Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Race in America: Finding the Gold Within

By Sam Piha

We first met Karina Epperlein years ago at a screening of her film, Finding the Gold Within. This documentary chronicled the transition of young black men from high school to college, the issues of racism they encountered, and the role of Alchemy Inc., an afterschool program in supporting this transition. We were so taken by the film, that we sponsored several screenings in the San Francisco Bay Area. (To watch or stream Karina's documentary, Finding the Gold Within, click here.)
Karina Epperlein and Kwami Jerry Williams at HKL

We also invited some of the young men to talk about their experiences. Later, we featured Karina, a drummer from Alchemy Inc., Kwami Williams, and Darius Simpson (a young poet featured in the documentary) at our How Kids Learn Conferences.

Karina was recently in the news about a Black Lives Matter mural that she is painting on her garage in Berkeley, Ca. To view the news report on this, click here. We caught up with Karina to ask her a few questions as issues of race are back in the news. Below are Karina’s responses to our interview questions.
Source: Goldthefilm.com

Q: Why did you choose the topic of race and racial identity as a theme in your film, Finding the Gold Within?
A: In the fall of 2010, almost 10 years ago, my first visions for Finding the Gold Within took hold of me. Of course I knew that the film would unavoidably have to do with racism in America, even though Alchemy is not overtly addressing those issues in their highly sophisticated, astonishingly effective and unique work. The theme of racial injustice weaves itself throughout the film because that has been and is the everyday reality for African Americans. Not just now, but for 400 years. Racism is America’s biggest "story."

Once I witnessed in person Alchemy’s work, it became clear to me that it was unavoidably highlighting a wound in American society. Getting close to the “Alchemy family” and my six chosen protagonists for the film (and their families), we constantly discussed things “invisible” to many white Americans – like the Black man, feared and reviled, and the long history of that. Trust was built in part because I was German, with an accent, had not grown up in this country, and I naturally possess enthusiasm and passion for deep inquiry, authentic expression, and justice. I knew African American history and literature. The bloody history of slavery, oppression, criminalization – and so much denial and whitewashing. I knew about the ongoing murdering of Black people by state violence and hate. I had studied Carl Jung’s and Joseph Campbell’s work. So, I saw Kwame Shrugg’s (ED, Alchemy Inc.) work in the context of mythology, racism, injustice, and history. And in my interviews over the years, the protagonists kept confiding with stories about their ongoing struggle with racism, their confusion and fury.

Coming to this country in 1981, my background allowed me to see America’s racism early on. In the early nineties, I taught creative expression for five years as a volunteer in prison and three years in drug rehabs. This community work and critical reading, taught me about American society, culture, history, and its “two worlds or realities.” I knew that a country not dealing with its genocidal history is a dangerous country. Racism kills people’s ability to find the ‘gold within’ themselves and others. This is true for victim and perpetrator (and bystander) alike, whose hearts must whither.

Throughout the film, words quoting Ralph Elison and Langston Hughes fading in slowly turn to gold. Toward the end it says: “Besides, they’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed – I, too, am America.”
Source: www.berkeleyside.com

Q: In what way did the experience of growing up in Germany effect your own views of race, racial identity and the need to confront America's issues of slavery?
A: Maybe this question I should have answered first because my background and upbringing has been crucial in my life and work. It is the red thread in my art. It has highly sensitized me to injustice anywhere. Everything I am and stand for, I owe to my parents’ incredible resilience, integrity, and goodness.

As a post-war German, I was born into moral and literal rubble, and into poverty. I grew up in an unusual family and a devastated culture where it was important to make sure that "never again" was a serious way of life – understanding and fighting fascism, anti-Semitism, racism and authoritarianism. Everyone was guilty. Shame and denial were pervasive, as well as great sorrow. In order to redeem ourselves many of us critically looked into our country’s history, society, institutions, and our inner selves so as not to repeat the horrors of the past. (Not all, but enough did this work.) This marked me for life. As a young person, I was rebellious and impatient, but 50 - 60 years later, Germany's society and culture finally had started to change palpably, almost unrecognizably so. The lessons are still alive. They are actively kept alive.

Now, six years since the world premiere of Finding the Gold Within, I would say a revolution is underway. Thanks to years of work by the BLACK LIVES MATTER movement there is growing awareness, reckoning and awakening is in progress. Eloquent truth telling is happening, old and new demands are being made. The voices of Black people are increasingly televised, seen, heard, printed, and listened to. But there is hope. White America’s innocence has been pierced, and denial exposed. Nevertheless, it will be a long road to bring about the needed change and true transformation.

Q: Can you provide an update on the protagonists in your documentary? Where are they now? 
A: To read the full update and see where they are now, click here

(Note: In a future post we will interview Alchemy Inc.'s, Executive Director, Kwame Scruggs).

