Monday, April 25, 2022

Rethinking Afterschool

By Sam Piha

Michael Funk
Michael Funk joined the California Department of Education (CDE) in 2012 to serve as the director of the expanded learning division. He oversees over $800 million in state and federal grants supporting over 4,500 afterschool programs in California. He also leads the newly created $1.75 billion Expanded Learning Opportunities Program, which funds every local educational agency in California. The Governor's current budget proposal for 2022-23 expands that funding to $4.4 billion.

Michael recently joined other afterschool leaders in a discussion addressing the worker shortage in afterschool. During this webinar, Michael offered several interesting comments, some of which are presented below. 

AFTERSCHOOL WORKERS as "COMMUNITY EDUCATORS"
What I saw during the pandemic were K-12 educators who were all of a sudden working alongside afterschool workers. Suddenly districts and education leaders were calling on afterschool community educators because they really knew the families and communities. And what I saw was, especially in these learning hubs, when schools closed, there was no division between school and afterschool or "community educators." And that's the phrase I'm using now more than school-based, expanded learning time workers. I'm using the phrase community educators. We are using that phrase more than youth workers or afterschool workers. They are educators, and they are from the community. 

THE VALUE OF AFTERSCHOOL
Most of our professional K-12 educators, not all, are from outside the neighborhood surrounding our schools. They drive in from other areas, while most of our community educators are from the neighborhood that houses our students' families. What we saw during the pandemic was a recognition from K-12 educators that "Wow, these people have something to bring. These people have something to offer that can help support the whole child in a compelling way." I am heartened that expanded learning time is increasingly being recognized as something powerful, effective, and transformative. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I'm seeing more educational leaders look at expanded learning as a field differently. Over time, will gravity try to pull us back to those old divisions? Yes, but I'm also seeing us working with great enthusiasm and passion for seizing this moment and not going back to how things were.

Source: Play Captains
AFTERSCHOOL WORKERS: SHOWING UP AS WHO WE ARE
We've often talked about afterschool as a teacher pathway as if we're going to turn these afterschool folks into K-12 teachers and help them fit into the educational system. While I have seen community educators become amazing teachers, that can’t be the only pathway into education. We need to have community educators/ afterschool workers in the educational system, showing up as who they are and not trying to turn them into something else.

I've said this for years now that afterschool workers were always told they need to align themselves to the school day and they need to ask the school administrators what they want them to do. They need to show up, hat in hand, and say "We're here to serve, what do you want us to do?" I think it's time to stop that. They need to show up as their best selves, as who they are with their assets and know-how.

RETIREES AND THE AFTERSCHOOL WORKFORCE
I think we've often overlooked some of the places with the most fertile potential for future afterschool workers, because, as a field, we tend to have a bias about who should be an afterschool worker. It's an implicit bias I'm sure, but how many of us think about recruiting retirees? When I managed the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco, we launched Experience Core Bay Area. We launched this effort to target retired adults to be line staff and site coordinators in our afterschool programs in Oakland. And what a phenomenal experience that was to see people with 20 years left of active, engaged energy working in afterschool programs.

Source: AARP
In our programs, we had retired professionals, many people of color from that neighborhood. I contend that one of the keys to program quality is an intergenerational workforce. Imagine how rich it would be if you had a 55-year-old retired executive working with children alongside a 25-year-old college student. Imagine the cross-mentoring potential between the younger staff and the older staff. One of my fondest memories was when one of the older staff, about 15 years ago, brought a portable record player to the elementary afterschool program. The kids were fascinated because they had never seen a record player before. And it opened this amazing world of opportunity. 

PURPOSE, NOT DOLLARS
Often, I hear people talk about the afterschool workforce shortage, they speak in technical terms - "They're going to get $2 more an hour at Starbucks," or "This company is going to give them a little bit more money here or there," or "They can get a scholarship over here." I had this compelling sense that we're missing the opportunity if we don't invite people to a higher purpose. If we see youth work not as a job, but as a pathway to their purpose, we can frame an expanded learning job as a portal to a career in education or transforming young people's lives. 

I suspect that the people you want working in your programs are the people who have a sense of purpose and care more about that than what the wage is. I'm not saying we shouldn't pay people well. Youth work has to be a purpose-driven occupation. I've talked with many after school leaders this week about how to get their afterschool staff into a living wage with the resources we have and I'm committed to that, also.


Michael Funk
, Director of the Expanded Learning Division (EXLD) for the California Department of Education (CDE), was appointed in January 2012. He was charged with developing a strategic plan building upon Expanded Learning to create programs that maximize outcomes for youth, families, schools, and communities. This work led to the Statement of Strategic Direction, identifying four key strategic initiatives. Michael brought together stakeholders from the EXLD field to finalize the plan and has continued to prioritize incorporating those principles of high-quality learning into all aspects of the work of EXLD. Michael is leading the effort to support Local Educational Agencies across California to implement the new Expanded Learning Opportunities Program. 

