
Ashanti Branch
especially boys of color and those from low income communities. Ashanti Branch, Founder and Executive Director of Ever Forward Club, is a former classroom teacher and a strong advocate for boys. He appears in the feature film documentary entitled, The Mask You Live In. Ashanti is also featured in the History of Afterschool in America documentary where he makes the case for gender-based programming in afterschool. Below we continue our conversation with Ashanti about the needs of boys. You can view part 1 here

Q: Do you think it's helpful to develop programs that are gender based? 

A: There is a huge need to have separate gender groups for the work that the young men need to do by themselves; for the work that young women need to do by themselves. There needs to be safe space for them to come together and learn about healthy relationships, healthy conversations, and building community together.

What I realized was that our young men need a space where they can be not only held to high expectations, they can be given high support; that this is an environment where, as a mentor, I can push them the way that I need to push them and they do not worry about how it looks to other people in the room.

If young men are not learning how to be young men in a healthy way, then how will they learn how to be young men in a group with young women? They need to figure out, "How do I be? How do I work in this world?" The world is expecting you to act a certain way. We don't put them in a box. We say, however you show up and however you are, you're perfect. But how do we help you learn tools? To navigate and communicate in ways that are different - not just based on who we are and how we are raised. I think it's really important. 

As a teacher, I've seen students who are smart, who do their homework on the sly, then they goof off and talk back. Then you recognize it - they're trying to code switch. Many boys think they can't let their friends know that they are a freaking 4.0 student. I had one youth who dressed in clothes four times bigger than his body.  For four years of high school, he was valedictorian. But he knew that what he had to do and luckily he had it in him - "I'm going to take care of my business while I still fit and feel cool with my homies". Most don't have tools like that. 

Source: Ever Forward Club

Q: Can you say something about afterschool and school-day environments?

A: Afterschool programs allow young people to say, "Look, the day is over. I'm tired of pretending that I like whatever they were talking about. Now I get a space to just be free." In afterschool, we have the space to help our young men know that they are valuable. "You may not do so good in your bookwork, but you've got a lot of skills.” I think that afterschool programs allow youth to get a taste for something else, to see how good they can be at something that's not going to be marked as a grade, or not going to take their creativity and crush it because somebody told you that your drawing “is not according to the rubric”.

Many of our schools today are not engaging, exciting or fun. Unfortunately, school still looks like it did 100 years ago. I think schools are maybe one of the only industries that are operating as it did 100 years ago and still expect to be successful. We have a system where you show up, you sit down, you listen, you do what the teacher says, and you go home and hopefully you can regurgitate it when they give you a test.

How do we make sure that not only the afterschool people know how to support young people, but we also take those skills and help teachers integrate those into their classroom? I think it's important that both happen. I believe that it should happen all day long. Teachers should be educated in how boys learn differently than girls in a safe way so that teachers can make sure that they're providing the type of education that's going to reach all of their students. That's what we're trying to do in Ever Forward. We're trying to do more work around the social-emotional development of our young men, teaching them to be social-emotional leaders, so that it doesn't just happen afterschool. It happens all day long. That's what we're really excited about.

Mr. Branch, born and raised by a single mother on welfare in Oakland, California, took the road less traveled to get out of the ghetto and attended one of California’s premier engineering colleges, California Polytechnic - San Luis Obispo. After tutoring struggling students, he realized his true passion was teaching. In 2004 as a first year teacher, Ashanti started The Ever Forward Club to provide a support group for African American and Latino males, who were not achieving to the level of their potential. Since then, The Ever Forward Club has grown to serve both young men and women and become a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. 

Ashanti was awarded with a Fulbright Exchange Fellowship to India, a Rotary Club Cultural Ambassadorial Fellowship to Mexico and a 2010 Teacher of the Year Award from the Alameda-Contra Costa County Math Educators. Mr. Branch is on a mission to change the way that students interact with their education and the way schools interact with students.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The Importance of Gender-Based Programming for Boys, Part 1

By Sam Piha
Ashanti Branch

There's an emerging trend in afterschool to focus on the needs of boys, especially boys of color and those from low income communities. We published an earlier blog post which contains an interview with Lynn Johnson (Spotlight: Girls) on serving the needs of girls and young women. Now we turn to the needs of boys.

Ashanti Branch, Founder and Executive Director of Ever Forward Club, taught high school, middle school, public, private and Charter schools and is a strong advocate for boys. He appears in the feature film documentary entitled, The Mask You Live In.  Ashanti is also featured in the History of Afterschool in America documentary where he makes the case for gender-based programming in afterschool. Below are some of Ashanti’s responses to our interview questions. 

Q: Can you say a little bit about how you got into this work? 

A: I grew up as a poor boy, raised by a single mother in Oakland. As a first-year high school teacher, I wanted to help some kids in my classroom pass algebra. I realized that those young men were looking for a space to be real, to talk about what was really going on in their life, and not be ashamed about it, not be ridiculed for feeling something or by caring about their education. Many of our boys live in a community where education is not valued, where the smartest kid at the school is called names like nerd, geek, and teacher's pet. 

