Below are some of Rick’s responses to our interview questions. This blog post will be broken into two posts and Rick’s bio will be presented in the second post.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your background.
A: I studied Computer Science and Applied Mathematics as an undergraduate, but my real passion was (is) music. During this time I got a part-time gig at a Montessori preschool there in Santa Fe, as their music teacher. I remember being amazed that they were paying me for this! After college, I came back to California to look for a job. I eventually accepted a position with a brand new afterschool program in Palo Alto, remembering how much I loved working with the kids in Santa Fe.
Q: How did your previous work inspire your passion for professional development?
A: First off, I had the amazing fortune of having a set of directors and mentors early on who really role modeled best practices in working with children and youth and molded my thinking of what quality afterschool programming looks like.
Around the same time, I attended what would be a life-changing event. I signed up for Anthony Robbins’ weekend conference – “Unleash the Power Within”. So, with Robbins, and a succession of other mentors like Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn, and Jack Canfield, I really dove into the realm of personal development. I kept asking myself, why isn’t this kind of information available to the education community? I started wanting to see the application of Positive Psychology principles for afterschool professionals. I couldn’t find this information available, so I started synthesizing them myself.
Fast forward five years, and all this led to my applying to present a workshop at CalSAC’s State Conference in 1999. I had no idea what I was doing, but I had a lot of passion and I wanted to share some higher-level concepts with others who were working with kids during out-of-school time. I was beyond excited as these ideas were received with enthusiasm. After that, I was privileged to join the CalSAC Trainer Network and help them develop their Afterschool Development curriculum and serve as a Trainer of the Trainers for their first Trainer Network kickoff.
Q: After all of these years, what keeps you in this work?
A: As a practitioner in the field, I have always been passionate about creating the very best in Out-of-School programming for children and youth. Serving as a trainer allows me to be out there with other professionals around California and sharing that passion and rallying front line staff to up their potential. One of the best things about being a trainer is when in a workshop or during a keynote, front-line staff and site coordinators really come face to face and connect with the impact that they have on the day to day lives of youth and families.
I still believe that the powerful principles of Youth Development and Positive Psychology are under-utilized in the field today. As a trainer, I love being a voice for this unique way of inspiring, motivating, and educating those that work in the OST Profession.
We’re starting to see some movement with the recent advent of Dweck’s work on Mindset, the GRIT philosophy, the reappearance of Youth Development Philosophy, and the resurgence of Social-Emotional Development. I think it’s a good time to espouse these Positive Psychology principles. In concert, I think it could mean a huge lift to the public’s perception of the importance of the OST Profession.
Q: What are you seeing as the greatest needs for educators in the non-school hours?
A: Two things: Pay and Professionalism. And they’re related. I feel like I have a bit of a reputation as being the “angry young man” around these issues. And I have to admit, I do harbor a bit of angst around some of the policies of the leaders of the field.
OST programs have the potential to change lives and to open up new possibilities for children, youth, and families that wouldn’t be available otherwise. OST workers value continuing education and many have college degrees. Yet we treat these same workers as disposable – low wages, few hours, very few getting health insurance – while expecting them to be extraordinary in how they show up at work each day.
As a director, I can’t tell you how disheartening it is to lose fantastic employees to In-and-Out, Target, and other entry-level jobs where the pay is higher, hours are longer, and health insurance is available. Study after study has shown that staff turnover has a pronounced negative effect on OST program participants. Yet, we continue to think of our high rate of turnover as an “acceptable loss”. We all understand by now that having stable staff – significant adults – in the lives of children and youth has a profound positive effect on youth outcomes in the long run. I get very frustrated at how some administrators treat OST workers as disposable.
I was at a workshop earlier this year on Afterschool Leadership Strategies, and the workshop leader, who was the CEO of a community-based organization that provided afterschool programs, said (paraphrasing), “… you don’t want kids coming back to the program after they graduate high school and see the same staff working there… what kind of example is that?” I was irate at his comments because they demeaned not only the position of that teacher in the afterschool program, but they devalued the possibility of professionalism for any frontline staff in the workshop. The implicit message was that frontline positions aren’t “real jobs” – they should only be thought of as stepping stones to somewhere else.
The question of how to fund OST programs – which means funding the salaries of the OST Professionals staffing those programs – is a tough nut of a question. I do think we need to look at some sort of compromise between the government-funded solutions of ASES and 21st CCLC and fee-for-service models. I think what we’ve seen is that you can’t balance the entire cost on the backs of either government or parents. The daily rates available to government-funded programs will always keep program staff turning over, and the fee-for-service model locks out 70% of families from having the resources to participate, and it becomes an equity issue.