Karina Epperlein is an independent filmmaker with over 45 years of experience as a theater artist, teacher and filmmaker. Her films have consistently looked into society’s dark corners, finding the light, and addressing themes of justice, transformation and healing. Her award-winning documentary work of twenty-two years spans themes from women in prison (Voices from Inside, 1996), the Armenian genocide, to dance and disability. Her short film Phoenix Dance (2006) screened in more than 120 festivals and theatres all over the world. It was “short-listed” for the 2006 Oscar Nomination for Short Documentary, and won numerous awards internationally, including a Golden Gate Award from the San Francisco Int’l Film Festival.
Finding the Gold Within, her tenth film, had its world premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival in 2014. The feature length documentary has been and is screening at numerous film festivals, theatres, conferences, think tanks, colleges, Black Male Summit, hospitals, public school districts, etc. – often with the film’s protagonists present for Q&A’s and/or workshops. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Social Emotional Learning During COVID-19 With A Virtual Comfort Dog?

By Sam Piha

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting stay-at-home orders, and school and youth program closures or distance learning, have been very difficult for young people. This is the perfect time to promote social emotional learning in response to the negative impacts of these events.

Visits by or the presence of a comfort dog would ease these impacts for young people, both in school and afterschool programs. However, COVID-19 restrictions make it impossible to schedule visits by a comfort dog. Thus, we are working to create videos with a virtual talking comfort dog that young people can access online.

My Pal, Luke is designed for youth program leaders, educators and parents. It addresses many social emotional elements through Luke's words and questions, including a check-in with kids. Luke also reads his favorite books with kids and educates them on how they make sense of current events. 

Is there anything more comforting than the reassuring touch of a dog? Scientists have discovered that interacting with animals boosts levels of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin in our brains, and can even improve our immune system. These findings prove that dogs bring comfort to the people they interact with. - American Kennel Club

Please help youth access My Pal, Luke. You can do this by including this in your in-person program or embedding this resource into your distance learning. You can also help by sharing this with educators, parents and parent groups. Follow the My Pal, Luke instagram here or to watch episode 1 on YouTube, click here

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Issues of COVID-19, Distance Learning and Racial Equity: Conversations for Afterschool Providers

By Sam Piha

The last few months have been very challenging for afterschool program providers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for distance learning and national reflection on racial equity. To assist afterschool program leaders, we have sponsored several webinars on these topics. We have linked these resources below, which can be accessed online for free.

"Check-In" With Youth Remotely? There's An App For That- This Speaker's Forum webinar (90 mins) features HelloYello, which is a web-based app that students use to "check- in" with their teachers to express their thoughts and feelings and share their daily experiences. Teachers, educators, counselors, and afterschool staff can use HelloYello to understand all of their students from a "whole child" perspective, monitor their students' emotional wellness, and sustain trusting relationships.

COVID-19 Era- Afterschool's Whole Child Approach- This Speaker's Forum webinar (56 mins) features Katie Brackenridge (Turnaround for Children) and Dr. Deborah Moroney (AIR) presenting on the topic of Afterschool's Whole Child Approach. This webinar covers many strategies including exploring the science of learning and development, and the practices that are most essential in this COVID-19 era.

Not Business as Usual: The Needs of Low-Income Youth of Color in the Era of COVID-19- In this Speaker's Forum Webinar (55 mins) Dr. Pedro Noguera (USC) presents on the topic of the needs of low-income youth of color during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities of color have been hit particularly hard in terms of number of cases and deaths, as well as the negative impacts on youth due to school and program closures and poor internet access.

The Art of Distance Learning in Afterschool- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (66 mins) Autrilla Gillis of ISANA Academies and EduCare Foundation staff share their distance learning models and discuss how they prepared/ supported staff, recruited participants and their lessons learned navigating this new model.

Healing the Impact of Racial Injustice and Inequity: The Role of Afterschool- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (80 mins) Dr. Shawn Ginwright (SFSU) examines how the COVID-19 pandemic and the long list of African Americans killed by police has laid bare the racial injustice and inequity in our society. Should we urge/ support youth to engage in civic action? And, is there a way to do some of this work remotely, as programs may not re-open in the Fall? Dr. Ginwright addresses some of these questions in his presentation and later answers participants' questions.

Pause: Cultivate Grace for Yourself and Your Community- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (56 mins) Stacey Daraio (Temescal Associates) and Laurie Grossman (Inner Explorer) lead a webinar on Mindfulness in afterschool. Grace is most easily found in the present moment. Journey with them to learn mindfulness practices that you can share with your community to live in the present. You will leave calmer and with resources to use and share.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Youth Voice and Self-Expression in Afterschool: Journaling, Poetry and Spoken Word

By Sam Piha
Source: Greater Good Science Center

Providing opportunities for youth to reflect on and express their thoughts and feelings are a critical strategy for any afterschool program. These opportunities are essential to promoting youth voice, healthy youth development, social emotional skills and resiliency, especially those who have experienced trauma. Strategies and activities include sharing circles, poetry and spoken word, journaling, videography, art and the theater arts.

We interviewed Daniel Summerhill (poet, performance artist and Assistant Professor of Poetry/ Social Action & Composition, School of Humanities & Communication, CSUMB) on the importance of using journaling and poetry/ spoken word to promote young people’s self- expression. Below are some of his responses.

Q: Why is it important to provide youth with opportunities to reflect on and/or express themselves and their feelings?

Daniel Summerhill
A: Because they HAVE them and don't always have space to express them. Often outburst or "disruptive behavior" are a sign that a child isn't receiving the proper space to express or reflect. However, many times, us as adults and teachers etc write children off as just being "bad" or "misbehaving."  Misbehavior is merely an expression that goes against whatever construct or rule you have in place. You have to allow space for humans to express. That is why the uprising of black people and allies these days is so healthy. It provides a sense of liberation and expression. Youth are no different.

