Monday, May 23, 2022

Integrating Mindfulness into Afterschool Youth Programs



By Sam Piha

For the past decade we have been promoting the use of mindfulness activities in afterschool to address the needs of youth participants and the self-care of youth workers. Integrating mindfulness activities into youth programs to benefit young people and educators has been a very popular educational concept. It appears in the literature on emotional regulation, trauma-informed practice, social emotional learning, grief-responsive teaching, and other leading topics. 

Youth who engaged in mindfulness activities report a greater sense of optimism and well-being, and a reduction in depression, anxiety, stress, and anger. They also benefit academically. Mindfulness activities are also a valuable “self-care” strategy for teachers and afterschool staff, and these activities can be tailored to be used in staff meetings.

On May 31st we are hosting a zoommini-course on integrating mindfulness activities into afterschool youth programs. To learn more and register, click here.







We also recommend Mindfulness in Afterschool, a curriculum written by Temescal Associates. Temescal offers customized training on mindfulness for afterschool leaders. For more information on these resources, write to info@temescalassociates.com

Below we share some comments from a mindfulness leader, Laurie Grossman (Inner Explorer) and educators, Allison Haynes (Riverside County Office of Education), Ken Dyar (Delano Union School District) and Dr. Katarina Roy Schanz (Riverside Unified School District). Each of them has promoted mindfulness techniques at the school and district level and their responses below are from previous LIAS interviews

Q: CAN YOU BRIEFLY DESCRIBE WHAT MINDFULNESS IS?
Laurie Grossman
Laurie Grossman (LG):
Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment without judgment. Many of us miss a lot of our lives because we live in the past or the future; we spend most of the time in our heads reliving what has already happened or worrying about what is going to happen. By practicing mindfulness, one learns to live more often in the present moment; benefitting from what is actually occurring right now. One of the most common ways to practice mindfulness is to focus on the breath as an anchor to the present.  

Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn founded Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in 1979 at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Those benefits as described by the MBSR website include: 

  • Lasting decreases in physical and psychological symptoms
  • An increased ability to relax
  • Reductions in pain levels and an enhanced ability to cope with pain that may not go away
  • Greater energy and enthusiasm for life
  • Improved self-esteem
  • An ability to cope more effectively with both short and long-term stressful situations.

Q: WHY IS MINDFULNESS EFFECTIVE WITH YOUNG PEOPLE? 
LG: Mindfulness lessons are interactive, short and impactful. When teaching mindfulness, we are teaching children about themselves; the curriculum is relevant to them and therefore engaging. Students tell us they can concentrate more easily on their schoolwork, they can calm themselves down, and they feel less stress. The benefits of mindfulness occur rather quickly, students feel better as a result and they enjoy the practice. 

The very first lesson we offered in an Oakland public school resulted in this comment from a third grader, “I think if we do this every day we won’t fight anymore.” I was stunned because the school was one where violence in the community was common. 

Ken Dyar
Ken Dyar (KD):
Children living in poverty or in unhealthy environments are under constant, unending stress. Is it any wonder that they struggle to self-regulate, or attend to a school lesson? In an afterschool program, we are extending their learning day until 6 pm, five days a week. Mindfulness is the perfect way to do this, in my opinion. Additionally, it is a practice that the kids can extend to their lives outside of school. It is a life skill.

Q: WHAT BENEFITS DO YOU BELIEVE MINDFULNESS BRINGS TO YOUNG PEOPLE?
KD:
Stress management, regulating behavior, lowering blood pressure, increasing positiveness, increasing hopefulness, empowering youth to feel that they are in control of themselves. It develops a growth mindset in kids. It gives them a tool to move them forward emotionally and therefore academically.

Q: DO YOU BELIEVE THAT MINDFULNESS IS APPROPRIATE FOR ALL AGE YOUTH? 
Allison Haynes
Allison Haynes (AH):
YES. Why not? Why would we arbitrarily choose a number and determine that until one reaches that age, they are restricted from engaging in a practice that includes benefits such as relaxation, self-regulation of emotions, self-awareness, and compassion for others? 

KD: I do believe that mindfulness is appropriate. I have introduced it to my eighth graders this year. Students in middle school are truly "stuck in the middle." Anyone who has worked with middle school students will tell you that these kids are both babies and adults. They need a tool like mindfulness to manage the swings in mood and emotion. I also believe that educators who use mindfulness with their students will enhance the relationships they have with their kids. Sharing mindfulness with my students has certainly proven to them how much I care about them.

