Tuesday, December 22, 2020

What Changes in Washington D.C. Could Mean for Afterschool

Source: www.theconversation.com

By Sam Piha

The Afterschool Alliance is working to ensure that all children, regardless of income or geographic area, have access to quality afterschool programs. Their efforts are aimed at securing resources to expand programming and help programs be the best they can be. They focus foremost on underserved and disadvantaged children and communities. Every year the Afterschool Alliance releases an afterschool report entitled, America After 3pm. You can read the full report here and the executive summary here.  

We asked Erik Peterson, Senior Vice President of Policy of Afterschool Alliance, what changes in Washington in the new year could mean for the afterschool field. Jodi Grant, Executive Director, added her thoughts on the final question. Below are their answers.

Erik Peterson, Sr. Vice 
President of Policy
Q: We have a new presidential administration coming in 2021. What can we expect in terms of support for afterschool at the federal level?

A: While it is always hard to predict the future, the Biden campaign platform included a number of education priorities that would directly affect and support access to and quality of afterschool programs if they come to fruition, including:

  • Tripling support for Title I programs under ESEA: The Biden campaign notes a $23 billion funding gap between white and non-white districts as well as gaps between high-income and low-income communities across the United States. Title I programs are provided to schools based on their population of low-income students to help school improvement and student achievement. Afterschool programs are an allowable use and have an evidence base on moving the needle on indicators of student success. A number of districts and schools use some of these funds to support afterschool and summer programs, addressing needs such as transportation, staffing, and more. The platform mentions that Title I funds should allow communities to direct funding resources to meet the specific local needs of their area.
  • Increased support for Community Schools: This section begins, “When parents are working hard to make ends meet, it can be difficult, if not impossible, for them to navigate various family needs like after-school care.” It goes on to envision increased access to community schools serving as community hubs created with broad stakeholder input and wraparound services for 300,000 additional students.
President-elect Biden also has a “caregiving” platform focusing on the needs of parents trying to balance their jobs and their families, especially in light of the COVID crisis, but extending before the pandemic as well. This plan includes:
  • Improved access to afterschool, weekend, and summer care for school-aged children: Importantly, this section mentions “expanding the 21st Century Community Learning Centers that provide critical enrichment to school age children.” In addition, this section of the caregiving platform loops back to other listed priorities and initiatives and includes a combination of increased investments in the child care and development block grant (CCDBG), the child care tax credit mentioned below for youth, birth to age 13, and investments in community schools.
  • Increased Child Care Tax Credits: The plan outlines a refundable credit of up to $8,000 for one child and $16,000 for multiple children which would pay for as much as half (depending on income levels) of a family’s child care expenditures for low-income and middle class families making $400,000 and under.
  • Other areas: Early childhood, universal pre-kindergarten, military family care and family care for college students, child care staff compensation, benefits, professional development, and infrastructure.

Source: www.eenews.net

Vice President Harris also comes to her historic position with a history of supporting certain education goals in her role as a U.S. Senator. Last year Harris introduced the Family Friendly Schools Act. The Act had a number of education-related components but most importantly proposed to “authorize an additional $1.3 billion for 21st Century Community Learning Centers to allow up to 1.8 million more children to access summer programming.

It is encouraging to see both Biden and Harris explicitly recognizing the importance of increased funding for 21st Century Community Learning Centers.

Q: Should we be thinking about how we all can be involved in advocacy in 2021? 

A: Absolutely, advocacy was critical to keeping federal support for afterschool from being eliminated under the Trump Administration and it will continue to be critical moving forward. There will be much work to do and many priorities for the new Administration and the new 117th Congress, therefore it will be vital to tell the story of out of school time, and the important role programs play in communities nationwide – both during and after the pandemic. In particular we need to share the innovations we have seen this year around community learning hubs and centers made possible by robust community-local government- school partnerships which present an opportunity even after the pandemic to provide new learning opportunities to young people. 

Q: If we have a republican controlled Senate in 2021, what can we expect and should we be thinking about expanding our advocacy efforts?

A: Based on what we have seen in the past several years, a Republican controlled Senate will likely focus on reigning in spending on domestic programs and priorities like education and afterschool. That combined with a closer margin in the House means we must double our efforts at outreach to elected officials and their staff – inviting them to virtual (or eventually in-person) site visits; reaching out as parents, students, and programs providers; and communicating why investments in quality afterschool and summer learning programs are so important for children, young people, families, and communities.

Q: If we have a democratic- led Senate in 2021, what can we expect and should we be thinking about expanding our advocacy efforts?

A: While a Democratic led Senate could be more willing to make investments in education, advocacy will still be important. A narrow margin of control, constraints around the federal deficit, and a wide range of priorities coming out of the pandemic will combine to make telling the out of school time story just as important in this scenario as well.