Q: Do you think that journal writing is a good way to provide these opportunities? Why?

A: Absolutely, even if it's just a stream of consciousness writing. In each of my creating courses at CSUMB, students spend 10 minutes at the beginning of each class dedicated to journaling. The only rule is that they write. They can write, "i hate writing" for 10 minute as long as the pen doesn't stop. Usually, they don't. Even if they begin writing something like "I hate writing," typically their mind is still going and ends up on the page. This is the idea of stream of conscious journaling. Allowing the mind, thoughts and feelings to drive the writing, rather than something external. Journaling allows you to slow down and notice yourself and your thoughts, which is greatly therapeutic!

(From Temescal Associates- Check out this article from the National Afterschool Association, Finding Their Voice: Why Kids Should Journal and the Pandemic Project).

Source: www.soundcloud.com/witf
Q: Do you think that poetry writing/ spoken word are good ways to provide these opportunities? Why?

A: Poetry allows the writer to discover things about himself and spoken word often allows others (listeners/readers) to see things about themselves. So in many ways, poetry is very conversational, whether it be with the self or with others. This idea in its purest form is expression, communication is simply expression. There are very few mediums that allow a person to converse with themselves the way poetry does. You are able to use images and language that you aren't typically allowed to in conventional discourse, that is liberating and allows you as a writer to tap into all of your senses the best way you can.

Q: Do staff need special training?

A: Staff don't need "training," but to need to acclimate themselves with the history, orality and the culture of spoken word. Specifically, the roots in African storytelling and more recently, the beat poets, last poets are now the plethora of good poets out there performing. These are base level things to be learned in order to yield good understanding and teaching of performance poetry. There are some good resources for this, including Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X and Dr. Joshua Bennet has a work of narrative nonfiction, Spoken Word: A Cultural History.

Source: www.medium.com

Q: Can you provide one example of a writing project that you did that provided youth with good opportunities for self- expression? What age were the kids?

A: I used to be a teaching artist and would frequently teach poetry workshops to teens mostly, middle school as well. It wasn't so much me having a prescription for expression. Humans are hardwired to express, but oftentimes don't have the platform or medium to do so. My role wasn't to teach them how to express, they already knew how. They did it by talking, walking, eating, listening to music etc. My role was to figure out how to create the safest and most rewarding space for them to express as fully and as authentically as possible.

For example, Black Joy workshop, headed by Chapter 510 and published by Nomadic Press, had a diversity of young men a part of it. I didn't tell them how to express their interest in skateboarding, activism, sports and food. That is what they were into; however, in that particular workshop, my role was to connect those expressions to "black joy" and to help them understand their expressions as "joy." Joy is an expression. A good one.

Q: Can you recommend any good resources/ websites for afterschool programs that want to learn more?

A: Spoken word is still a growing and semi-new art form, in the modern sense. So there isn't a lot of literature about it other than the two books I mentioned above. Saul Williams has an older film called "Slam" that is worth checking out and the Poetry Foundation might have some good resources. Otherwise, it is best to just get to know the spoken word artist out there. follow them, support their work and immerse yourself in their world. There are a lot of really good spoken word artists out there.

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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Using Play to Build a Positive Community: An Interview with Playworks ED, Robert Sindelar

By Sam Piha
Source: www.uchealth.org

(Note: This interview was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has several restrictions on people's ability to play. As a result, Playworks offers a number of play-at-home videos on their website.)

We know that building a sense of a positive community is foundational to promoting character building and SEL skills. We also know that play is very important for young people’s development. This is why we have devoted previous blog posts to the importance of play. Play comes natural to young people, but it is important that the adults take the time to think about and learn how to promote healthy play. This can include the teaching of conflict resolution and leadership skills. 

According to Playworks, “schools and youth programs can and should create play environments that help kids be their best. Studies show that recess/free play matters: a thoughtful approach to recess/free play improves children’s physical health and social and emotional learning. They help schools and youth programs make the most of recess/free play through on-site staffing, consultative support, professional development, free resources, and more. 

We conducted an interview with Robert Sindelar, Executive Director of Playworks California, in late 2019, about how they help schools and youth programs make the best use of recess and free play. Below are some of his responses.

Q: How can play impact the school and afterschool community?

A: When youth leave the structured and safe space of a classroom, recess/free
Robert Sindelar, Playworks
play can be an unknown. There are often new youth, unclear boundaries, confusing games, and a higher chance of conflict. Play is critical to the development of children but can be challenging to implement in the context of some school day and afterschool programs. Bullying, overt conflict, and injuries can be common during times of play. 

In my experience with Playworks, it is typical for partners to join our program as a result of the high amount of incidents experienced during recess/free play. Youth’s frustration, conflict, fear, or isolation can carry over from those times of play into the classroom or the after school program and negatively impact the overall community. If implemented well, it is possible for play to have the opposite effect on the community. 

Q: What does Playworks do to build a positive community?