Q: WHAT BENEFITS DO YOU BELIEVE MINDFULNESS BRINGS TO ADULT STAFF? 
AH:
Mindfulness provides immediate feedback to adult staff. Taking a breath while letting the thought pass is indeed helpful when your inner voice is shouting doom and gloom. Interrupting the critical voices in one’s head allows a pathway for creative thinking (which is always necessary for afterschool program adult staff). But engaging in a practice before arriving to engage youth is most valuable because it is during that time that intentions can be set, loving kindness administered, and a stronger connection to compassion forged. 

Q: WOULD YOU RECOMMEND MINDFULNESS TO OTHER AFTERSCHOOL LEADERS?
AH: YES. I’d recommend mindfulness to other afterschool leaders because a practice is good self-care. Additionally, I know afterschool leaders are role models who can’t give what they don’t have. I say, give them what they need and watch it spread.

KD: When I share mindfulness with my kids, one comment I always hear at the beginning is that it is "weird." It's weird because no other teacher they've had has ever shared this with them. Taking a moment to do a body scan, be grateful, be in the moment, etc., is completely foreign to them. It is my wish that mindfulness becomes such a regular part of education that it is never considered "weird" anymore. I wish every teacher on my site spent time using mindfulness with their students. I would certainly recommend the practice to any leaders involved in educating our youth.

Q: WHY ARE YOU TEACHING MINDFULNESS TO SCHOOL DISTRICT STAFF?
Dr. Katarina Roy Schanz
Dr. Katarina Roy Schanz (KRS):
The primary target group for this mindfulness training are our Student Assistance Program (SAP) Counselors and SAP Behavior Support Teams. Additionally, adding mindfulness to their self-care practice will help the team both personally and professionally. We’re hoping that by implementing a mindfulness practice, we will see decreases in anxiety and improvements in self-awareness and social-emotional skills, among other positive changes.


Laurie Grossman is the Director of Social Justice & Educational Equity for Inner Explorer. She cofounded Mindful Schools in 2007. With Angelina Alvarez Manriquez and 4th & 5th grade students at Reach Academy in East Oakland, California, she wrote Master of Mindfulness: How To Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress & Breath Friends Forever.

Allison Haynes is the Administrator of Pupil and Administrative Services at the Riverside County Office of Education. She has worked in the field of education for 25 years, with the last five focused on Expanded Learning Programs. Her experience ranges from working with elementary, middle school, and high school students as a school counselor and/or a site administrator. 

Ken Dyar was named a California Teacher of the Year in 2006.  He is currently a Physical Educator at the Delano Union School District. Prior to this assignment, he was Director of Physical Education and After School Programs, including DUESD's afterschool programs. Ken has taught for over 18 years, teaching 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades. 

Dr. Katarina Roy Schanz is the Coordinator of the Student Assistance Program with Riverside Unified School District. Dr. Roy Schanz has been an educator for 21 years. She has served as a school counselor, assistant principal, and principal.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Emerging Issues Impacting Afterschool

By Sam Piha

There are many emerging issues that impact afterschool programs as well as a wealth of articles that focus on them. How do we keep up on reading about issues that you are interested in? Below are some articles and resources arranged by topic. We invite you to click on those that are most relevant to your program. 

YOUTH WHO EXPERIENCE HOUSING INSTABILITY: Housing instability is linked to chronic absenteeism, lower graduation rates, and higher suspension rates among students. Affected students were also disproportionately Latinx, Black, and English language learners.


DECLINING SCHOOL ENROLLMENT: “Kids miss school every day and always have—often for good reasons. But school leaders around the country say they’re struggling with a wave of chronic absenteeism that’s worsened over the course of the pandemic.” 

There are lots of factors, ranging from COVID-specific illness and family disruption to students who have just fallen out of the habit of regular attendance. And while current statistics are scarce, educators say the empty seats don’t make it any easier to get schools back to normal.” – Mark Bomster, Ed Week


YOUTH AND GRIEF: There is a growing awareness of the importance of emotional regulation, social emotional learning, trauma informed practice and healing centered engagement. However, it is important that we understand more about the needs of youth who are grieving or experiencing loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic (deaths and illness, as well as the loss of “normal”), the opioid crisis, the rising gun violence and the racial violence that is plaguing the country.

Source: Ed Week


THE NEEDS OF BOYS: There's an emerging trend in afterschool to focus on the needs of boys, especially boys of color and those from low-income communities.


COVID AND THE MENTAL HEALTH OF CHILDREN AND TEENS: In our work with young people, it is important that we think about the many ways they may have been impacted by COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), "Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) can affect adolescents directly and indirectly. Beyond getting sick, many adolescents’ social, emotional and mental well-being has been impacted by the pandemic. Trauma faced at this developmental stage may have long-term consequences across their lifespan."

