By Sam Piha
Summer programs will be an important gateway to returning to school and healing from a year of isolation. However, these programs should not be pressured to fix the pandemic induced learning loss. Two available articles on focusing on learning loss deserve a read: Too Much Focus on ‘Learning Loss’ Will Be a Historic Mistake and Our Kids Are Not Broken.
Our kids have lost so much—family members, connections to friends and teachers, emotional well-being, and for many, financial stability at home. And, of course, they’ve lost some of their academic progress. The pressure to measure—and remediate—this “learning loss” is intense; many advocates for educational equity are rightly focused on getting students back on track. But I am concerned about how this growing narrative of loss will affect our students, emotionally and academically. Research shows a direct connection between a student’s mindset and academic success.” – Ron Berger, Senior Advisor at EL Education
We’re in the throes of a pandemic. Put yourself in the perspective of a 9-year-old. Students have been looking at a computer for the better part of a year as they learn. So, any summer learning enrichment experience really needs to be re-engaging students in a community of learners. That’s done through experiential learning, getting outdoors, doing projects, [while] maintaining the health and safety standards that are required, to really re-engaging them with experiences. It could be connected to a museum visit. It could be connected to a summer camp where they have experiences.” – Miguel Cardona, U.S. Secretary of Education
How should we be thinking about our “gateway” summer youth programs? What do youth need from their summer program experiences? How will this year's summer programming differ from past years? We asked some youth program professionals to share their thoughts on how we should we be thinking about summer programs.
This summer is a chance to test theories and demonstrate excellence in collaborative, active, meaningful experiences. We may only get this chance, at this scale, once. The hypothetical question, “if you had [nearly] unlimited funding for summer learning, what would you try, change, experiment with?” is now a reality. This is the time for innovators.
There certainly is great academic learning loss, no question. The social emotional learning loss, however, coupled with the loss of daily personal human contact will have left students with an acute need for programming, activities, and play that intentionally address those needs. As we all know, these basic and critical human needs must be addressed, before there can be any real academic learning. Training to help understand and identify students' mental health issues, coupled with knowing how to refer them to services, will likely be the long-term challenge.
This year’s gateway summer youth programs must be multi-faceted. There is a strong need for social-emotional supports, academic interventions and enrichment opportunities. Programs will play an integral role in re-acclimating students to a structured environment to lay the foundation for their successful return to full-time on-campus instruction. Youth need structured, supportive, well-organized, and focused hubs to support these healthy transitions and provide a break from the monotony of life during the pandemic. While we’re a long way from our old normal, the ability to craft programs that are safe, supportive, and engaging are endless. This year’s return to summer programming has never been more important. As we approach summer programming, we must maximize the opportunity to reach all students. While data will indicate which students are most at-risk and in need of targeted supports, there is also a very real need to maintain contact with and provide supports for students that are at grade-level or above.
This summer, our young people will need the time to breathe, to play, to reconnect, and to enjoy themselves and one another. In many ways, it can be similar to reuniting a family after being apart for so long... to tell their stories, to share their experiences, and to begin the process, welcomed for some and awkward for others, of being together again. This time for healing and reconnecting with their peers and teachers will hopefully rebuild communities of safety, renewed comfort, and stability that can then serve as a foundation for reigniting learning. Being patient and allowing space for the awkwardness of reestablishing connections and for the opportunities to address the trauma and pain of this pandemic year will be essential as we focus on the social-emotional needs of us all- both students and adults.
After a full year of learning isolation, young people are just now returning to school, in a face- to- face or hybrid model. This Fall youth are likely returning to school full time. Summer youth programs will be an important gateway to returning to school and healing from a year of isolation. But how should we be thinking about our gateway summer youth programs? What do youth need from their summer program experiences? How will this year's summer programming differ from past years?
On Friday, May 7, 2021, we are sponsoring a Speaker's Forum/ webinar discussion on this topic. It will be facilitated by Ayala Goldstein (Director of Programs, California School- Age Consortium). She will be joined by Aaron Dworkin (CEO of National Summer Learning Association), Autrilla Gillis (Director of Expanded Learning, ISANA Academies) and Selekha Ramos (Mighty Writers) who will be sharing their thoughts and responding to your questions. To register and learn more, click here.
By Sam Piha
The Play Captain model is an excellent way to engage older youth over the summer in community service and promote safety for younger kids. This model was developed in Philadelphia by Rebecca Fabiano and her organization, Fab Youth Philly. Below Rebecca responds to a few of our interview questions. If you are interested in learning more or having an exchange with Rebecca, contact us and we will arrange a Zoom discussion. Rebecca is also available for remote or in-person training.