A: The Playworks program leverages the power of play to bring out the best in every kid. We add consistency in rules, expectations, and leadership on the playground. We reinforce positive sportsmanship by incorporating a verbal “good job, nice try” when youth are not successful during a game, which is paired with a high-five. When adults are modeling this kind of behavior, youth are quick to follow. We also introduce rock, paper, scissors as a tool to reduce conflict and empower youth to solve their own problems. These tangible practices create an environment for safe, healthy, and inclusive play.

Playworks also incorporates a “Junior Coach” program. This is a leadership development program that engages a group of 4th and 5th graders who become role models for their peers by facilitating games at recess/free play, supporting other youth in conflict resolution, and building relationships. Student leaders on the playground hold both themselves and others accountable, fully taking on leadership during recess/free play. 

Source: Playworks

Unhealthy playground tendencies flow back into classrooms and programs, impacting community. The positive impacts of play do that as well. Our Junior Coaches step up, being more helpful for teachers and more participatory in class. Healthy play fosters positive relationships between youth and their peers as well as relationships between youth and adults. Positive relationships build more trust and bring about a positive community.
Youth who were formerly causing trouble have turned into leaders. The faculty has been able to concentrate more on the curriculum rather than fixing the issues, and the classrooms have become more peaceful and a safer learning environment.
- Sally Sansom

Principal, East Midvale Elementary, UT

Source: Playworks
Q: What role do you see afterschool professionals having in building community?

A: In California, over 800,000 youth are served through afterschool programs annually. We are inspired by the vision of these children experiencing healthy play and building a healthy community because of it. Afterschool professionals, like all youth-serving adults, can leverage the power of play; it is not bound to recess/free play or a school yard. By incorporating healthy play into programming, they can not only empower the youth served, but build a healthier community at their site and beyond.

Q: How does Playworks support afterschool professionals in building healthy community?

A: Playworks offers professional development workshops for anyone working with youth, including afterschool professionals. Our workshops teach proven strategies to prevent and redirect challenging behavior, support youth engagement, and enhance opportunities for learning. Taught by professional Playworks trainers, each workshop draws on various learning styles and builds on core principles of youth development. 
This was an amazing opportunity to learn how to engage with the youth we see on a daily basis better. And to keep things new and exciting for them.
 - Before/After School Time Staff in Indiana

Workshops include The Power of Play, Group Management, Game Facilitation, and Indoor Play Design. These trainings provide opportunities for afterschool professionals to understand how to build up youth leaders, empower youth to solve their own conflicts, and structure play for inclusion. These skills will begin to build positive community. 
If you do a web search, you will find a number of resources for group games. Ones that we liked include Playworks and Playmeo. If you prefer video, you can search the name of the game on YouTube. Also below are a number of papers on the importance of play:

Robert Sindelar joined the Playworks team in 2013 as the Executive Director of the San Francisco office. Prior to becoming part of Playworks, he served as District Vice President with the YMCA of San Francisco, where he worked for many years. Robert holds a master’s degree in Nonprofit Administration and is an avid runner. His current favorite game is Ninja.  

Playworks helps schools and districts make the most of recess/free play through on-site staffing, consultative support, professional development, free resources, and more. They also support youth programs and other organizations that wish to improve playtime. Organizations like The Centers for Disease Control, and City Year all look to Playworks to inform practice and policy.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Practice Q&A: Finding Staff for Rural Programs

By Sam Piha

Being a youth worker is a very difficult job. They face a variety of challenges and dilemmas, as they work with a diverse group of young people. We collected a number of questions from youth workers and promised to engage experts and field leaders for their answers. Below are some of the questions we received and the answers that we sought out from field leaders, content experts and innovative practitioners. If you want to submit your own question, click here.

This blog is part 2 of our Q&A series. You can review part 1. Stay tuned as we continue to explore questions from youth workers. (Note: we know that there are many answers to any question. Below, we offer some well-thought-out answers that we received. Because schools and agencies may have specific policies, we recommend that youth workers share their questions with their immediate supervisor. At the bottom we provide a brief bio about the respondent.)

Q: Staffing is a HUGE issue for my program. I spent all this year down 2 staff members, and it looks like will be down 3 staff to start back in the fall. My organization offers low pay, low hours, and absolutely no perks (training, paying for school, free child care, etc). I also live in a rural area, and our community college serves older students who have families to feed and can't possibly work for such low pay. With these issues in mind, how do we not only attract talented staff but also retain them? - Youth Worker, serving youth 5-11, Nevada County, CA

