Monday, August 30, 2021

Civic Engagement and Activism in Afterschool Programs: Forms and Strategies


By Sam Piha

We will be posting a series of blogs to inform and encourage expanded learning programs to start infusing civic engagement and activism in their afterschool program. NOTE: There are many program resources on the topic, some of which are detailed in our paper, Youth Civic Engagement and Activism in Expanded Learning Programs. You can read other blogs in this series hereWe also held a webinar on this topic which can be viewed here.

ivic engagement and activism come in many forms. There are a number of ways to help youth build their activism skills. In this blog we detail a number of these forms and strategies. Consider how the following could be included in your expanded learning program setting. 

When their contributions are recognized, young people come to understand their place and value in the world.”
- Meghan Lynch Forder 

Promoting Voting and Census Participation - "Voting and elections happen everywhere and provide valuable opportunities for young people to use their voices and have a tangible impact—and because it can serve as an entry point to other kinds of participation. But young people have political lives beyond the ballot box that meaningfully influence everything from consumer decisions to media and culture. Some youth (especially, for example, young people of color and/or LGBT youth) may see and experience their daily lives as "political" in ways that shape their views and their engagement in civic life."

Philanthropy - "Raising money is a concrete way for students to contribute to community or national efforts to address injustice. From organizing a bake sale around a local issue to fundraising on a larger scale for a national concern like racial disparities in the criminal justice system, raising money helps students feel like they are part of something bigger and backs the cause. Fundraisers can include selling items, auctions, entertainment, sponsoring events and more."2 

Advocacy - "This helps kids build writing skills, understand local, state, and national government, and allow them to voice their opinions about issues that affect them."3 Advocacy activities can also take many forms.  

Educate others - "As students learn about an issue they care about, their natural instinct is to share their new knowledge and insight with others. Encourage this by providing live and online opportunities for them to teach others, including their classmates, younger students and adults in their lives. This can include school assemblies, community forums, teach-ins, peer-to-peer programs and social media forums. Include opportunities to share the information in interesting ways (written, art, theatre, etc.) and they should also give other students the chance to explore their own thoughts and feelings about the topics."

Create a public awareness campaign that includes social media - "Creating signs and posters using art and photography can be very effective as can videos and live speeches; these are all useful skills that young people can learn. In recent years, the use of social media to raise public awareness has been largely driven by young people and is a useful vehicle for raising issues and effecting change. The use of blogs, social media sites like Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat, videos, memes and online petitions are just a few examples of how words travel fast online and can incite quick and effective action."5 

Advocate for legislation - "The primary advocates for the DREAM Act have been young people known as the DREAMers, who have a personal investment in the issue. With your students, provide opportunities for them to learn about the history and impact of legislative change like the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Help them analyze proposed legislation in relation to their goals and assess the extent to which it will have an impact."

Do a survey about the issue and share the results - "Understanding what people think and why is helpful in bringing about social change. Students can learn more about public opinions on issues by participating in surveys themselves and also reading about them. They can also create their own surveys. Using paper surveys or online surveys, students can gain insight into how other students in their school or the larger community feel about an issue. This is useful in organizing others and addressing their concerns and needs; at the same time it builds math, critical thinking and interpersonal skills."7 

Write a letter to a company - "Students can reach out to companies or organizations that they feel have done something unfair or biased. This is something do-able that can make a difference. In crafting a well-written letter with evidence and a clear statement of what needs to change, students learn useful skills in persuasion and at the same time, it has a made a difference."8 

Get the press involved - "Help students understand that bringing publicity to their issue amplifies the message, gets more people concerned and potentially has a greater impact. They can write a press release, do an interview, write an op-ed in their local paper or invite a reporter to see what they are doing and write something about it."