Jodi Grant, ED, 
Afterschool Alliance
"Our strategy shouldn’t change regardless of who wins the Senate – the strength of afterschool programs remains in the fact that they make a difference in all communities, for all kids whether they be red, blue, or purple. Our goal will be to keep shining a light on the extraordinary difference these programs are making so that we can continue to build support – especially during the pandemic and recovery when afterschool allies are needed more than ever to support our children and families." - Jodi Grant, Executive Director

Erik Peterson joined the Afterschool Alliance in July 2009 and coordinates and advances the Afterschool Alliance’s policy efforts at the federal level by helping develop policy goals and implementing strategies that advance access to quality afterschool programs for all. Erik works to build and strengthen relationships with policy makers and allied organizations to increase public support and funding for quality before-school, afterschool and summer learning programs. 

Jodi Grant has been Executive Director of the Afterschool Alliance since 2005. She oversees all aspects of the Afterschool Alliance’s work – setting its goals and strategies for reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, working with the field to help programs tap into federal funding streams, and supervising research to help national, state and local afterschool advocates and providers support, create and expand quality afterschool programs.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Remembering Gratitude During the Winter Holidays

By Sam Piha

We all know that 2020 has been a difficult year. We also know that all religious traditions remind us to be thankful for what we have. All of us at Temescal Associates and the How Kids Learn Foundation wish you a peaceful and restful holiday! On our part, we are most grateful to all of you who work hard to support our youth in out of school time. 

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Youth Voice and Self- Expression in Afterschool: Sharing Circles

By Sam Piha

Source: www.acacamps.org
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 Johanna Masis (Program Director, Oakland Leaf) on the importance of using sharing circles to promote youth voice and self- expression in afterschool programs. Below are some of her responses.

Q: Why is it important to provide youth with opportunities to reflect on and/or express themselves and their feelings?
Johanna Masis
Program Director, Oakland Leaf
A: There is a misconception that the majority of youth have an adult in their life that sits down with them and gives them uninterrupted, dedicated time to converse about what is going on in their daily lives. Families are stretched thin...even more so with the stress of the current COVID-19 era. Youth's feelings can be minimized given the increased stressors of current life. Having a platform for 20-30 minutes* to reflect on or express themselves is self-care. It's free. It's crucial. It creates connections.
*Regarding the 20-30 minutes: As an organization, we were unable to find hard data about the ideal dosage and duration for a circle. This 20 minute increment is what we do at all of our programs daily solely based on being able to give each youth participant an opportunity to speak/share once the prompt has been provided.

Q: Do you think that sharing circles are a good way to provide these opportunities? Why?
A: Out-of-school time (OST) venues allow for these opportunities to happen; it's embedded in our everyday practice. Youth learn to wait their turn to speak. They learn to empathize with their peers. Many of them end up sharing similar experiences that cut across race, religion, gender, etc. Dedicated time to engage in reflection also creates opportunities to connect their learning from the day and builds critical thinking.

Q: Do staff need special training? 
A: Staff needs training first with regards to managing their own bias and assumptions about youth and their circumstances. So often, adults default to how "THEY" grew up. Talking about your feelings may not have been culturally appropriate or even a concept. Secondly, staff needs to know how to hold space and sit in discomfort. We don't always have the answers and that is okay. However, it's important to seek out what continued support may look like on a case by case basis. At the forefront of these pieces of training is the reminder that staff are mandated reporters. There is a legal obligation to report any harm a young person is experiencing.

Source: Oakland Leaf

Q: Can you provide one example of a sharing circle you conducted that resulted in a meaningful opportunity for self- expression? What age were the kids?
A: I supported a 2nd-grade afterschool instructor with a circle after we observed a carjacking across the street from the soccer field on which our youth were playing. Because some of the youth heard the screaming from the victim and saw the weapons the carjackers had, the instructor quickly brought them indoors and circled up while I was on the phone with the police. We let them express what they saw, let them ask questions, asked what questions they had, and reassured them that we would ensure there was a follow up with their families.

Q: Can you recommend any good resources/ websites for afterschool programs that want to learn more?
A: I pulled some resources we used to create our Oakland Leaf Restorative Justice curriculum:

  • Riestenberg, N. (2012). Circle in the Square: Building Community and Repairing Harm in School. St Paul, MN: Living Justice Press.
  • Charney, R. (2002). Teaching Children to Care: Classroom Management for Ethical and Academic Growth, K-8. (Revised ed.). Turner Falls, MA: Northwest Foundation for Children.
  • Wadhwa, A. (2016). Restorative Justice in Urban Schools: Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline. New York, NY: Routledge
  • [Online Resource] Center for Non-Violent Communication (n.d.). 