A: "Staffing is always an issue, especially in rural areas. Here are a few ideas:
  • Conduct asset mapping of your local community. Do you have other youth serving organizations (local 4-H program, Boys & Girls Club in the area, Boys Scouts, Girl Scouts)?  Would chefs of local restaurants come out and demonstrate cooking techniques? Is there a youth pastor who would like to provide additional hours supporting your students? 
  • Do you have a Volunteer Organization that matches volunteers with different organizations?  
  • Do you have a local Arts Council that supports local artists and encourages getting more youth to appreciate and learn more about the arts? Oftentimes, different artists engage youth in hands-on learning experiences. 
  • Determine if any of your parents (if they qualify) are interested in working in the program.  Maybe they would be willing to do a modified shift (M/W/F) or (T/Th).
  • Do you have retired teachers living nearby who would be willing to do one or two days/week? The pay usually isn’t an issue. Sometimes they just love being back with kids and sharing something they love (cooking, science projects, music, their heritage, travel, etc.).
  • Ask your teachers to offer an additional hour of support for the academic component/enrichment component and pay them a stipend.
    Source: www.ndpanalytics.com
  • If you have a nearby Community College reach out to them to make presentations in their classes to access students who might be considering a teacher pathway, or are interested in child care, health and physical activity/fitness, dance/drama/ theater arts, computer science, liberal arts, etc. Provide them documentation/certification that may help them further their education or can be included in their portfolio when seeking a job in the future.
  • Do you have a local high school nearby (hopefully, within walking distance) that high school students (Jr/Sr) could serve as Student Liaisons? They actually like the pay they receive since they oftentimes still live with their parents. They can’t be left alone with students but it sure helps! Consider giving them some type of written documentation that they might use to document their work when trying to get into a community college or four-year college/university if they decide to pursue becoming a teacher or other trade/profession.
  • Do you have people from different cultures who live in your community who would be willing to come and present on their culture/heritage/or specific interests?  
  • Do you have people from different careers/professions who live in your community who could share how they got into their profession?  
  • Where do you post job openings? Consider the Community College, LinkedIn, EdJoin, social media, etc." 
- Gloria Halley, Region 2 Lead for Butte County Office of Education

Gloria Halley
Gloria Halley works for the Butte County Office of Education. She has been in the Health Promotion / Community Development / Education field for approximately twenty-five years. She currently serves as the Region 2 Lead for the California Department of Education – Expanded Learning Division, statewide System of Support for Expanded Learning (SSEL). In her role she provides support services for state and federally funded before school, after school and summer learning programs that serve elementary, middle school and high school students in nine northern counties: Butte, Glenn, Tehama, Shasta, Trinity, Siskiyou, Modoc, Lassen and Plumas. Gloria is a highly-regarded trainer, coach/mentor and consultant. She has successfully facilitated several school-community initiatives.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Re-opening: The Big Picture & Practical Realities for Afterschool

By Guest Blogger, Ursula Helminski, Senior Vice President, External Affairs, Afterschool Alliance

Source: Afterschool Alliance

Earlier this month, Jen Siaca and Alison Overseth wrote a great piece in the Hechinger Report on 5 things afterschool programs need to be thinking about as we look toward fall.  We wholeheartedly agree, and have a few more big ideas to add to the list – starting with an immediate call to action – and some challenges for us to address that can help put afterschool in a strong position to help youth, families, and schools during re-opening.

Reach out to your school and district leaders to talk about the role you are willing to play to support them and students in re-opening; schools share many of the same concerns we do around social and emotional support; learning loss; and children needing supervision, meals and support on days outside of school. We need to let them know we want to be part of the team to help youth recover and re-engage.

Contact Congress and your local policymakers to make sure they know afterschool programs are key to recovery, but can’t help without additional funds for smaller staff ratios, expanded hours, & PPE, and access to additional space.

Flexible, expanded schedules – As states begin to share guidance and ideas for schools to reopen, many call for staggered schedules to limit how many youth are in school at a time. Families will need supervised, engaging programs for children on remote learning days in addition to after-school hours. While schools are focused now on their own logistics, they will feel pressure to help parents who cannot be home when students aren’t in school, and to make sure remote learners have a space to log on. We’ve already seen what this might look like in Missouri, where a 21st CCLC program in Missouri re-opened in conjunction with their school district summer school to offer full day programming on a split schedule so that half of the students are doing enrichment with afterschool staff in the morning while the other half is with classroom teachers doing their summer school classes. They then switch during the afternoon. So, where the 21st CCLC program normally serves 350 students daily before and afterschool, they are serving 750+ until the end of June.

Ursula Helminski
Afterschool Alliance
Alternate space & facilities – We’ve got to prepare for the possibility that schools may be closed to afterschool providers.  If you have access to other facilities, this could be a great asset to bring up to local school leaders as you seek to partner with them on re-opening plans. If you usually operate in schools, think about how you might access other spaces or facilities. Think about libraries, parks, community centers, cultural or performing arts centers that may have under-used spaces. Talk to local city or county leaders about ideas.  In Lincoln, Nebraska, afterschool providers are providing in-person care at churches and community centers in the area of the schools.

Staffing considerations – Programs will likely need to sustain staff ratios of 10-1 per health guidelines; prepare for the possibility that some staff may not be able or comfortable working tin the same capacity; and be ready for continued, or resumption of, virtual programming.

“Doubling down on social-emotional learning (SEL).” – The social and emotional needs of children have never been greater; make sure you are prepared to help students re-engage and re-connect, to when youth need additional mental health support, and have a plan for connecting youth to that additional support. The American Institute for Research released a new brief, Recognizing the Role of Afterschool and Summer Programs in Reopening and Rebuilding.

Michael Funk, CDE 
 "Two very influential statewide education leaders not deeply involved in the field stated publicly that expanding learning is going to be a very critical, essential component to the reopening of schools. One of the biggest reasons that people embrace our field and believe in its work is the way that staff care and nurture for children in their programs. These benefits are based on the quality standards that call for positive relationships, safe supportive environments, and engaging activities." 
- Michael Funk, Director, Expanded Learning Division, California Department of Education
Enhancing academic support/enrichment – With estimates that students will experience more than a 50 percent learning loss this year, it is more important than ever to work with schools to complement school day lessons, open lines of communication with teachers to help identify youth who need extra help and shape your homework help, tutoring and enrichment activities to their needs. For instance, establish regular meetings between the afterschool program director and principals, assign staff members the responsibility of managing and maintaining communication, and host joint professional development opportunities for both school day staff and afterschool program staff.