Volunteer/ Community Service - "Youth can engage in community service on issues they care about. Serving the people who are directly impacted gives young people firsthand knowledge of the situation, deepens their understanding and builds empathy."10 

Protesting - "Marching in the streets enables students to express themselves and publicly convey what's happening while meeting and connecting with other people who feel passionate about the same issues. Demonstrations and protests can be uplifting and empowering and can help students feel like they are part of a larger movement. In preparing to attend a protest, have students consider what their goals are in attending the event and think through what message they want to convey. They can create posters, prepare songs or chants and practice symbolism that conveys their thoughts and feelings. They should consider whether they want to do individually or organize a group of students from their school to go together, make transportation arrangements and ensure that safety concerns are addressed."11 

2-11 Ibid

Friday, August 20, 2021

Afterschool as a Teacher Pathway

By Sam Piha

Source: A Natural Fit: Supporting After-School Staff of Color in Teacher Pipelines

Our national teacher shortage predated COVID-19, however there is growing evidence that suggests that the shortage of educators will grow in coming years as due to the pandemic. According to Linda Darling-Hammond “The COVID-19 pandemic has further strained an already faltering pipeline of qualified teachers. Resuming in-person instruction and meeting the needs of students will require a stable, high-qualified teacher workforce. It’s more important than ever that states and districts invest in proven solutions that address ongoing teacher shortages.” 

You can view our paper on this topic here. We also conducted a webinar, which you can view here.

We also know that families of color were disproportionately affected by COVID-19. This will only exacerbate the shortage of teachers of color. Why is this important? Research findings from Teachers of Color: In High Demand and Short Supply tell us, “Teachers of color boost the academic performance of students of color, including improved reading and math test scores, improved graduation rates, and increases in aspirations to attend college; students of color and white students report having positive perceptions of their teachers of color, including feeling cared for and academically challenged, and greater diversity of teachers may mitigate feelings of isolation, frustration, and fatigue that can contribute to individual teachers of color leaving the profession when they feel they are alone.

Afterschool/ out of school time (OST) programs can be part of the solution. There are many reasons to think about OST as a teacher pathway. The first is that the knowledge and skills that OST workers gain is very similar to those required of teachers. On a personal note, my experience as an afterschool worker led me to serve as a classroom teacher for 10 years. 

Another reason is that many OST workers are people of color and bring a unique understanding of the community that their young people reside in. 

After-school/OST workers, particularly those with longer tenure in those settings, bring essential skills in building relationships with students and families, fostering positive classroom communities, and managing instruction. As teachers of color, they also bring an understanding of the varied strengths and needs of students of color and find a great deal of meaning and commitment in working with students of color. Yet these essential skills are not sufficiently recognized and viewed as assets in the teacher preparation experience.
 - A Natural Fit: Supporting After-School Staff of Color in Teacher Pipelines 

Resources to learn more:
Source: A Natural Fit: Supporting After-School Staff of Color in Teacher Pipelines

Implementing Grow Your Own programs at the district level that recruit teacher candidates from nontraditional populations (e.g., high school students, paraprofessionals, and after-school program staff." - Diversifying the Teaching Profession: How to Recruit and Retain Teachers of Color

To learn about grow your own programs we interviewed Priscilla Parchia (Program Manager, Expanded Learning) and Soo Hyun Han-Harris (Coordinator, Retention and Employee Development) about Oakland Unified School District's (OUSD) After School to Teacher Pipeline program

Q: Can you describe what the Afterschool to Teacher Pipeline is about?
A: OUSD’s After School To Teacher Pipeline is a program designed to support out-of-school-time professionals to make progress towards a California Teaching Credential. We do this through intentional test prep support, peer support through a cohort model, guidance navigating the licensure process, professional development for resumes, interviewing, and professional conduct support as well as a small stipend to support with testing and application fees. Our goal is to help create and nurture a support system that they can continue to use throughout their career in OUSD. The program is also part of a larger umbrella of Grow Our Own initiatives designed to attract and retain teachers in OUSD. Participants commit to teaching in Oakland for 2 years for the support they receive. 

Q: Can you explain how the experience of afterschool workers are relevant to becoming a teacher. What advantages do these experiences offer? 
A: After-school staff are uniquely suited to teaching, particularly here in Oakland. Youth development practices are relationship-centered and focused on the whole child which is directly related to culturally competent teaching practices. Furthermore, many after-school staff have an already established interest in working with youth and often through their experience discover a desire to expand their career trajectory in education. 

Their work in afterschool gives them a unique and important perspective and experience of students and families that they can bring to bear in their teaching practice. In many ways the creative space within after-school programs allows staff to connect with students in ways that classroom teachers often can't. 
In addition, many after-school instructors and program coordinators are not only local to Oakland but to the 10 - 15 block radius of the school. This gives them an unprecedented perspective of a student's experience. 