Q: Can you briefly describe the Play Captain’s Initiative?
A: Coined after the Block Captain and Jr. Block Captain roles, the Play Captains Initiative is a workforce development and civic-engagement initiative with the mission to empower and train teens in leadership, playful learning and facilitation to make the Playstreets and neighborhoods of Philadelphia more playful.
There are over 400 Playstreets in Philadelphia every summer, which are part of the Free Summer Meal Program, overseen by Parks & Recreation and serve as a safe place for children to receive two free meals a day during the summer. The Playstreets are closed off to cars between 10am-4pm and a resident on the block applies to be a Playstreet Supervisor; they distribute the meals. Not all of the Play Streets are as ’playful’ as they could be, which is why I created this initiative. I saw the opportunity to tap-in-to two underutilized resources in our City; the Playstreets and teens.
Q: Do you provide training for the Play Captains?
A: We do provide training for the Play Captains. Play Captains are teens ages 15-19 and they receive about a week (35 hours) of pre-employment training where they learn about concepts like playful learning and effective facilitation. They spend a lot of time playing games and learning how to modify them for a number of conditions and situations they may face on the Playstreet. They ALSO receive weekly professional development (PD) on Fridays on a variety of topics. They are paid ($9/ hr) for their time in training and for PD.
Q: How do you work with the community?
A: We work all year round with the community to build relationships with both individuals and other organizations. We attend community meetings both to learn about the happenings in the neighborhood and to promote the program. We also work with the Police Department and the Community Relations Officers (CROs) and created a “how to work with our Play Captains” guide for the CROs to encourage positive interactions.
Q: How are youth selected and assigned?
A: Youth complete an application and typically participate in a group interview. For most teens (over 85%) this is their first job and so we want them to have a positive experience that really reflects what it takes to get a job. If we don’t hire a teen, we provide them with resources where they can keep looking for jobs.
The Play Captains work on a team of 5 teens, supported by 1 adult Group Leader. The Group Leaders are youth work professionals that we hire and train. We are often able to hire youth work professionals that are from the neighborhoods where we are playing/on the Playstreets, which helps in a number of ways. They are often known to others, so that helps bridge a connection between our organization and the community and, then after the program is over, they are able to maintain connections to the teens. We prioritize placing teens on Playstreets in the neighborhoods where they live. Then, day to day, they follow a schedule where they rotate to a number of Playstreets throughout the day, for a total of 4 days per week (Mon-Thur) for 5 weeks. They go to the same streets over the course of their employment in order to build consistency and relationships with the children that play on the Playstreets.
Q: How are you amending the model in response to the COVID pandemic?
A: We ran the program last summer in the height of the Pandemic and put several safety measures into place, which we plan to put into place again this summer. For example: everyone wore masks indoors and outside; we did a deep clean of our indoor space 3x per day; we deep cleaned all of the supplies (balls, jump ropes, etc.) at the end of each day; and we created special socially distance arm signals to help the children on the play streets keep a distance. For example: Airplane arms (arms out to the side) when we wanted to have them stand in a circle or near each other, Frankenstein arms for when we needed them to line up and maintain some distance and Hands on Hips, once they are in their socially distance position.
Q: What do you believe are the benefits to the youth participants?
A: One of the biggest benefits is that this opportunity provides teens with a first job experience. About a quarter of our teens go on to get afterschool jobs the fall after they are a Play Captain. Other benefits that the teens often report include: feeling valued by their community and feeling like they can make a difference in the lives of younger children; and many teens that self-define as shy say that they had a chance to meet new people and “come out of their shell.”
Q: What do you believe are the benefits to the community?
A: I’ve been told by residents how much they appreciate seeing the teen Play Captains engaged in something positive and that they feel it is good for the community that the teens have something meaningful to do.
Q: How do you assess the impact of the program?
A: For the past three years we’ve worked with a Playful Learning Landscape Action Network (PLANN) who developed a data collection tool and who train data collectors to collect data on the Playstreets to see if the activities the Play Captains facilitate help foster the Six Cs of Playful learning (collaboration, communication, content, critical thinking, creative innovation, and confidence). We also pre/post survey our teens to understand what they learn during training, and what they retain over the course of their employment. We conduct exit interviews with staff and engage in post programming focus groups with residents, Street Supervisors and other stakeholders. We use the data to revise training and to improve the selection of the activities that the teens facilitate on Playstreets, as some examples of how we strive to be a data-driven project.
Q: If there is interest, would you be able to assist others in replicating this initiative?