In some communities, students who get the highest score on the test are celebrated, people cheer for them. But in our community, those students don't get elevated. Our young men believe that to be cool, to fit in the cool crowd, you've got to act certain ways. Usually they aren't ways that are going to help them with their education and help them further their life in a positive way. That's a sad part that we've got to work on. 

That's why I'm really glad that there's some resurgence in this work, and we're trying to be a part of that work. What we've been trying to do in Ever Forward is when we started 13 years ago I was a teacher just trying to help some kids pass algebra. I wasn't trying to start a non-profit. I didn't even know what a non-profit was. 

Q: Can you comment on the needs of boys, especially boys of color and those from low income communities?

A: We are becoming aware that there is a need to support young men in really specific ways.  For so long there's been just a place of ignoring boys and allowing certain behaviors to be left as "boys will be boys" or "that's just the way boys are." I think that what has happened is that this has been let go for so long that young men have found themselves in a crisis. 

If you look at the prison population in the United States, 93% are men. That would tell you something is happening with men. It usually starts when they are little boys. The hyper-masculine narrative of what it means to be a man tells our boys that “this is how men act “ and if you step out of that box, then society has a good way of either pushing you back into the box or pushing you so far out of it that you don't even know who you are.

I think that the awakening of people in communities, the awakening of people around the nation and the world, is recognizing that we must start when they are younger. 

Society doesn't give our young men good tools with dealing with sadness and fear and shame and other kind of emotions. They're clear in what you do when you're angry. They're clear about what you do when you're happy. So if you don't fit in happy or angry, what do you do with the other emotions? Usually it comes out as anger. If somebody embarrasses me, I may feel sad. But I don't know how to deal with sadness. I know what anger looks like. Thus, everything is converted to anger. Or I just pretend like it doesn't matter, then I get checked out to the world.

Source: www.ambergristoday.com

Then how do young men deal with this? They isolate and experience quiet desperation – “no one cares about me”. They begin to self-medicate, self-fulfill those feelings of not being a part of the group - drugs, alcohol, rampant unprotected sex, gangs. They exhibit so many different behaviors to cover up their feelings that they're really trying to figure out. How do I deal with this real feeling? The documentary, "The Mask You Live In," which was done by The Representation Project, is about American masculinity and how society is shaping our boys. 

Q: Can you describe what kind of activities you do in Ever Forward Club? 

A: There are many activities and curriculums being created to support young men to promote their healthy well-being and social-emotional development. In Ever Forward, we believe that our young men need a safe space to talk about what's going on in their life and to know that any part of themselves that comes out of their words, their heart, is part of them and that's okay. If we give them tools with dealing with the real and the true part of themselves, then we are giving them more space to be fully themselves and they're not pretending to be somebody else. 

Source: Ever Forward Club
Our meetings start off with a simple check-in - your name and how are you doing right now on a scale from one to ten. If we're going to start a meeting, we should know where they are right now. If any one comes in below a seven, we're going to check in further with them. There's a way for them to self-select whether they want people to ask them questions. They can come in and fake it every day -“I'm a nine”- and know nobody's going to bother them.  But if they say “six”, we're like, "Hey, what's up? Why are you a six? What's happening?”  They are then able to indicate "I need somebody to talk to me about something." 

Our young men have a hard time asking for help. I have a hard time asking for help as an adult male. I still struggle with this. If I can't do it by myself, then maybe something's wrong with me. Once our young men feel the safety of that circle, it's really powerful for them because they know that every week I get to check-in with them. It doesn't just stop in the week. During the week, they're building a brotherhood that lasts longer than just the week, but the weekly meeting is like the big piece that helps them through that. 

Once we get check-in done, we often play a game. Usually there is some competition. For young men, competition is really huge. Sometimes it's not really about the game- it's really what happens during the game. Somebody might break a rule, cheat, or make up their own rule. Then stuff comes out. Somebody might get mad, start yelling, or call some names. When this energy comes out that is when we can help teach them. 

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Importance of Gender-Based Programming for Girls

By Sam Piha 

Lynn Johnson, Co-Founder/CEO of Spotlight: Girls, is a long-time champion of youth development and a strong advocate for girls. She is also featured in the History of Afterschool documentary talking about the need for gender-based programming in afterschool. Below are some of Lynn’s responses to our interview questions. 

Q: Why do you think it is helpful to develop gender-based programs in afterschool?  
Lynn Johnson

A: I know that there's a lot of controversy around gender-specific programming. But this is so important because we are not often looking at where inequity comes in in terms of gender in our schools and our communities. Girls are doing pretty well in school academically and graduating at higher rates than boys. So we're getting girls through school, but we're not really preparing girls for life.