Ursula Helminski is currently Senior Vice President of external affairs at Afterschool Alliance and has worked with the organization since its inception, as part of its founding team. She develops strategy and communications for the organization and oversees public awareness initiatives such as the national Lights On Afterschool event and Afterschool for All, a campaign uniting high-profile and grassroots voices from diverse sectors in support of afterschool. Before coming to the Afterschool Alliance, she was a Senior Associate at the communications and organizing consulting firm, Fowler Hoffman, where she worked on issue campaigns ranging from youth violence prevention to telecommunications, and advised foundations on their communications strategies. She has served as editor of a trade journal covering policy in Washington, D.C., worked in cause-related marketing at The Nature Conservancy and taught English in a Moscow public school.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Afterschool Provider Survey Results: Afterschool in the Time of COVID-19

By Guest Blogger Nikki Yamashiro, Afterschool Alliance

Source: Afterschool Alliance
Since the first statewide stay-at-home orders were issued in mid-March, individuals across the United States have found their lives and livelihoods upended by the coronavirus. As states enact safety measures and transition between phases of reopening to combat the virus, families are struggling with school closures, job losses, food insecurity, and more. Afterschool programs are joining local efforts to address the urgent needs of children and families while facing an uncertain future themselves.

Throughout the crisis, many afterschool providers have been innovating to stay connected with students and keep them safe, healthy and engaged in learning, even while struggling to keep their own doors open. Many programs face budget shortfalls and will need additional staff and professional development, as well as more space and resources to provide consistent care for children and families as school schedules shift. In the first in a series of surveys, in partnership with Edge Research, we take the pulse of the afterschool field and it is clear that although afterschool programs remain a vital partner to help young people emerge from this crisis strong, resilient, and hopeful, they are in need of dire support. The future of afterschool programs is in jeopardy.

Source: Afterschool in the Time of COVID-19

In our first survey we learned that afterschool programs are severely affected by the hardships created by the pandemic. As programs work to continue to provide services in their communities, they face their own struggles, from funding to staffing, with a majority unsure if the worst is over or yet to come (55%). Read the full report of survey responses at the following link: http://afterschoolalliance.org/documents/Afterschool-COVID-19-Wave-1-Fact-Sheet.pdf

There is also an interactive dashboard with the survey results to see the differences in response by region: http://afterschoolalliance.org/covid/Afterschool-COVID-19-dashboard.cfm

Source: Afterschool in the Time of COVID-19
Help us keep up the story of how COVID-19 is affecting afterschool and summer programs by completing a follow-up survey that focuses on what programs have been able to offer this summer and plans for fall. The survey should take no more than 10-15 minutes of your time and your responses will be anonymous. To thank you for your time, 50 respondents to the survey will be randomly selected to win a $50 cash prize. You can start the survey at: https://3to6.co/survey

Nikki Yamashiro is Vice President of Research at Afterschool Alliance. She joined the Afterschool Alliance in June 2012, and works to coordinate and implement annual research activities, design surveys on pressing issues in the afterschool field and analyze research findings, communicating the need for and great successes of afterschool programs to policy makers, afterschool providers, advocates, and the public. Prior to joining the Afterschool Alliance, Nikki served in a variety of research capacities, including as Policy Advisor at Third Way, where she handled a wide range of domestic policy issues such as juvenile justice, and as legislative assistant to former Rep. Hilda L. Solis, where she handled education and youth issues.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

The Art of Distance Learning in Afterschool

By Sam Piha
Source: www.level.medium.com
While the decisions about re-opening schools and afterschool programs are still in process, it is increasingly clear that many afterschool programs will need to incorporate a distance learning model, relying on internet access by their participants. Developing distance learning using internet and video technology is a new skill set for afterschool providers.

We conducted an interview with one afterschool coordinator who has mastered the art of distance learning. Her name is Autrilla Gillis from ISANA Academies in Southern California, and we offer her answers to our questions below. We will sponsor a Speaker's Forum Webinar with Ms. Gillis and the EduCare Foundation on distance learning in afterschool on Fri. August 7th, 2020. To learn more and register, click HERE.

Q: What circumstances led you to develop a distance learning option for your afterschool program?
A: Like many schools in Los Angeles, ISANA Academies closed its doors on March 13th as a result of COVID-19. While school admin and district level staff began to strategize on what distance learning looked like at ISANA, I began to brainstorm ways that the Expanded Learning Program could provide an immediate solution to parents and students in the interim. This led to the formation of EXL LIVE, fun and engaging live lessons centered on Academic, Literacy and Social Enrichment every Monday – Thursday from 2pm – 5pm. The program ran April – June, and during the month of May, we served over 5,000 unique session visitors.

Q: What platform are you using to connect with students?
A: We exclusively use the zoom platform for EXL LIVE, using password protected rooms for each session.