From the very first waves of school closures and lockdowns in 2020, the pandemic significantly damaged children’s mental health in ways teachers are still coping with and researchers are still struggling to understand.” – Sarah D. Sparks, Ed Week

Source: Ed Week


AFTERSCHOOL WORKER SHORTAGE: Recruiting, hiring, and retaining afterschool workers have been longstanding issues. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit—and these issues were greatly exacerbated. They had resulted in programs closing, drastically reducing capacity, and adding stress to afterschool workers. Many of these challenges are not unique to the afterschool field- they are being experienced by those in education and a wide range of fields. We know that the issue of staff shortages is not new to veteran afterschool program leaders. However, we felt it is important to summarize what we know in the time of COVID-19.


The most pressing problem facing afterschool is the nationwide shortage of workers.
– Michael Funk, Director of CDE Expanded Learning Division


YOUTH INVOLVEMENT IN CIVIC ENGAGEMENT: According to the Afterschool Alliance, “The afterschool field is an essential partner in ensuring that all children have the ability to participate in immersive, relevant, and hands-on civic engagement opportunities.” Not only are civic engagement strategies participatory strategies, they contribute to the positive development of youth and the health of our democracy. 

Monday, May 9, 2022

Social Emotional Learning and Teens: The Importance of Adult Staff and Focused Program Practices



By Sam Piha

For successful delivery of SEL content has to do with the need to model it to the students to effectively teach it. SEL is necessarily responsive and works moment-to-moment over time; because it’s all about behaving and interacting, a “do as I say, not as I do” approach doesn’t work. Students learn and emulate self-awareness from someone who is demonstrating it. For this reason, educators must continue to develop their own social emotional skills so they can set the example — working on their personal development, becoming more self- and socially aware, learning how to manage their own stress, and walking the talk.  - Heather Daly, Courageous Hearts and Normandie Nigh,  A World Fit for Kids 

Dr. Dale Blyth
Dr. Dale Blyth, University of Minnesota, emphasizes that social emotional skills are “taught” through direct instruction and “caught” through adult modeling and the program values and culture. We know that the success of any program to promote social emotional and character skills is partially dependent on the social emotional and character skills of the adult leaders. 

Whoever our students may be, whatever subject we teach, ultimately we teach who we are. - Parker Palmer, Educator


Below is a reflection from Stu Semigran, Founder of EduCare Foundation, on the importance of adult staff and their social emotional skills. 

Stu Semigran
“We can only truly teach or impact our students in the value and competencies of SEL to the degree that SEL is becoming part of our own repertoire… our own way of being.  As we commit to our personal SEL self-development, this naturally influences our instructional practices, programs, and decisions. SEL becomes more than a collection of lesson plans, activities, or programs. It becomes a way of teaching… a way of being… a way of living. Then we as role models can deeply assist our students as they evolve in their own mastership of SEL. This has implications for how we hire and provide professional development.

There are a variety of valuable SEL skills that can be addressed through staff professional development. EduCare Foundation teaches “Eight Skills for Heartset® Education”.  Some of these include tools for self-awareness, mindfulness, self-forgiveness, and empathetic listening.  When these and other SEL skills are personalized and become our baseline, then we are more equipped to create an SEL styled climate with SEL curriculum and activities that can really “stick with” and impact our students.”


FOCUSED PROGRAM PRACTICES

Social emotional learning (SEL) is very important for teens and afterschool programs are well equipped to promote SEL skills. Below are some social emotional learning practices and activities for older youth that can be seamlessly incorporated into afterschool programs:

MindfulnessThe term ‘mindfulness’ is often associated with calm or total peace. But that’s not what it’s about. Mindfulness is a practice — meaning, something to be returned to again and again — that involves focusing on the present moment and accepting whatever is showing up. Doing this each day can help foster a feeling of centeredness, which in turn can result in reduced stress and more regulated emotions.  

You can register for Integrating Mindfulness into Afterschool Youth Programs: A Mini-Course to learn more here.


This animated video shows young children how to slowly inhale by pretending to smell a flower and to exhale by pretending to blow out a candle. The video was developed for a study by the Stanford Project on Adaptation and Resilience in Kids (SPARK Lab) at Stanford University.


Engaging Youth in Civic Action - In her article, How to Teach Older Students Social-Emotional Skills? Try Civics,  Arianna Prothero makes the case that “Understanding other points of view, solving problems collaboratively, and building relationship skills all come to mind [in teaching civics]. For many educators, those skills will sound familiar, because they’re many of the same taught through social-emotional learning…Civic engagement can be a meaningful way to teach and reinforce social and emotional skills. That’s especially true for middle and high schoolers who are searching for their place in their communities and the world and might not otherwise connect with traditional social-emotional lessons.” 


