Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Practice Q&A: Complimenting, Not Replicating, Schools

By Sam Piha

Youth workers 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 4 of our Q&A series. See part 1 here, part 2 here and part 3 here. 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: How do we best support our young people in SEL when educators are focusing solely on academic loss during the shelter-in-place and distance learning not reaching those who don't have the technology to participate? - Youth Worker, serving youth 5-11, Humboldt County, CA
Katie Brackenridge,
Turnaround for Children
A: I think youth developers have an incredibly important role to play on several levels. Let's start with relationships - your relationships (or ability to create relationships) with youth and families are likely to be stronger than the districts. In many cases, districts have had trouble even finding the students who haven't connected with distance learning. It would be really helpful and smart for after school and summer providers to offer their support to districts in finding those students. You may be more successful than district staff because of your in-depth knowledge about young people in your programs, their friend networks, their families and other places and people in the community they may be reaching out to for help.

Similarly, you may already know family members in a way that district staff don't. And even if you don't already have relationships with specific students and families, you may be better equipped to reach out because of your network of relationships with other young people and your connections in the community. Most importantly, this service would be helpful to the families that have been excluded by distance learning. It would also be a strategic way to demonstrate your value as a district partner.

The second role that youth developers can play is supporting the social and emotional needs of young people. This is a completely crazy and stressful time for everyone, and particularly for young people who are in unstable or unsafe environments. As a youth developer, you probably already know which young people from your program need help right now and will need additional support to re-acclimate to the expectations of the school environment. Students who come back to school having experienced trauma - and there will be many - will not be able to sit down and focus on learning. We know that from the science of learning and development - specifically, the fact that the parts of our brains that manage emotions, concentration and learning are interconnected. That's why it's so hard to focus under stress - as many of us have been experiencing. Caring, supportive adults can help calm students' brains so that they are ready for learning. You can do this with all the youth development strategies you already have in your toolbox - for example, one-on-one check-ins with students; safe, supportive environments for peer connections; mindfulness practices; and physical activity.

I'll leave you with those two ideas, though there are many more. This blog on the BOOST Collaborative website provides some more of the science grounding related to youth development practice. You may also want to direct district staff to research reports on the SoLD Alliance website to ground them in the science of learning and development.
- Katie Brackenridge, 
Turnaround for Children

Source: Wings for Kids
Q: How do we make sure organizational practices in schools support our expanded learning program staff, recognizing that we are often better equipped and available to promote healthy youth development? - Youth Worker, serving youth 5-11, Humboldt County, CA
A: It seems like the youth development field has been mulling over this question forever... and yet, getting schools to acknowledge the value of afterschool programs and partner effectively is still really challenging. There are many different answers and resources for thinking intentionally and strategically about school/after school partnerships. Here, for example, are a link to a video about partnerships and a set of case studies about partnerships from the California Afterschool Network. Other state afterschool networks, the National Afterschool Association and many other intermediary organizations will also have guides, reports and videos for partnerships.

When I was an afterschool site coordinator, my most important asset was relationships - all across the school. Of course, making sure the principal knows what you're doing and how it supports their school priorities is critical. But, it's also important that every teacher is pleased with your work, and sees how it also supports their goals for students. This is a one-on-one strategy between your staff and teachers, and also a school-wide strategy requiring the site coordinator's participation in school staff, school site council, PTA and other meetings. And of course, you can't ever forget staff who clean the school, work in the front office, drive the buses and other essential supporting roles in the school. If they like your staff and your program, they can make sure it runs smoothly and help resolve any hiccups - the opposite, of course, is also true.
- Katie Brackenridge, 
Turnaround for Children

Katie Brackenridge joined Turnaround for Children in 2019 as a Partnership Director. Katie has worked in and with schools, school districts and community organizations for her entire career. Before becoming a consultant, Katie was the Vice President of Programs at the Partnership for Children & Youth (PCY). Katie’s work is grounded in her nine-year experience as Co-Executive Director for the Jamestown Community Center, a grassroots youth organization in the Mission District of San Francisco.

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