Tuesday, July 20, 2021

The Advantages of Informal Learning Environments

Source: www.kingartscomplex.com

By Sam Piha

During this past year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have an even greater appreciation of the informal learning environment in afterschool (sometimes referred to as expanded learning). We know that afterschool is not in competition with classroom learning, rather it is a complement. Afterschool learning has several advantages, which are described below. 

Source: www.victoriaadvocate.com
Topics of Interest: Afterschool programs have the flexibility to pursue topic areas that young people find personally interesting and relevant. These topics include the sciences, visual and performing arts, civic engagement and community service, and physical activity—all of which can easily be aligned with school standards. In many communities, the ability of schools to offer these subjects is adversely affected by budget shortfalls and the need to shore up student performance in language arts and mathematics. Afterschool programs ensure that children who cannot afford fee-based enrichment programs have access to these important learning opportunities. 

Source: www.trevormuir.com
Learning in Small Groups: Afterschool programs have child-to-adult ratios that are lower than most classrooms. Small group settings enable adults to focus on the individual needs of young people, form personal supportive relationships, and engage young people in hands-on, experiential learning. 

Time to Learn: Some learning requires more time than can be allowed in a classroom setting, especially in middle and high school, where youth move from class to class. This learning involves projects that require extra time to plan, to work within a larger team, to analyze problems and persevere until solutions are found. Some learning requires reflection on important lessons that were gained and the opportunity to share and be recognized for one’s accomplishments. This sharing may come in the form of a presentation, a play or a recital, an art exhibition or service project, which may allow children to be acknowledged in ways they never experienced during the school day. Afterschool programs have flexible schedules that can allow young people to immerse themselves in a single program activity for the entire afternoon, if needed. In other cases, young people can participate in projects that build over several weeks or more. These kinds of projects promote important skills such as goal setting, project planning, teamwork, time management, and self- assessment. 

Source: www.youthtoday.org
Learning Beyond Place: Afterschool programs have the flexibility to go outside, beyond the walls of their facilities, using the surrounding neighborhood as a classroom. They are also able to bring the community into the school, by enlisting the talents and resources of individuals and surrounding businesses. Connecting to the local community broadens the variety of activities and experiences available to young people, honors the value of their own communities, provides young people with opportunities to contribute to others, and allows community members to see the learning and positive development of their children in action. 

Active Learning: The learning environment in afterschool is often less formal than in school. Children are allowed to learn by doing and learn as part of a larger team. This approach is very attractive and motivating to young people who may be struggling in the traditional classroom setting. 

Source: www.verywellfamily.com
Parental Access and Involvement: Because programs extend into the late afternoon and early evening, afterschool staff can often engage young people’s family members in ways most schools find difficult. Afterschool programs can serve as a communications bridge between the school and parents, thereby promoting a stronger partnership between them, especially when the afterschool staff live in the same community and share the language and culture of the parents and guardians. Afterschool workers are in a position to use parents as resources to better understand the experiences and needs of participants and to provide input on programming. 

Source: www.msdaz.org
Diverse Teachers and Resources: Afterschool programs rely on a wide variety of workers, including certified teachers, paraprofessionals, youth workers, college students, and community members. This flexibility allows afterschool programs to engage a diverse pool of workers that reflects the cultural, racial, and ethnic backgrounds of the young people in the program. These workers often present ideas, activities and resources that make education and learning feel relevant and compelling to young people, and thus inspire greater interest and motivation during the school day.  

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.