Prior to this role, Michael was the Founder and Executive Director of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco, which provides engaging programs to youth and adults. While serving at SNBC, Michael founded Experience Corps Bay Area and represented Community Based Organizations on the California Utilities Commission, Teleconnect Fund Administrative Committee, and served on CDE's Before and After School Advisory Committee. Michael also co-led the Learning In Afterschool and Summer initiative, a partnership with Temescal Associates.

Monday, April 18, 2022

COVID and Afterschool: Long Term Effects

Source: Good Morning America

By Sam Piha

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2019, many of us thought that this would only last a couple weeks. For some time, we thought of it as an acute crisis, as opposed to a chronic crisis. When communities were locked down and schools were closed, our views changed. Afterschool programs quickly pivoted to ensure that their youth and their families received food, supplies and needed resources for learning.

Recently we surveyed 37 afterschool leaders (directors, coordinators, trainers, etc.) to learn more about how afterschool programs were affected by the pandemic over time. We asked two questions: “How has COVID-19 changed your afterschool program?” and “Do you think these changes are permanent?”

Below we offer a summary of what we learned and cite some direct quotes from respondents. 

Negative Impacts

Many responded that the pandemic created a staffing shortage (over 59%) and resulted in a reduction of afterschool services and attendance (both 30%). They reported other negative impacts on their programs, including

  • the elimination of field trips, 
  • decrease in budget and volunteer resources, 
  • decreased connection with the community, parents, and youth, 
  • increase in participant waitlists, 
  • increase in the need for SEL services, and
  • staff burnout.
Source: www.ibcces.org
"It has increased our waitlist significantly, which wouldn't be quite as severe, but hiring has been increasingly difficult and I need to open another class, but I can't find anyone to hire. Without staff I have to keep 20-22 kids on the waitlist that would otherwise be enrolled." – Afterschool Program Coordinator, California

"Covid protocols have changed the family interaction with our program as we have not been able to hold our in-person family events." – Afterschool Program Administrative Secretary, California

Source: Middlesex YMCA

The negative impact on schools included a shortage of teachers, substitutes, and school-bus drivers. The negative impact on youth included 

  • loss of school and peer relationships, 
  • fear of COVID, and 
  • learning loss. 

"COVID has shifted our focus to social and emotional support to students throughout the school day, especially in their classrooms and during non-structured times like lunch. Intentional community building is a big part of this kind of support -- with school-wide activities and initiatives to promote a sense of well-being. We are using contract funds to bring in mental health clinicians to support both students and families." – Afterschool Program Director, California

They also reported negative impacts on families, including family relationships and an increased demand for afterschool programs.

"COVID-19 has created a demand from families for after school care, families need a safe place for their children to be while they work. Families have more needs, not only for children to be safe after school, but for a place that is able to provide supper/snacks, assistance with homework and before school care as more and more families begin to work either graveyard or 2nd shifts in places of employment. Before and after school care programs offer many families working in education the ability to drop off their children at their own schools where they work." – Afterschool Program Staff, California

Positive Impacts

Many also reported positive impacts including a stronger relationship with host schools and a greater appreciation among parents and educators regarding the support offered by afterschool programs.

"The families in the community are coming to realize how important after school programs are for them to be able to have a safe place for their children." – Afterschool Program Coordinator, California

"When the pandemic started and schools were closed, the afterschool coordinators were key players on making sure the families received information and schools knew what families needed to support learning at home. From there, the leader’s roles changed to case management and technology ambassadors. We partnered with the district and other CBOs to ensure the families could have their basic needs met. These actions strengthened our relationship with teachers, school administrators and families." – Afterschool Program Director, California

"We developed more flexibility and creativity in delivering programs and serving our students. Our adapting to create and provide a large number of valuable virtual classes was greatly appreciated by students, parents, and school administrators." – Afterschool Provider, California 

Permanent?

When asked if these impacts were permanent, most thought they would eventually fade, but not for 2 or more years.

"I am hopeful that these impacts are not permanent, however, I expect it to take roughly 2 years to get back to where we need to be." – Afterschool Program Director, California

"I don't think that these negative impacts will be permanent. However, I do think that, academically, it will take a considerable amount of time to get these students back up to grade level. Emotionally, it may take years for these kids to recuperate from having a stifled social life due to the pandemic." –Afterschool Program Coach, California


YOU CAN SAY THANKS!

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2019, we gained a new understanding of why afterschool workers are essential workers. Over the last two years, afterschool programs have pivoted to meet the new needs of schools, youth and their families. Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week (April 25 – 29, 2022) is a perfect time to say “thanks” to afterschool workers. 

Begin planning how you will celebrate and acknowledge afterschool programs. To learn more, access talking points and a communication toolkit, go to https://naaweb.org/ideas.