Autrilla Gillis
ISANA Academies
Q: How many hours of programming do you offer and what is the main focus?
A: We offer three hours of programming per day Monday – Thursday. Each day is broken into three, one- hour sessions: Academic Enrichment, Literacy Enrichment, and Social Enrichment. Each session is broken into grade level cohorts and both Academic and Literacy Enrichment are standards based. In the Academic Enrichment block students participate in standards based lessons and activities that are aligned to the work they are completing with their school day teachers. In the Literacy Enrichment block, students in grades K-5 participate in a variety of group reading activities and comprehension tasks and students in grades 6-8 participate in current event activities and discussions.

Q: Were you able to offer any “virtual” field trips? 
A: After spring-break we incorporated a weekly virtual field trip. They have garnered our largest single attendance numbers, bringing in up to 200 students in some sessions. To facilitate field trips, we created a master schedule and assigned a school a specific date. Each school site worked collaboratively to determine “where” they would take students virtually. For example, our first field trip was to Disneyland. We created a virtual field trip experience by combining the internet for virtual ride and theme park experiences and compiled them to create “A Day at Disneyland”. Students experienced walking through Main St, riding rides, visiting food stands, and watching a parade. We’ve also partnered with different venues across the country and world to host live virtual field trips. My favorites so far include a live Texas llama farm trip and an actual African Hippo Preserve trip.

Source: ISANA Academies Instagram

Q: Did you establish attendance goals for each session and how are you tracking attendance?
A: Our attendance goal fluctuates each week, I consider 20-30 students per session a success in terms of that number being easily manageable. Ideally, our goal is to add at least 20 students each week. In April, our week one attendance was 266 students and by the time we reached our last session in June, we were up to 900-1200 students per week. Attendance is tracked through a shared spreadsheet. At the conclusion of each session the moderator logs daily attendance on the spreadsheet.

Q: What are some challenges you have overcome to get online programming off the ground?
A: Our major challenge was training the staff on the zoom platform and curriculum design. It was very important that program leaders took ownership of their lessons so that the implementation was natural and not forced. We also faced challenges in shifting program leaders’ perspective. It took lots of conversation to guide staff to the realization that everything was the same, we were taking the same program elements and high- quality implementation out of the school site and into a zoom room.

Q: Were there any surprises along the way?
A: The biggest surprise we’ve encountered is the room capacity for zoom. Prior to our first virtual field trip we had never exceeded the 100-person room capacity. Imagine our surprise when district office and site coordinator phones started ringing off the hook with calls from anxious parents trying to access the room. In response, we’ve purchased a zoom subscription which allows a much larger room capacity to avoid the same outcome in the future.

Source: ISANA Academies

Q: How did you prepare and support your staff in developing the distance learning modules?
A: It was a rigorous process spread over several weeks that involved navigating the Common Core Standards Website: locating and unpacking standards, finding materials based on the focal point of the standard, creating a lesson plan, and implementing the lesson plan. This was a major shift for my staff, as before we moved to distance learning all program lessons and activities were created in the district office and disseminated to each site. Once that process was complete, the staff hit the ground running. I am very proud of the way that they have risen to the occasion.

In terms of live lesson delivery, we began with a standard Powerpoint training, a demo lesson provided by the District Level Expanded Learning Staff, after which each program leader conducted a demo lesson for the session they’d been assigned. Each received feedback and presented again until their implementation was perfected. Later we held trainings on indoor and outdoor lighting and sound to ensure that the video quality was high.

Q: Can you provide a link that would allow readers to view an example of one of your modules?
A: EXL LIVE is currently on hiatus until August 18th. We are currently running CAMP ISANA, which consist of an assortment of grade level specific, pre-recorded enrichment activities that can be accessed 24/7. CAMP ISANA also includes live instruction on Tuesday (Performing Arts), Wednesday (Physical Enrichment), and Thursday (Virtual Field Trip). The link below will give access to each of the components previously listed and provide access to EXL LIVE when it returns on August 18th. https://isanaacademies.org/distance-learning/

Q: Can you suggest any resources that may be helpful to afterschool programs seeking guidance on distance learning? (i.e websites, videos, papers, etc.)
A: My inspiration came from google searches on online enrichment programs. I would encourage programs to reflect upon what they do well on campus and how that can be transformed into a virtual setting, that will guide their search and help them to formulate a quality program.

(Temescal recommends: The Statewide Network for New Jersey's Afterschool Communities Virtual Afterschool Resource Guide).

Autrilla “Sheba” Gillis is Director of Expanded Learning at ISANA ACADEMIES, Los Angeles, CA. Her family legacy of Long Beach community service dates back to the 50’s and includes her mother, Sharon McLucas and late community activist grandmother Autrilla W. Scott.

As an educator, Sheba has been a middle school History teacher, curriculum specialist, vice principal and principal. On the County level she has twice been elected as the Co-Facilitator of the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s Local Learning Community #8 which provides governance to charter school Expanded Learning programs throughout Southern California and served as a founding member of the CA Charter Schools Association Inaugural African American Charter Leaders Symposium. On the state level, she has served on numerous CA Department of Education Expanded Learning Steering Committees, been featured in numerous training videos disseminated throughout the state, and most recently appoint to the CA Dept. of Education Expanded Learning Policy Committee.