Johanna C. Masis is currently the Program Director at Oakland Leaf. She started her career as a high school teacher and later joined AmeriCorps. She taught abroad in Japan and has, since then, dedicated herself to promoting creative ways for youth to learn in different capacities. She has directed youth programs in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Bladium in Alameda and Denver, as well as language programs in Alameda and San Francisco. Johanna first joined Oakland Leaf in 2013 as the Site Manager for International Community School Afterschool Program. For the Fall 2014, she assumed a new role as the Site Manager for Oakland Leaf’s afterschool programs at both the International Community School and Think College Now campus. In December 2015, Johanna Masis become Oakland Leaf’s Program Director. As part of the Oakland Leaf community, you can expect to see her energy, compassion, responsibility, work ethic and natural leadership skills in full swing.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Gratitude in Evaluation: Asset-Based Program Evaluation During COVID-19

By Guest Blogger Jason Spector, Policy Studies Associates

Jason Spector 
Policy Studies Associates

We are entering a holiday season unlike any other, with limited gatherings and far too many empty seats at the table. Out-of-school-time (OST) staff, youth, and families face deep grief, challenge and uncertainty. It is not a time where program evaluation is at the forefront of our minds, and when evaluation does come to the fore in the OST field, it is often in the context of service gaps, disparities, and young people’s learning losses. These are all too real and point to the deep challenges of this era, from the disparate educational and health impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color to the mounting academic learning loss that is inextricably connected to race and class across the country. 2020 is a year of intersecting health, economic, education, and racial justice crises; it is also the year where resilience has shone through and there is much to express gratitude for and celebrate in the OST field and beyond. 

Asset-based evaluation can be a helpful, and hopeful, approach during this time and into the future.

What do we mean when we say asset-based evaluation? Consider the definition from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health: “Asset-based approaches emphasize the need to redress the balance between meeting needs and nurturing the strengths and resources of people and communities. They are ways of valuing and building on the skills, successes and strengths of individuals and communities, which focus on the positive capacity of individuals and communities rather than solely on their needs, deficits and problems. These assets can act as the foundation from which to build a positive future.” In short, assets do not diminish problems and needs, but they do serve as a broadened foundation upon which to build an evaluation strategy.

Source: California Afterschool Network (CAN)

How can an asset-based evaluation approach help address your organizational needs during COVID-19? Here are some helpful tips to get started:

  • Reexamine how you frame continuous improvement. Continuous improvement often involves developing and adapting strategies to meet problems or challenges. This is necessary, but incomplete. An asset-based approach can reframe continuous improvement as both addressing challenges and intentionally identifying program, community, and individual strengths—and then developing strategies to amplify those strengths. For example, a strength of the virtual program structure is it can attract a broader range of staff and volunteers across geographic boundaries. An asset-based continuous improvement question asks when virtual programming makes sense to continue in the future to broaden the staff and volunteer talent pool.
  • Broaden your measures of success. OST youth, families, and staff are benefitting from new services (e.g. food support and IT connectedness) and developing new socio-emotional strengths as they collectively face down adversities. At the organization level, providers are learning to rapidly adapt and develop new systems for virtual and blended learning that will increase organizational capacity for years to come. These are worthy indicators of success.
  • Use qualitative data collection to bring in more voices. Inclusivity is critical to an asset-based evaluation. Voices from students, families, and staff can rise to the fore through interviews and focus groups, as well as through open-ended survey questions. Who better to speak to the assets of the community than community members? 
  • Use an analytic lens that seeks out the positives. Both qualitatively and quantitatively, it is critical to analyze where are things working well and for whom. Whether these are individual case studies or examples of successful mass mobilization efforts (e.g., increasing student access to devices), there is much to learn from individual, program, and community strengths that can be both celebrated and scaled.
  • Celebrate the wins through positive feedback loops. When a staff member is called out by a student or family member for excelling in their role, how do you ensure that that information not only makes it into a grant report, but directly back to that staff member in a timely manner? Building positive feedback loops where information flows to all stakeholders to celebrate wins—not just address challenges—builds buy-in for evaluation and bolsters staff and community morale. Let evaluation be a source of inspiration!

As you consider taking one or more steps toward an asset-based evaluation approach, be mindful of evaluation overload. It may be preferable to do fewer things and do them well during this time. Accordingly, be cognizant of matching your evaluation strategy to your organizational needs and capacity, so that asset-based evaluation doesn’t become ‘just one more thing.’ And as you dive in, please share your examples of how you practice gratitude and/or asset-based evaluation—I am grateful for, and look forward to, learning alongside you.

Jason Spector is a Senior Research Associate at Policy Studies Associates. He formerly served as the Senior Director of Strategy and Evaluation at After-School All-Stars. Jason recently authored a chapter in the new book Measure, Use, Improve! Data Use in OST! titled “What’s Your Why? Matching Evaluation Approach to Organizational Need.” He can be reached at jspector@policystudies.com or on LinkedIn.    


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