Monday, November 15, 2021

Civic Engagement and Activism in Afterschool Programs: Challenges and Tips

Source: 4-H

By Sam Piha

We are continuing to post a series of blogs to inform and encourage expanded learning programs to start today 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 view previous blogs from this series hereWe also conducted a webinar on this topic which can be viewed here.

In this blog, we hear from afterschool program leaders on the challenges they face when offering civic engagement and activism activities and share some tips to consider. 



Challenges Encountered – School districts are conservative when it comes to "lobbying", so we have to educate the local education agencies on the difference between lobbying and civic engagement. And encourage them to think more broadly.

Tips - Look for programs and processes that work and make sure to do professional development with line staff who are the kid magnets. They need to re-learn civics too! Look for programs that already exist and join in before trying to start something on your own. - Brad Lupien, ARC Experience




Challenges Encountered - Among the challenges are ensuring our team internally replicates the equitable and just practices we want to see in our schools, ensuring as few barriers as possible to participation. Other challenges include managing our real-world activities when our members are expected to be sitting in a classroom--and not navigating their communities--for most of the typical workday. And yet another challenge, (among many) is that while our work is highly collaborative in nature, the culture of most schools that our students are exposed to are highly competitive in nature. And because we define leadership as the ability to bring others along with you, our leaders (who serve without formal titles) are often overlooked by their own schools as accomplished assets. - Rachel Belin, Kentucky Student Voice Team


Challenges Encountered - These students are busy and have their time scheduled out with extracurricular activities and work. We had to limit how long our meetings were. There was so much more we wanted to do with them in this first year and couldn't cover it all. We'll make meetings short and more frequent next year.

Tips - We had two remarkable college students involved in the design of the program, and they were the direct contacts for the teams to connect and progress in their projects. That was a huge factor in this program's success. The college students had been in afterschool programs just a year prior, and their fresh perspectives were really valuable. - Julie Groll, ASAP Connect



Challenges Encountered - Staffing this year was a MAJOR challenge, for both adults and teens; inconsistent number of children that come out to the playground and playstreets make it hard for the teens to stay motivated; the heat can also decrease motivation. Fundraising can be a challenge because many see this as an expensive program. The program itself doesn't cost a ton and many things can be donated or can get sponsorship (like their uniforms/t-shirts); what does cost the most is the salaries. This is a workforce development program, so we invest in people. We have low staff/youth ratios, we pay above minimum wage, aiming to get our TEENS to $15/hr. within the next 3-5 years. They are currently paid $9/hr. and adult staff starts at $15-20/hr.

Tips - Plan, plan, plan and then be prepared to throw all of those plans out the window. This project relies on many partners and large systems, the more of those you have to interact with the more you have to rely on them. So, deadlines often get pushed, information often comes late, and so we end up grinding the two weeks before the teens start for training because finally all of the information we’ve been waiting on since MAY, comes through. Once the teens start training and then are on the Play Streets, just lean into it and have fun! - Rebecca Fabiano, FAB Youth Philly

To help others interested in this initiative, they published Play Captain Initiative: Start- Up and How- To Guide.  



Challenges Encountered - Youth conflicts can arise when there are passionate differences in opinions. It takes time to be thoughtful in setting up difficult conversations or lesson plans and activities. Many of the topics we cover center around identity and in recent years, we have seen responses to differences in our government and media to escalate into anger and violence. We have to help guide youth to see different ways to engage with someone they feel is acting in attack or dismissive.

Tips - Setting up a foundation of safety and support can provide intentional mechanisms for conflict resolution between youth. Provide as much space for youth to take on leadership roles and design programming. - Jenifer Hughes, Youth & Government, YMCA of San Francisco



Challenges Encountered - Black youth, particularly boys, are very underrepresented in our program and other programs like it. We need to figure out how to bring more young people to the table so that we are building leaders in every community.

Tips - Incorporating meaningful civic engagement opportunities into youth programming is so easy to do! The mechanisms for young people to engage with their elected leaders are the same for adults. Have them create a presentation for their community board, testify at a public hearing, call or write to their elected leaders, create a petition...these are such great projects for young people to do together and you can do so much related skill building as you go through the projects: public speaking, debate, consensus building, media literacy, etc. - Laura Jankstrom, YouthAction NYC



Challenges Encountered - Our expertise is in youth development and science education. Participants would benefit from more collaboration with experts in government and community organizing.

Tips - Youth seem to thrive when there is a clear purpose and overall framework in which they can make choices about what they are most excited to do and how they wish to do it. They are very creative -- give them the space and support to achieve their goals. - Laura Herszenhorn, California Academy of Sciences


We are hosting a webinar/ Speaker’s Forum on Wednesday, November 17, 2021 from 10:00am- 12:00pm (PST) entitled, Afterschool as a Teacher PathwayThe purpose of this webinar is to inform and encourage OST leaders on how best to develop/join and promote an afterschool to teacher pathway. It is our intention to capture and share valuable and intriguing ideas from educational and OST leaders. To learn more and register, click the banner below.

We have also released a new briefing paper on this topic, which can be viewed and downloaded here.



Throughout the month of November, we'll be promoting The How Kids Learn Foundation Giving Tuesday fundraiser. Why donate to The How Kids Learn Foundation? Because, since their launch, they’ve contributed so much to the afterschool field, including over 38 Speaker’s Forums; 82 educational videos, attracting 33,400+ views; 38 briefing papers and over 480 blog posts attracting 716,000+ views. Help HKLF continue their work in 2022. To learn more and donate, click here.

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