Sunday, January 29, 2023

Youth Mental Health: What Can We Do in Afterschool (Part 2)

By Sam Piha 

“These [afterschool] programs are uniquely positioned to support and promote children’s healthy development, inclusive of mental health needs instigated by trauma. Children are not the only recipients; parents and the OST workforce can benefit from mental health supports provided directly or indirectly in these environments.”Child Care Technical Assistance Network

In Part 1 of Youth Mental Health: What Can We Do in Afterschool, we explored which afterschool superpowers can be applied to address the youth mental health crisis. Below we offer additional ideas on how afterschool programs can lean into their strengths to improve youth mental health and COVID recovery. (Note: learning loss indicated by lower reading and math scores should not be the focus of afterschool.)

Predictability and Rituals

“Predictability, or being able to know what to expect, is an important ingredient for healthy development. Predictable routines and consistent relationships provide a foundation of trust and security for children. When children know what to expect and who they can rely on, they have the confidence to explore the world around them and develop new skills.”Future Learn, Predictability and Development

Predictability reduces stress because children want to know what is going to happen next and what to expect. Familiar patterns are calming. This is especially true for young people who have experienced trauma. 

“Provide a consistent, predictable pattern for the day. Make sure the child knows the pattern. When the day includes new or different activities, tell the child beforehand and explain why this day’s pattern is different. Don’t underestimate how important it is for children to know that their caretakers are “in control.” It is frightening for traumatized children (who are sensitive to control) to sense that the people caring for them are, themselves, disorganized, confused and anxious. There is no expectation of perfection, however, when caretakers are overwhelmed, irritable or anxious; simply help the child understand why, and that these reactions are normal and will pass.”Dr. Bruce Perry, Importance of Predictability

When we repeat important activities on a regular basis, they become rituals that young participants can depend on. These activities include talking or check-in circles, particular ways that you always open or close the program, activities that acknowledge youth or staff that are departing the program, birthdays, etc. 

“Predictability is a stabilizing force for teens, but it’s been disrupted by the pandemic.” - Teen Mental Health: A Vulnerable Stage of Life

Promote Peer Interaction and Support
To address COVID-19 isolation, afterschool programs can help by emphasizing activities that promote peer interaction. Activities include check-in circles, group play and games and group projects.


“The global pandemic, even though it affected all of us, especially caused children and teenagers to be isolated from their peers for prolonged periods of time—and especially during these developmental periods that they showed the most intense need for interactions with peers.”Sarah D. Sparks, ED Week

Educate Youth and Normalize the Issue of “Mental Health”
It is important that youth understand that “mental health” does not mean “crazy”. They should understand that the impacts of COVID and isolation are real. These conversations can happen in group meetings and individual conversations. 

Create Opportunities for Youth to Contribute to Youth Mental Health
“Youth express a collective desire – they even demand – that adults involve them in creating a more responsive education system so that they can, as one student put it, ‘find our way back to loving learning.’”Youth Truth Survey

Young people want to be involved in a way that’s meaningful.

“ASK FOR STUDENT INPUT. The fact that we don’t even get a say in what we want to discuss ... is frustrating.” — 12th grade student

Consider training students to spot peers with mental health struggles and guide them to help.

“I wish the school did more to train and educate its students on how to identify ... warning signs of deteriorating mental health, abuse, self-harm, and violence within their peers - and respond appropriately and compassionately.” —12th grade student

 “'Some students won’t get help because they’re just afraid to ask for it,' said Sofia, a senior at Davidson. 'But if a peer knows, and if their struggle is seen and heard, then they’re able to say, OK, yes, I do need the help. And we can get them to go to an adult themselves.'” - Students Train to Spot Peers with Mental Health Struggles and Guide Them

Provide Daily Exercise Activities
During the COVID shutdowns young people had few opportunities for exercise and playing with friends. It has been suggested that youth who suffered from COVID-19 isolation can benefit from physical exercise.  

“At a time when recess and physical education programs may feel a squeeze from schools seeking more time for reading or math, studies suggest boosting students’ physical activity time also has an important role. It may help students rebound from the social isolation many have experienced during the pandemic.”Sarah D. Sparks, Kids Are Feeling Isolated. P.E. May Help Them Bounce Back


We also know from research that free play and activities that introduce young people to the natural world are also healing. To learn more, check out our LIAS Blogs on Play and Nature.