We are also very drawn to the diversity of after-school program staff as it more closely reflects the demographics of our student populations. We know from experience and from research that being taught by somebody who shares your cultural background can have a tremendous impact on student outcomes. 

Q: What are the responses of OST workers to the program and what results have you seen?    
A: Participant responses have been overwhelmingly positive. The California teacher licensure process can be complicated and the demystification and resource sharing can go a long way in lighting the path for someone who is intent on becoming a classroom teacher. Many are placed at schools they are familiar with and are swiftly thrust into leadership roles because of their experience with classroom culture and engagement. 

Priscilla Parchia
is the Program Manager, Expanded Learning with OUSD. For the past 13 years, she has worked in the Bay Area with OUSD as a youth developer, teaching artist, teacher, and curriculum specialist. Priscilla stands for equity, empowerment, and peace for herself and all others and hopes to uplift the innovative and transformative work that is done in the out-of-school time field while cultivating space for this work to inform daytime school efforts to grow thriving, productive youth leaders with authentic agency.

Soo Hyun Han-Harris
is the Coordinator for Retention and Employee Development with OUSD. She has been an educator with OUSD since 2002. She discovered a passion for supporting the development of teachers while teaching and as the Coordinator of Retention and Employee Development, she supports the development of teacher pathways in OUSD and current and aspiring teachers to become credentialed. 

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

"Misnakes" Are OK

Source: "Learning From Mistakes: Helping Kids See the Good 
Side of Getting Things Wrong"

By Sam Piha

When I was a classroom teacher, I always had a large sign that read, “Misnakes are OK.” Early in the year my students would eventually ask if I misspelled the word “mistakes”. I would reply that I misspelled the word intentionally to emphasize that mistakes are ok. 

Most people, particularly older youth, are often ashamed or embarrassed if they make a mistake publicly. It’s no wonder that many are afraid to engage to avoid the shame and judgement that comes with mistakes.

Embracing our mistakes is an important part of a growth mindset. GoZen, an online social emotional learning resource, writes, “Carol Dweck rocked the world of education with her research into something she called a Growth Mindset: the belief that a person’s basic abilities can be improved by hard work and determination. A growth mindset is central to a love of learning, perseverance and resiliency. Adopting a growth mindset also allows adults and kids to reframe mistakes into learning opportunities, making them less frightening and less debilitating.” (see LIAS Blog on Growth Mindsets).

I say to myself that I never lose, that I only learn. Because when you lose, you have to make a mistake to lose that game. So you learn from that mistake, and so you learn [overall]. So losing is the way of winning for yourself."- Tanitoluwa Adewumi, America’s 10- year- old Chess Master

And, we are more than our mistakes. Afterschool programs are particularly good at helping youth see themselves as more than their mistakes or school grades.

I particularly struggled with math. But after-school activities redefined the school for me. It wasn’t just the place where I failed my first test. It was where I learned how to sew. And I wasn’t just a person with a bad grade. I was a dancer.- Meril, 17- year- old student

How do afterschool workers view their own mistakes? How do young people in your program think about mistakes? How are program staff trained to address the times when youth may make a mistake? I asked these questions to several afterschool leaders and share their responses below.

Carol Tang,
ED Children's Creativity Museum,
former Director, Coalition for
Science After School
Carol Tang -If you take a step back and look at science, it's not about facts and figures or rote memorization. If you think about what scientists do- they are active, hands on, they make things and break things, they talk to their peers, learn from their mistakes and get better through time.

Autrilla Gillis,
Director of Expanded Learning,
ISANA Academies
Autrilla Gillis -I think that mistakes identify areas of opportunity for both young people and staff. Often times both staff and young people view mistakes as failures, while in reality mistakes are opportunities to try again with targeted supports or a focused action plan to improve the results.

From the district level, mistakes identify areas of future professional development for my staff and I. We veer away from vilifying staff members and instead investigate what led to the mistake, using our findings to determine whether an individual, school site, or district wide training should occur to ensure that the mistake is avoided in the future. 

Addressing mistakes is one of the most common conversations our staff encounters. Whether the mistakes involve academic feats, student responses to personality clashes, or poor decision making. As adults, we’ve taken the stance that young people must be empowered to work through their mistakes so that they acquire that skill, one that they’ll use for the rest of their lives. 

