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 AndrĂ©s 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.

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