“At Lawrence Family Development Charter School, Art, Music and Physical Education (Gym) are important to helping students interact with friends while participating in activities that take them away from desks and screens. These classes teach critical thinking, decision making and use a separate set of skills to interact with others. Gym in particular has an important role to play in helping children reduce anxiety and stress.” - Susan Dion Earabino, Ed.D, Principal at Lawrence Family Development Charter School 

Know How and When to Collaborate with the School and Parents and When to Refer to a Professional
It is recommended that program leaders check with their schools or organizations to see if there are policies that lay out protocols for this. Many schools have IEP or Care Team meetings that identify strategies for particular youth who are experiencing problems. Afterschool leaders should attend these meetings as they have a unique perspective to bring. 

Afterschool staff shall also receive training on when and how to collaborate with parents, the school and/or mental health professionals.  

A Word About Confidentiality and Referrals 
As you get to know young people in the program and they develop trust with you, many may share personal information, assuming it will be kept confidential. Older youth may feel safer knowing that you can and will keep their conversations confidential. However, there are certain times when you will not be able to keep confidentiality—such as when a young person lets you know that someone is hurting them, or that they are going to hurt someone else. 

It is important that adult staff understand the legal reporting responsibilities regarding child abuse and endangerment. If your program is addressing personal, sensitive issues with young people, it is important to have a clear policy on confidentiality that you can share openly with participants. It is particularly important with adolescents that they understand you will respect their privacy, and that there are limits regarding ensuring their safety.  There will be times when a young participant’s issues are beyond the scope of your program practice. It is important that staff members receive guidance on how to handle these situations and have access to their program supervisors to discuss situations where referrals to other professionals may be in order. 


Play comes natural to kids and to out-of-school time educators! Research across youth development and education fields have identified principles that define playful learning and the positive youth outcomes that can come from intentional play. In this webinar, we will explore this topic and learn about free resources you can use to incorporate high-quality playful learning opportunities into your programs and how to advocate for more play in the lives of children.

Our featured speaker will be Dr. Carol Tang, the Executive Director of the Children's Creativity Museum, a member of LEGO's Playful Learning Museum Network. Tang is a Board Member of the How Kids Learn Foundation and the Association of Children's Museums. She previously led the Coalition of Science After School and was a program officer at a family foundation.

To learn more and register, click here.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Youth Mental Health: What Can We Do in Afterschool? (Part 1)


By Sam Piha
Since the return of young people to school and afterschool programs after the COVID shutdowns, there have been major concerns raised by educators and youth workers regarding youth mental health, the increase of challenging behavior and a decrease in acts of kindness shown to peers.
"Broadly speaking, after school is mental health, as both promote enriching opportunities for growth and healthy development, thus preventing problems and promoting possibilities for children living in urban poverty." - Linking Mental Health and After School Systems for Children in Urban Poverty: Preventing Problems, Promoting Possibilities
Afterschool programs are not equipped to solve the youth mental health crisis. However, afterschool programs are well positioned to promote positive mental health. To do this we should lean into our strengths. Below we offer some ideas on how afterschool programs can lean into their strengths to improve youth mental health and COVID recovery. (Note: learning loss indicated by lower reading and math scores should not be the focus of afterschool.) We recently sponsored two webinars focusing on youth mental health, and the full webinar recordings can be viewed here.

The Importance of Positive Relationships in Afterschool
We know in afterschool programs that relationships are key. By working to build positive relationships with youth we can ensure that everyone has “someone to talk to.” 
“The percentage of elementary students who report that they have an adult they can talk to at school when they are upset drops steadily from third grade (61 percent) to fourth grade (55 percent) to fifth grade (50 percent). Fewer than half of secondary students, regardless of grade level, gender, race, or LGBTQ+ status, report that they have an adult at school they can talk to when they feel upset, stressed, or have a problem.” - Youth Truth: Emotional and Mental Health
It would be useful to review the Youth Development Guide 2.0, which speaks to the importance of building positive relationships and other important topics.