Tuesday, July 6, 2021

SEL and Character Building Program Practices

By Sam Piha

There is great agreement that social emotional learning skills are very beneficial in preparing youth for success. While we hear a lot about the “why” of SEL and character building, little is heard about the application (the “what” and “how”) within expanded learning (afterschool) programs. Expanded learning practices need to be uplifted so that the field can begin to see what good character/SEL practices look like.
Source: CASEL

We were interested in how programs promote these skills, so we put out an announcement asking afterschool programs to submit a program practice. We compiled these practices into a paper entitled, “Promising Activities, Practices and Resources: Promoting SEL and Character Skills in Expanded Learning Programs”. Each submission included a description of the submitting organization, a contact person within the organization, and a description of the practice or activity (i.e. purpose, time needed/frequency, target audience, and supporting resources).
The concept of social emotional learning has come to a frenzy in the past couple of years. Where does afterschool fit in to all of this? You would hope that we’d be right at the forefront. We’ve been doing this for years we know how to do it. – Karen Pittman, Forum for Youth Investment
Below are some practices that programs submitted:

Source: Temescal Associates
EDUCARE- Guided Visualizations. Visualizations are guided around a particular theme. There are a variety of mindfulness and centering practices they enjoy using and have found valuable. An example theme: Gratefulness. Youth close their eyes and review on an imaginary movie screen, images of who and what they are grateful for or appreciate - friends, family members, their health, people who support or inspire them, opportunities they have at school or elsewhere, etc.

Source: Ever Forward Club
EVER FORWARD CLUB- Mask Making. Youth are given a handout and asked to follow 3 steps anonymously. They are also asked to keep their eyes on their own paper. 1. Draw a mask on the left side. 2. Write 3 words on the front of the mask that represent qualities they let people see. 3. Write 3 words on the back of the mask that represent the things they don’t usually let people see. Adult leaders collect the masks and then have a few volunteers read a few of the responses anonymously. Youth are then invited to share how it felt hearing about the front and back of the masks of their peers. This would be a good time to discuss their commonalities and differences. Deeper processes can be created depending on the level of safety that has been generated in the room.

Source: LA's BEST
LA’S BEST- Sanford Harmony Cards. These cards provide engaging questions and activities to explore with a "buddy". The students then get to know each other and connect, which prepares them to handle future challenges and conflicts and opportunities to collaborate in a meaningful and constructive way. Sanford Harmony also provides recommendations of how and why to pair students together. The "Meet Up" strategy provides a way to strengthen a program's daily routine by incorporating practices that allow the entire group of students to explore how they treat each other and how they communicate with one another.

CALSAC- Regular Check Ins. This is an intentional space created for staff and youth to share how they are showing up in that space. Participants typically sit or stand in a circle during the check in. Next, a volunteer is asked to start and then chooses a direction for participants to follow. The information shared allows everyone in the room to understand what may be going on for them and honor that each individual may be coming into the space with varying life experiences. This allows everyone to see each other more wholly and create safety for people to be authentic in the space. It is recommended to create an opportunity for everyone to lead the check-in. (From Temescal Associates: It is recommended that each speaker holds a talking piece, such as a feather or item chosen by the group. The talking piece is held by the person speaking and then passed around the circle. Those not holding the talking piece are engaged in active listening.)

Source: Greater Good Science Center
GREATER GOOD SCIENCE CENTER- Gratitude Letter. In this activity, youth are guided to complete the Gratitude Letter practice, where they write a letter of thanks and then try to deliver it in person. To introduce the activity, the following script may be helpful: 'Most everyone enjoys thanks for a job well done or for a favor done for a friend, and most of us remember to say “thank you” to others. But sometimes our “thank you” is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless.' In this activity, you will have the opportunity to express your gratitude in a very thoughtful manner. Think of the people—parents, friends, coaches, teammates, and so on—who have been especially kind to you but whom you have never properly thanked. Choose one person you could meet individually for a face-to-face meeting in the next week. Your task is to write a gratitude letter (a letter of thanks) to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be specific about what he or she did that affected your life. It is important that you meet him or her in person. Don’t tell this person, however, about the purpose of this meeting. This activity is much more fun when it is a surprise to the person you are thanking.

Using Art As A Medium To Teach SEL

Source: WINGS for Kids By Guest Blogger, Cheryl Hollis, Chief Program Officer, WINGS for Kids This was originally published by WINGS for Kid...