For our youngest scholars it begins with one-on-one conferences that utilize visuals and worksheets to help students identify the root causes of their decision making that led to the mistake, next we set goals to avoid making the same mistake when the situation is encountered again. As our scholars progress through grade levels we increase the reflective aspect of the process by incorporating journaling and peer support. It is rewarding to see scholars encounter mistakes and work their way through the same process using “self-talk” to get themselves through. 

Rebecca Fabiano
President & Founder,
FAB Youth Philly

Rebecca Fabiano - “'Mistakes are Ok!; Take accountability for, and learn from your mistakes!'

That is the first line of our guiding principles, which we recite in a call and response fashion when we come together as a group. One person chanting the first part, the rest of us responding the second part. We actually changed it this fall to this current statement from 'Mistakes are Ok!; It’s Ok to ask a lot of questions' because we wanted to focus more on accountability and learning. 

The original statement was part of a job description for college interns; we wanted them to really see their time with us as a learning experience and that we didn’t expect them to know everything right away or to even ‘get’ everything the first time, which is why we encourage asking questions. Several interns noted that very sentence was why they wanted to work at Fab Youth Philly (FYP).

We also ask about mistakes during interviews as we see mistakes as teachable moments. As a learning organization, we are constantly making mistakes in part because we are also risk-takers, we are somewhat nontraditional in some of our work and so there are bound to be mistakes made. We also primarily work with teens for whom it is their first job being employed by us so we want them to develop a ‘muscle’ around mistake making, but also seeing mistakes as an opportunity.

The way staff addresses mistakes varies from staff, to staff, and sometimes has to do with confidence and experience. But all of us TRY to approach it as a teachable moment. The more experienced staff tend to see right away the opportunity for learning, and working with the teen to address the issue, as opposed to blaming or shaming. Sometimes as adults, we need coaching too, around suggestions for how to support teens when they make a mistake.  


Mistakes are a natural part of learning, but students cannot develop into critical thinkers if they regularly freeze out of the fear of making a mistake.”- Colin Seale, Thinking Like a Lawyer 

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Youth Voice and Self- Expression in Afterschool: Videography

By Sam Piha
Providing opportunities for youth to reflect on and express their thoughts and feelings are a critical strategy for any afterschool program. This is especially important as youth return to afterschool programs after a year of isolation.

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 Les Peters (Executive Director, Community Development, YMCA of Greater Long Beach) on the importance of using videography to promote youth voice and 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?
A: It’s extremely important to create a nurturing and safe learning environment for youth to express themselves creatively.  In the Long Beach Youth Institute, we have a pedagogy of “Caring, Kindness and Compassion equals Creativity.” Youth Development is our mantra – foundation for everything we do, along with character development and we provide social and emotional support systems that allow youth to develop mechanism to help them deal with real-life struggles and over traumas. Through the process of reflection, we as human beings to start to understand our surrounding and how we are a part it and it is a part of us. Technology becomes an engagement tool to help youth reflect and express themselves through digital media arts. Many youth are not actively engaged in a positive and safe learning environment that allows them to express themselves without recourse.

Q: Is the making of videos a good way to provide these opportunities? Why?
A: It provides youth the opportunity to develop their voice and use technology to express themselves creatively. We have stages of helping youth express themselves: 1) wilderness retreat = around the campfire, 2) family presentations = telling their story of who they are, and 3) creating short films = on their community or teen issues. As the process progresses it allows the youth the develop confidence and find their voice. Digital Storytelling is an opportunity to engage youth to grow from voiceless to advocates in their communities. Youth and staff sharing this process together, strengthens their bond and it allows both to grow from this shared experience. There are academic benefits too, within Language Arts, History, Arts and Mathematics and workforce skills.

Q: Do afterschool programs need special equipment to provide these opportunities?
A: To begin a digital storytelling program, it can be quite simple – as a smart phone and video editing app. In the Long Beach Youth Institute, we have used iPhones and the iMovie app to create PSA for the city of Long Beach. This generation of youth are digital fish – they swim in technology. Give them a theme or topic they are passionate about and let them create and explore. In many communities, technology is accessible, but we still need to work on access for all. Digital storytelling equipment can vary based on your budget and needs. Basic equipment to start: digital video camera, memory cards, mic, headphones, tripod, computer and editing software. “Think big, start small.”