Provide Opportunities for Youth to Express Themselves 
Quality afterschool programs place an emphasis on opportunities for youth to express themselves. These include things like:
  • Check-in Circles - This doesn’t need to take very long and can greatly benefit both young people and program staff. In small groups (20 or fewer), begin the day by sitting quietly in a circle and letting each person speak briefly. Sometimes it helps to have a special item to pass around the group like a talking stick that identifies the one who has the “rapt attention” of the group. You can learn more by reviewing our LIAS Blogs on this.
“Listening to youth is essential to effectively addressing the youth mental health crisis that is setting off alarms across America.”  - Youth Truth Survey
  • Journals - Journal writing is a good way for youth to freely express themselves. Afterschool leaders can use journal writing prompts and/or just offer free writing. You can learn more by reviewing our LIAS Blogs on this topic.
  • Art - Art is a good way that youth can express themselves without words. These can be art projects or opportunities to do free art.
“Bring healing and joy through art… Evidence shows that engaging in the arts—simply for the experience and pleasure of it—is therapeutic. Yet many schools, especially in under resourced communities, have extinguished this opportunity. Make art a regular part of every child’s school experience.” - Mental Health Crises Are Bombarding Our Schools. Here’s What We Can Do 

When asked, Angie (17-year-old) explained her painting (above) by saying, "I feel
trapped inside figurative and literal borders. These borders include: attending
and graduating college, getting a job, and not being able to visit my family
back in Mexico"

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Bay Area Afterschool Pioneer to Retire

Martin Weinstein

By Sam Piha

Forty years ago, Martin Weinstein founded New Perspectives, a Marin-based youth drug & alcohol abuse prevention program. New Perspectives expanded to serve youth across the San Francisco Bay area and changed its name to Bay Area Community Resources (BACR)

Marty pioneered school-based afterschool programs. He saw the importance of integrating mental health services by hiring staff with a counseling and social work background. He was also known for collaborating with other organizations in service delivery. (Note: Martin Weinstein helped launched my career in afterschool when he hired me in 1987. I worked for Marty for 8 years, managing BACR programs in the East Bay.)

Upon learning of his plans to retire, we interviewed Marty about his career and accomplishments, as well as other afterschool leaders, on his impact on the afterschool field. 

Q: Marty, what drew you to the field of youth prevention and positive development? 
A: In the early 1970s I decided I wanted to do something in my life that would benefit others, and I fortunately was given the opportunity to become the executive director of New Perspectives, which is now BACR. 

Q: Can you name one thing during your career that you were surprised by? 
A: I am surprised by the great careers built at BACR. Many of our staff make BACR their lifelong professional home.

Q: Was there an innovation you engineered that stands out to you? 
A: We created what is now known as an intermediary when AmeriCorps first started, and we are the longest running AmeriCorps program in California. Initially, the AmeriCorps agency didn't understand the value of this model.

Q: What is one of your fondest memories? 
A: I was visiting an afterschool program at an elementary school. The instructor was working with students on the concept of community. He asked the question, "how can we build a strong community?" A third-grade boy jumped up and said, "we gotta start doing push ups!" That is what I call a literal response.

Q: What are you most proud of? 
A: I am most proud of having had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful people who have become both leaders in the field and dear friends of mine. 

Q: Looking ahead to the future of afterschool, what do you believe will be the challenges and opportunities? 
A: Recruiting and retaining high quality staff has become a significant challenge as a result of the cost structure of expanded learning programs. The opportunities in after school are great. We have the potential to totally and positively impact the lives of countless youth through the work of committed and passionate people working in our most vulnerable schools. 