Gender-based programming is important because girls are asking for it. They say they need that space to feel safe. Boys need it as well, and there's a lot of talk about that. There's a lot of great programs out there for boys, especially boys of color.

Q: Can you describe what you consider is important in serving the needs of girls? 

A: One thing that we know for sure, because there's been a lot of people doing research and talking to girls, is that girls really feel the need for a safe place. Many girls that say there aren't safe places for them to really “be”, to connect with others, and learn new skills. Girls have a very deep and complex emotional experience, so how do we give girls the skills to understand all of their emotions, understand that their emotions are okay, and then know that they can make behavioral choices separate from their emotions?

All of us who've been in the youth development field recognize the importance of social-emotional learning and non-cognitive skills. And that's exactly the type of skills that I'm talking about. Girls, no matter who they are, what they do, what they look like, or who they love, they need to be seen for themselves and be told, "You are just right as you are." They deserve a quality youth development space where they're learning those skills to say, "Here's who I am. I'm okay no matter who I am, and I get to figure out how I'm going to take this personality in all different situations." 

Girls are often so pigeonholed into, "You have to be a good girl, otherwise you are a bad girl. You have to be a certain way.” It's really hard for girls to burst out of that bubble. Perfectionism sets in and it really holds girls back. It's about having the courage to overcome all challenges, and our girls don't necessarily have those skills. Our girls are suffering rates of depression at a lot higher rate than boys. Our girls are at greater risk of being a victim of all kinds of assault, of being a victim even of bullying. There's so many things that girls are dealing with internally. Girls are kind of imploding, and we don't quite see it because they're still doing well in school. We need to take care of girls on the inside.

Q: Why is the afterschool setting a good place to accomplish this?

A: The most important thing in serving girls in afterschool is to focus on giving girls their own safe space. It's not realistic in a public school for girls to have that separate safe space. That's why afterschool is a really important setting. We can give girls a space and time in a club or in some sort of program for them to have that place where they feel safe. Also, we can offer girls opportunities for programs that they're not necessarily traditionally involved in like STEM, coding, sports and other areas where girls have traditionally been left out of the conversation. 

Source: Spotlight: Girls
At the same time, I don't think that STEM is the only thing that we should be focusing on exclusively. We need to give girls the social-emotional skills to understand their own emotional experience. They have to understand that they can be angry and upset by something, but then understand that they can make, still, a calm and confident choice behaviorally. All of those things are skills that can be taught and can be applied to any kind of content area, whether it's STEM or arts or sports or anything. I get worried when we focus too much on girls in STEM and not on their emotional experience and the skills they need to succeed in any field.

Afterschool is about old-school youth development, which includes promoting social-emotional learning and non-cognitive skills. [See Youth Development Guide 2.0]. We want to create a safe space for young people to really learn socially, learn collaboratively, learn who they are in the larger world, learn new skills while understand their own sense of growth and progress so they can really take up space as leaders.

Afterschool is the perfect place for young girls to be learning about robotics and for young girls to be learning how their bodies are so powerful as athletes and all of that. At the core it's not just about academics. It's about, "How do I, as a girl, in a safe space, understand who I am, understand why I might be feeling resistant to new experiences, why I might be resistant to certain fields of learning, and understand how to move through those areas of resistance, how to say yes to new things." Afterschool gives you that space, that time. 

Source: Spotlight: Girls
Q: We have been introduced to a number of new concepts, like growth mindsets, grit, social emotional learning, etc. Can you comment?

A: Another important way that afterschool is such an important environment for girls' learning is informed by the research on “growth mindsets”. Girls really suffer from perfectionism. We see this across the board- across race, across socioeconomic groups. Girls are really often stuck in this need to do it right, do it the right way, not look stupid, to not make a mistake. It holds girls back from really, as we say in our program, take center stage and try something new. This research around growth mindset, around this idea that we don't come to a situation with a particular talent, per se, that we get to learn and grow, and we get to go, "Oh, I'm getting there. I'm getting better at something. I get to try something, make a mistake, and try it again." This is really important for girls.

In our Go Girls program, one thing that's at the heart of our culture is this idea that, as girls, we celebrate making mistakes. We have a whole thing about that. There is a whole culture where we, as adults, we're modeling like, "Oops, I made a mistake. Let me figure out how I can learn from that mistake and get better and grow." To me, that is really at the heart of a learning experience, especially for a girl, "How do I get out of what I'm told I'm supposed to be and just try to look imperfect for a second and do something new?" That's a really crucial area for afterschool and girls' learning.

Lynn Johnson is a visionary entrepreneur, speaker, girl advocate, and Co-Founder/CEO of Spotlight: Girls – a certified B Corp that inspires, educates, and activates girls & women to take center stage. Lynn serves on the National Advisory Board of Teaching Artists Guild, the Board of Directors of the How Kids Learn Foundation, and the Alameda County Commission on the Status of Women.

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