Q: Do staff need special training?
A: We learned early on that anyone can learn technology. But it takes a special person – a youth developer. A youth magnet, an adult who the youth are drawn too. That can provide an impactful, meaningful and positive relationship to allow growth and the opportunity for youth to share and express. In the Long Beach Youth Institute, we thought 17 years ago let’s hire a filmmaker to teach our youth about digital storytelling. The technical skills they taught met our goals, but their youth development skills did not. It was challenging for the filmmaker to create a positive adult relationship with youth. They became very cautious with how fast the youth learned filmmaking, because they feared the youth would be better at it and they would have competition in the job market. To train staff on the process of digital storytelling, it starts with your youth developers and finding an organizing who understands the importance of youth development and how to use technology as an engagement tool to promote academic success, creative expression and workforce development to train your staff.  From our experience, you must build a relationship first before you can teach them anything. Youth listen to people, not rules.

Les Peters
YMCA of Greater Long Beach
Q: For programs that plan to continue working with their youth virtually, does any aspect of using video/ movies work?
A: I believe with thorough planning you can have a virtually digital storytelling program. Items to consider:

  • Do all youth have access to the internet and access to the required tools to fully participate in the program. If they don’t then you need to make sure you provide resources that would allow them access. The Digital Divide is still an issue in many low-income communities and in rural communities that do not have the infrastructure to support broadband. 
  • Curriculum designed for distance learning needs to be engaging for youth. Youth need structure and lessons that utilizes universal design to engage all learning styles. 
  • Instructors who have experience in distance learning, who are youth developers and have some technology skill sets to troubleshoot any issues that arise with internet connection, software issues, etc. During this crisis, we have had to adapt to a virtual platform for everything we do. Engaging youth in a virtual environment, will be challenging and it will take innovative thinking and an experienced youth developer to develop strategies that will provide positive engaging experiences for youth.

I don’t see us engaging in face to face programming any time soon. Given the spike in positive case throughout the US and many of our states are taking steps back in the reopening process. Virtual/distance learning is one of those options, we as youth developers can use to maintain our relationships and provide experiences that are engaging and meaningful.

Q: Can you recommend any good resources for afterschool programs that want to learn more?
A: There are many companies and organizations in the afterschool field who offer trainings and tools to start a digital media arts program. The old adage of “build it and they will come,” can be true for some afterschool programs. But if you want to provide a meaningful and impactful experience for youth, you need to look at those who 1) use best practice research, and 2) methodologies/pedagogies that foster positive youth development, and 3) practitioner-based trainings on experiences rather than theory-based. Another recommendation, evaluation on your program. You need to prove success of your program to gardener recognition and future funding. Find an evaluator who understands afterschool programs and youth development, it will cost to have reputable evaluator.


I recommend the Long Beach Youth Institute for additional resources and evaluation outcomes that have been published in 6 academic journals on youth development, technology, and workforce. You can view some of the youth produced videos at our Youtube channel by clicking here.

Les Peters currently works for the YMCA of Greater Long Beach, Youth Institute, a national recognized Teen Youth Development & Digital Media Arts program as the Executive Director of Youth Institute & Curriculum Development. He has over seventeen years of experience in youth development and over fourteen years in digital media arts technology. He develops and implements after-school and year-round programming for low-income urban youth of color, provides diversity training and develops creative academic & social skills through the use of multi-media technology. Mr. Peters also develops and implements hands-on, project- based content standard Digital Media Arts Curriculum for clients of Change Agent Productions. He provides technical and curriculum support to 18 Youth Institute Replication sites throughout the US, Canada and South Africa. Prior to Youth Institute, Mr. Peters served as an Education Specialist & Assistant Camp Director for the Yakama Nation Summer Camp Program in Toppenish, WA. He is a national trainer on middle & high school Youth Development, Project-Based Learning, 21st Century Learning Skills, Internet Privacy & Safety, Digital Media Arts and technology in after school and with the national YMCA of the USA for developing new Y-Arts programs. He is also a Guest Lecture for the American Indians Studies Department at California State University, Long Beach.

Reed Larson’s Research on Youth Development

Source: Reed Larson, The Youth Development Experience Kate Walker By Guest Blogger Kate Walker, Extension Specialist, Youth Development, Uni...