"Over 25 years ago in the Bay Area, Marty became a mentor, then a collaborator, and most importantly, my friend. Marty is leaving an impressive legacy in California that has touched and changed thousands of lives. Mine included. I love and appreciate you, Marty!"
- Michael Funk, Director, Afterschool Division, California Department of Education

Jennifer Peck
It's hard to imagine BACR without Marty. He's been the steady, strategic, patient, driving force behind this organization for longer than most of us can remember. Marty has never veered from his mission, but always found ways to adjust and adapt based on community needs and remains a reliable, impactful force in so many communities. I am especially grateful for Marty's understanding of the importance of nonprofits serving kids and being active and engaged advocates at the local, state and federal level. Marty invested time and resources in advocacy coalitions that leveraged the strength of many other organizations, which made a real difference with AmeriCorps funding at the national level and ASES funding in California. Marty will certainly be missed, and he's leaving a solid organization with a great reputation. BACR will undoubtedly continue to be a huge asset in Bay Area communities.” – Jennifer Peck, Founder of Partnership for Children & Youth 

Don Lau
I was introduced to Marty around 1986 by my YMCA's Y- Team Director, Alf Johnson. Marty and Alf had an idea to have the YMCA and New Perspectives (now BACR) partner on a prevention program targeting middle school students at risk of getting involved with "gateway" drugs. That was how the innovative Gateway Program was started by our two agencies. Gateway provided individual and group counseling, social services and recreation therapy. Each agency would provide services that were a part of their expertise. The Gateway Project was very successful in helping adolescents turn away from the drug and gang infested neighborhoods they lived in by exposing them to positive alternatives and giving them the tools needed to make good decisions. Gateway was an effective collaborative program model that was ahead of its time and I want to thank Marty for taking the risk with Alf and me to make it happen. All the best to you in your retirement Marty and hope you enjoy it as much as I do.” - Don Lau, former West Contra Costa YMCA, Executive Director & President/CEO YMCA of the East Bay



Martin Weinstein is the Chief Executive Officer of Bay Area Community Resources and has been a leader within the organization and the community for over 40 years. With his guidance, BACR has developed into a dynamic and highly diversified nonprofit agency. Martin's professional history combines a solid theoretical background in business and a successful application in the social service arena. He holds an undergraduate degree from the Wharton School of Finance, University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA from New York University.

Thursday, January 12, 2023

The COVID Pandemic and Youth Mental Health: Know the Facts

By Sam Piha 


Young people have proven to be especially vulnerable to mental health issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. School closures, having to learn remotely, and isolating from friends due to physical distancing have been sources of stress and loneliness. While COVID learning loss in math and reading are of high concern, research about how students are doing mentally and emotionally since the coronavirus pandemic began indicates they are not doing well. 

We are still learning about how the pandemic has impacted young people’s mental health. It is important that youth workers and afterschool leaders are aware of the facts. Below we cite some of what we know about mental health and the impact of the COVID pandemic. NOTE: It is important that we not over pathologize young people's mental health, but remember to identify and tap into their assets. 

Obstacles To Learning
In a recent survey of youth (222,837 students at 845 schools across 20 states) reported that “…depression, stress, and anxiety are the biggest barriers to their learning. Teachers have also noted that dealing with student behavioral and mental health issues has been the biggest barrier to addressing unfinished learning.” - Arianna Prothero, ED Week

Know The Signs to Look For
Youth workers are not trained mental health experts. They do not have the training to diagnose mental health problems, however it is important to know the signs and symptoms to look out for. Below we cite a list of symptoms to look out for, originally published by Mental Health America.

“Symptoms that happen across multiple conditions:

  • Problems with concentration, memory, or ability to think clearly
  • Changes in appetite
  • Feeling sad, empty, hopeless, or worthless
  • Loss of interest in things that they used to enjoy
  • Excessive worry
  • Irritability or restlessness
  • Changes in sleep
  • Angry outbursts
  • Not wanting to be around people or take part in activities

Other things to look out for:

  • Hearing or seeing things that other people don’t
  • Extreme panic
  • Onset of new behaviors or rituals that are repeated
  • Mood swings or frequent shifts in energy
  • Changes in how they dress –if your child is wearing long pants and sleeves in hot weather, or hats all of a sudden, they could be hiding signs of self-injury like cutting or hair pulling.”

