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. 

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. 

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
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.

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. 

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.

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