Monday, April 11, 2022

Why Write? “Poetry Is the New Best Medicine”

By Sam Piha

Providing opportunities for youth to reflect on and express their thoughts and feelings are critical strategies for any afterschool program. These opportunities are essential to promoting youth voice, healthy youth development, social emotional skills and resiliency, especially for those who have experienced trauma. The integration of writing is a very powerful way to do this. Strategies and activities include poetry, spoken word and journaling. Previous LIAS blogs focused on poetry and journal writing

“Offering young people meaningful writing opportunities allows them to share their ideas and using their voice helps them communicate and feel agency.” – Afterschool Provider ED, California

Peter Kahn
Peter Kahn has taught English and spoken word poetry to thousands of students at Chicago's Oak Park and River Forest High School since 1994. We first became aware of Peter’s work while listening to NPR. We contacted Peter and he agreed to participate in a Speaker’s Forum entitled, Meaningful Writing in Afterschool: Poetry, Spoken Word and Journaling









Later we saw him featured on the PBS Newshour where he gave his Brief But Spectacular take on how spoken word poetry amplifies student voice. “I used to hate poetry. I hated it as a student. I hated it as a teacher”, he said. “I was inept at teaching it. And in the mid-’90s, I brought in a former student, Jonathan Vaughn, to help me out. And he came in. And he mentioned the idea of a poetry slam. And my students asked if we could do that. So, we went ahead and did a poetry slam. And the student with the lowest grade in my class ended up winning it. And everybody looked at the kid differently after that. And he looked at himself differently, more importantly.

Source: PBS


Inspired by the potential of spoken-word poetry to engage youth, Kahn created an afterschool spoken word club at his high school. And for over 20 years, the club has created space for students to engage in storytelling.

In collaboration with his current and former students, Kahn has released an anthology, Respect the Mic: Celebrating 20 Years of Poetry from a Chicagoland High School





Below is a poem by one of Kahn’s former student poets, Abby Govea, high school class of 2021.

WHY WRITE?

I write because laughter is not the best medicine.
I used to spew jokes sporadically because I thought it was.
The more I puppeteered my smile
the further I was convinced
my anxiety would peel away like old skin.
Humor was a succulent treat my irrational nerves craved.

There were too many thoughts I wanted to disperse
that couldn’t be glazed in giggles.
They crammed in my brain like paper in Dad’s file cabinet
never to be seen or read aloud.
So I turned to the unexplored source
I knew comforts my brother.

Euphoria jerked through the grooves of my palms
watching my brother aggressively
write away his emotions and craft perfection.
I wanted to feel the same way.

Fingers clenched the pencil
as my hand synched with the rhythm
of my thoughts thudding against my skull.
Anxiety leaped into the creases of the paper
as confidence skimmed the doubt of writing’s benefits
and inscribed the cemented sentence:
It’s no joke that poetry is the new best medicine.

Excerpted from Respect The Mic: Celebrating 20 Years of Poetry From A Chicagoland High School. Copyright © 2022 by authors. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Workshop. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 4, 2022

A Time to Say "Thanks"


By Sam Piha

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2019, we gained a new understanding of why afterschool workers are essential workers. Over the last two years, afterschool programs have pivoted to meet the new needs of schools, youth and their families. 

“What we saw during the pandemic was a recognition from K-12 educators of, ‘Wow, afterschool staff have something to bring. These people have something to offer that can help support the whole child in a compelling way.’ I am heartened that expanded learning time is increasingly being recognized as something powerful, effective, and transformative. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I'm seeing more educational leaders look at expanded learning as a field, differently.” – Michael Funk, Director of Expanded Learning, California Department of Education 

Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week (April 25 – 29, 2022) is a perfect time to say “thanks” to afterschool workers. 

According to the National Afterschool Association, “Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week is a time to recognize, appreciate and advocate for those who work with young people during out-of-school hours. The week is marked by celebrations and public relations efforts encouraging appreciation and support for all the afterschool professionals who make a profound difference in the lives of young people.

Afterschool Professionals are skilled individuals who work with children and youth in diverse school and community-based settings to provide a wide variety of positive developmental relationships and experiences during out-of-school hours. Currently, in the U.S., an estimated 850,000 individuals are practicing members of the afterschool profession.

An estimated 10.2 million children participate in afterschool programs each year, and for every child in an afterschool program, there are two more waiting to get in. Every young person deserves quality afterschool experiences that positively impact their development. It takes skilled professionals to create these experiences. Because of the important role afterschool professionals play in the lives of kids, they deserve recognition and support.” 

“When the pandemic started and schools were closed in March 2020, the afterschool coordinators were key players in making sure the families receive information, and schools knew what families needed to support learning at home. From there, our program leaders' role changed to case management and technology ambassadors. We partnered with the district and other CBO's to ensure the families could have their basic needs met. These actions strengthened our relationship with teachers, school administrators and families.” – Youth Worker, Bay Area Community Resources

Begin planning how you will celebrate and acknowledge afterschool programs. To learn more, access talking points and a communication toolkit, go to https://naaweb.org/ideas.



COMING SOON, April 13, 2022 - Meaningful Writing in Afterschool: Poetry, Spoken Word and Journaling
Providing opportunities for youth to reflect on and express their thoughts and feelings are critical strategies for any afterschool program. These opportunities are essential to promoting youth voice, healthy youth development, social emotional skills and resiliency, especially for those who have experienced trauma.

The integration of writing is a very powerful way to do this. Strategies and activities include poetry, spoken word and journaling. This Speaker's Forum will focus on the above strategies. To learn more and register, click here.








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