Risk Factors
We know that all youth who suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are at risk for mental health issues. However, not all youth are at the same level of risk. We cite some risk factors that youth workers should be aware of. According to the U.S. Surgeon General’s Advisory on Protecting Youth Mental Health, these are the risk factors contributing to youth mental health symptoms during the pandemic: 

  • Having mental health challenges before the pandemic 
  • Living in an urban area or an area with more severe COVID-19 outbreaks
  • Having parents or caregivers who were frontline workers
  • Having parents or caregivers at elevated risk of burnout (for example, due to parenting demands) 
  • Being worried about COVID-19
  • Experiencing disruptions in routine, such as not seeing friends or going to school in person
  • Experiencing more adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) such as abuse, neglect, community violence, and discrimination
  • Experiencing more financial instability, food shortages, or housing instability 
  • Experiencing trauma, such as losing a family member or caregiver to COVID-19

(Note: Not a comprehensive list of risk factors)

Who Are Most at Risk?
Recent studies are showing that at highest risk are youth in foster care, and youth in poverty.  And LGBTQ+ youth.  

Foster Care: “Young people placed in foster care are already dealing with a higher level of uncertainty than other young people. Placement in foster care can be disruptive and traumatizing, requiring enormous adjustments. Adding the upheaval caused by the pandemic can increase the feelings of instability for those in foster care.”National Library of Medicine

Urban Poverty: “The current mental health system is failing to meet the extensive needs of children living in urban poverty. After school programs, whose mission includes children's socialization, peer relations, and adaptive functioning, are uniquely positioned to support and promote children's healthy development.” – National Library of Medicine


LGBTQ+ Youth
LGBTQ+ youth are at higher risk for experiences leading to learning obstacles, bullying, and higher rates of depression, stress, anxiety, suicidal thinking and behavior. To raise awareness, we cite some findings from Youth Truth: Emotional and Mental Health.

On Obstacles to Learning:

“Sexual orientation matters when considering obstacles to learning, particularly for middle school students. At the middle-school level, gay or lesbian students (79 percent) and bisexual students (79 percent) report at more than double the percentage of their heterosexual classmates (39 percent) that depression, stress, and anxiety impede their learning.” 

Source: Youth Truth: Emotional and Mental Health

On Bullying:

“Over a quarter of our youngest secondary students identify bullying as a top five obstacle to learning… For gender non-binary and LGBTQ+ youth, bullying is a formidable weight that adds to their overall obstacle- to-learning load.

The only high school group to report at a significantly larger percentage than the overall (8 percent) that bullying is an obstacle to learning are non- binary students (17 percent). And at the middle-school level the only two groups to report that bullying is an obstacle to learning at a significantly higher rate than the overall (19 percent) are LGBTQ+ students (27 percent) and non- binary students (34 percent).” 

On Suicidality:

“There is no significant difference in the percentage of youth reporting that they have considered suicide in the previous year by grade level or by race; however, there are alarming differences by gender identity and LGBTQ+ status. 

A full 32 percent of LGBTQ+ middle school students report that they have considered suicide, four and half times higher that their non-LGBTQ+ peers (7 percent). And this pattern holds in high school where again 32 percent of LGBTQ+ students report that they have seriously considered suicide compared to their peers (8 percent).” 

Source: Youth Truth: Emotional and Mental Health



MANAGING CHALLENGING BEHAVIOR IN AFTERSCHOOL: This webinar will focus on managing challenging behavior, supporting kids who struggle, finding your footing (spot) when the behavior of certain kids (or parents!) pushes your buttons. Our featured presenter will be family therapist and school consultant, Sheri Glucoft Wong, LCSW. We will then hear from a panel of afterschool leaders and ask for comments and questions of the registrants. To learn more and register, click here.

PROMOTING KINDNESS IN AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAMS: This webinar will focus on strategies of how we can promote kindness in our afterschool programs. Our featured presenter will be Stu Semigran, Co- Founder and President of The EduCare Foundation. He just authored a book entitled, Heartset Education: A Way of Living and Learning. Following his presentation, registrants will have the opportunity to share their strategies and ask questions. To learn more and register, click here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Best of 2022

By Sam Piha

Temescal Associates and The How Kids Learn Foundation have created a large number of resources over the years. They are catalogued here. Below we have listed several of our favorites from 2022. 


Blog Interviews

Guest Blogs

Most Viewed Blogs

Briefing Papers

Speaker’s Forums/ Webinar Recordings

Let Youth Lead

Source: FAB Youth Philly By Guest Blogger, Rebecca Fabiano, Founder & President, FAB Youth Philly (This was originally published on the ...