Source: Ever Forward Club
Circle Meetings - We know that bringing together young people and offering them the opportunity to have their individual voices heard in the larger community is an important practice. We are referring to ‘talking or sharing circles’ - bringing youth together in a circle and asking each individual to speak while the rest of the group practices active listening. In youth programs, these circle meetings are often called ‘sharing circles’ or ‘community circles.’ Click here to read more about sharing circles.


Source: Ever Forward Club
"Who I Am" Masks - The Ever Forward Club developed an exercise where young people write down words that describe who they are on the outside (the outside mask) and words that describe who they are on the inside (the inside mask)- the things that no one sees. (On their website, Ever Forward Club offers a curriculum on how to utilize this exercise). 

According to Darius Simpson, a former Ever Forward staff member, “A mask is a metaphor representing what we allow the world to see about ourselves. We all wear masks for different reasons, at Ever Forward we don't believe the mask is an inherently bad thing. Sometimes a mask is necessary to survive, get from one place to the next. What we've found is that when people, young men specifically, don't have a space to take off their masks and deal with what’s really happening for them, the mask becomes a part of them. That's where the conversation about what is living in what we call ‘the back of the mask’ comes into our workshops and circles.

* * *


Monday, May 2, 2022

A Brief History of the Social Emotional Learning Movement and the Challenges for Teens


By Sam Piha

The ideas around social emotional learning (SEL) are not new. The importance of social emotional learning is built into many early and more recent youth development program frameworks. However, few know the history of the SEL movement. 

According to Edutopia, “The roots of SEL are as old as ancient Greece. When Plato wrote about education in The Republic, he proposed a holistic curriculum that requires a balance of training in physical education, the arts, math, science, character, and moral judgment. ‘By maintaining a sound system of education and upbringing, you produce citizens of good character,’ he explained.

Preparing children to be responsible, productive, caring, and engaged citizens is a timeless pursuit that continues to be the goal of education today. How best to do this in our modern school system, however, is a relatively recent and still evolving area of study and practice, and it's the main question the SEL movement seeks to answer.

The concept of SEL was propelled into the popular culture in 1995 with a book by New York Times science reporter, Daniel Goleman. With support from Fetzer, Goleman published Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, in which he argued that character matters and, more significantly, the skills that build character can be taught.”

The history of the social and emotional learning (SEL) movement is the story of a simple, but powerful idea: What if education fully supported the social, emotional, and academic development of all children? Beginning in 1994, to address this question, CASEL was formed, growing from a small conference in New Haven to partnerships across the country and an audience around the globe. Since then, CASEL has served as a leader of the global movement and a trusted voice in the rapidly growing SEL field to make SEL an integral part of education.- The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)


THE CHALLENGE OF SEL FOR TEENS


“Social and emotional learning approaches used with young children are unlikely to be effective with teens. As part of their natural urge to become independent, teenagers often will disengage from programs that directly teach skills. Using SEL programs that make teens feel valued. How can an SEL solution instill these feelings among a discerning teenage audience.” Professor David YeagerUniversity of Texas,  Austin


In Why High School SEL Programs Feel ‘Lame'—and How to Fix Them, author Stephen Sawchuk writes “The big problem, researchers and practitioners say, is that too much of what constitutes SEL learning feels patronizing to teenagers and fails to address their core psychological needs and motivations.

Programs that explicitly teach SEL skills generally have a good track record for younger children. But for older students, the paradigm looks different. It’s less explicit and requires creating leadership opportunities—formal and informal—where students will have to exercise their relationship and self-regulation muscles.
” 

Source: A World Fit For Kids

According to Professor David Yeager, a developmental psychology researcher at the University of Texas in Austin, “as part of their natural urge to become independent, teenagers often will disengage from programs that directly teach skills.” He suggests using SEL programs that make teens feel competent, autonomous, and valued. 


Integrating mindfulness activities into youth programs to benefit young people and educators has been a very popular educational concept. It appears in the literature on emotional regulation, trauma-informed practice, social emotional learning, grief-responsive teaching, and other leading topics. Youth who engaged in mindfulness activities report a greater sense of optimism and well-being, and a reduction in depression, anxiety, stress, and anger. They also benefit academically. Mindfulness activities are also a valuable “self-care” strategy for teachers and afterschool staff, and these activities can be tailored to be used in staff meetings.

Integrating Mindfulness into Afterschool Youth Programs: A Mini-Course (2 hours) will teach the basics of mindfulness and provide multiple opportunities to experience its benefits through practice. It will provide attendees with hands-on training to support the integration of mindfulness activities in afterschool, curriculum, teaching tips and other tools. This mini-course will also include implementation examples as well as the challenges and benefits of integrating mindfulness into afterschool programs.

To learn more and register, click here.



Integrating Mindfulness into Afterschool Youth Programs

By Sam Piha For the past decade we have been promoting the use of mindfulness activities in afterschool to address the needs of youth partic...