In addition to her work at ISANA Academies, she works closely with the Long Beach Branch of the NAACP, NCNW, Jack and Jill of America – Long Beach Chapter, and Forgotten Images Traveling Museum. Before pursuing a career as an educator, she spent years as an Advertising Executive at the Los Angeles Times and Press Telegram Newspapers. She is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Educational Leadership while balancing her career and most important role, mother to an amazing 6 year old named Aubree.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Practice Q&A: Distance Learning with High School Youth

By Sam Piha

Being a youth worker is a very difficult job. They face a variety of challenges and dilemmas, as they work with a diverse group of young people. We collected a number of questions from youth workers and promised to engage experts and field leaders for their answers. Below are some of the questions we received and the answers that we sought out from field leaders, content experts and innovative practitioners. If you want to submit your own question, click here.

This blog is part 1 of our Q&A series. Stay tuned as we continue to explore questions from youth workers. (Note: we know that there are many answers to any question. Below, we offer some well-thought-out answers that we received. Because schools and agencies may have specific policies, we
recommend that youth workers share their questions with their immediate supervisor.

Q: Distance learning with high school students (over 1,200) who can choose to attend or not seems overwhelming. Coming up with ways to engage students in order to take attendance will be a challenge to say the least! What do you suggest or can you offer resources that may help with this issue? - Youth Worker, Fresno County, CA

Bill Fennessy, Director of Work-
Based Learning and Community
Partnerships, Think Together
A: "The sudden change to education due to the pandemic has greatly decreased student participation and therefore increased the need for individual student supports, and is and continues to still be a huge challenge for BOTH the Instructional Day and Expanded Learning Programs.

As a real-world example, upon the initial school closures our California After School Safety & Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) high school programs in Compton Unified School District immediately started working with all 4 respective site's administrations in a highly collaborative partnership to reengage the large numbers of "missing" students.

All 4 site's administrators were respectively in complete agreement and highly supportive of ASSETs leadership reaching out to students to create and offer a "Virtual Teen Center" which would be the first step towards reengagement. The goal was to create a safe place and environment with easy access for students to be able to participate. This would allow students to see each other and have conversations as they wish, and also allow for engagement or reengagement with ASSETs staff to continue those relationships. Once students begin attending, their expressed "wants" would then initiate the "student-driven" activities, programs, and classes that would be introduced moving forward.

Source: www.healthblog.uofmhealth.org
For these "missing" students, intentional recruitment had to be a very key strategy, as reaching out to 1,200 students/parents was a more than daunting task. So each separate site's administration determined which specific grade levels/groups/subgroups/etc would be recruited in a then determined prioritized order. This allowed ASSETs staff to break up the task into "recruitment groups" with reasonable student numbers. This also allowed ASSETs staff to map out a reasonable amount of time to complete the task.

Note: Our biggest challenge has been in attaining/securing "parent permission" for the "Virtual Programming" so that students may attend."
- Bill Fennessy, Think Together

Bill Fennessy is Think Together's Director of Work-Based Learning and Community Partnerships. He supports High School ASSETs Programs in collaborating with Career Technical Education Programs at school districts and sites to better support Workforce Readiness and Work-Based Learning activities, with a special focus on internships. Bill is passionate about out-of-school time because he believes in the great potential of Older Youth, and wants to support their dreams by providing opportunities for their greater success. Bill was motivated to join the California Afterschool Network's Leadership Team because he feels this is the next significant step in his over 15 years of being able to serve the Expanded Learning Field as a thought leader, pioneer, innovator, and practitioner.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Re-Opening Programs and More

By Sam Piha

There is a lot of discussion and debate about how and when to re-open schools and youth programs. For youth programs that are located within schools, it is important that afterschool leaders stay abreast of the current thinking on this topic and ensure that any re-opening encompasses youth development values. Because the pandemic situation is very fluid, ideas about re-opening schools are very dynamic.

“As you prepare to welcome students and adults back to school, you face the layered impact of schools closures, the pandemic, racial inequities amplified by nationwide mobilization, and more.”
-CASEL Newsletter, 7/9/20 

The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has released a roadmap for re-opening schools. CASEL collaborated with over 40 leading organizations in developing 4 critical practices:

  1. Take time to cultivate and deepen relationships, build partnerships, and plan for SEL.
  2. Design opportunities where adults can connect, heal, and build their capacity to support students.
  3. Create safe, supportive, and equitable learning environments that promote all students’ social and emotional development.
  4. Use data as an opportunity to share power, deepen relationships, and continuously improve support for students, families, and staff.

"As we sit down and really try to figure out what is going to be a long haul of reopening slowly...we're going to need such a different approach to the traditional 'show up and sit in your seat.' We need all partners at the table together."

-Karen Pittman
President & CEO, Forum for Youth Investment

Below we have offered a link to this entire report as well as some other resources. (Because the plans for re-opening is developed locally, it is important that afterschool leaders track their local plans.)


  • Two medical students, Samantha Harris and Devon Scott, recently wrote a children’s book about coronavirus, Why We Stay Home, to help parents communicate with their children about why so many families across the nation have been staying home. For a free download of the book, click here. To access video read aloud, click here. To view an interview with the authors on PBS News Hour, click here.

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By Sam Piha We first met Karina Epperlein years ago at a screening of her film, Finding the Gold Within . This documentary chronicled the ...