A: Absolutely! We’ve built a program based on best practices in youth development, workforce development and community engagement, yet it is adaptable and flexible. I would encourage people to check out our website: www.playcaptains.com and watch our videos on YouTube to see the Play Captains in action.
Rebecca Fabiano (She/Her/Hers) is the President and Founder of Fab Youth Philly and The Play Captain Initiative. For nearly 25 years, Rebecca has worked in various capacities across nonprofit and youth-serving organizations, served on boards and helped to build solid youth programs that engage, encourage, and create spaces for positive development. As a program leader, she has successfully raised funds and managed program budgets; hired and supervised staff; developed and sustained strong community partnerships and designed award-winning programming.
By Sam Piha
We launched the Learning in Afterschool & Summer (LIAS) project ten years ago. At the time, there was a great debate as to whether afterschool programs should be focused on academic or youth development outcomes. The LIAS project was designed to unify the field of afterschool and focus the movement on promoting young people’s learning. This is especially important as youth return to afterschool programs after a year of isolation.
We believe that if afterschool programs are to achieve their full potential, they must be known as important places of learning that excite young people in the building of new skills, the discovery of new interests, and opportunities to achieve a sense of mastery. The LIAS Learning Principles became a foundational part of the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs.
"We spend so much time focused on 'achievement' and so little time focused on how to motivate students to learn. The principles advocated by LIAS strikes the right balance and make sense… The principles contained in LIAS promote such an approach, and if applied with fidelity, could lead to real improvements in educational outcomes for kids." - Pedro Noguera, Dean, USC Rossier School of Education
The LIAS project promotes five core, evergreen learning principles that should guide the design and implementation of afterschool programs. These learning principles are strongly supported by recent research on brain development, education, youth development, and the growing science of learning. They are also well aligned with the 21st century learning skills and workforce skills that young people will need to succeed in the years ahead, as well as efforts to increase young people’s interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Each of the learning principles cited below support each other and together provide an important framework for afterschool programming.
"All five principles are critical. They collectively provide the relevance so desperately needed for students to become engaged and for learning to become alive for them. They also provide the deeper understanding and the discovery of learning that is critical for success in school and life."
- Dr. Willard Daggett, Founder and Chairman, Int'l Center for Leadership in Education
Below are the LIAS Learning Principles.
1. Effective Learning is Active:
Learning and memory recall of new knowledge is strengthened through different exposures – seeing, hearing, touching, and doing. Afterschool learning should be the result of activities that involve young people in “doing” – activities that allow them to be physically active, stimulate their innate curiosity, and that are hands-on and project-based. Hands-on learning involves the child in a total learning experience, which enhances the child’s ability to think critically.
"Either we work to replicate limiting, and even oppressive, conditions for learners or we create experiences that empower them to fully realize their potential as individuals and to engage in transformative action that promotes justice and equity. I think that the LIAS principles are essential to guaranteeing an education for freedom and for fully realizing the promise of all students and that of our great nation of immigrants."
- Pilar O’ Cadiz, Education Director, TANMS Engineering Research Center at UCLA
2. Effective Learning is Collaborative:
Knowledge should be socially centered, as collaborative learning provides the best means to explore new information. Afterschool programs are well positioned to build skills that allow young people to learn as a team. This includes listening to others, supporting group learning goals, resolving differences and conflicts, and making room for each member to contribute his or her individual talents. Collaborative learning happens when learners engage in a common task where each individual depends on and is accountable to each other.
3. Effective Learning is Meaningful:
Young people are intrinsically motivated when they find their learning meaningful. This means having ownership over the learning topic and the means to assess their own progress. Motivation is increased when the learning is relevant to their own interests, experiences, and the real world in which they live. Community and cultural relevance is especially important to new immigrant youth and those from minority cultures.
Rather than learning that is focused on academic subjects, young people in afterschool can apply their academic skills to their areas of interest and real world problems. Also, when learning involves responsibility, leadership, and service to others, it is experienced as more meaningful.
4. Effective Learning Supports Mastery:
Young people tell us they are most engaged when they are given opportunities to learn new skills. If young people are to learn the importance and joy of mastery, they need the opportunity to learn and practice a full sequence of skills that will allow them to become “really good at something.” Afterschool activities should not promote the gathering of random knowledge and skills. Rather, afterschool learning activities should be explicitly sequenced and designed to promote the layering of skills that allows participants to create a product or demonstrate mastery in a way they couldn’t do before. Programs often achieve this by designing activities that lead to a culminating event or product that can be viewed and celebrated by peers and family members. For older youth, many programs are depending on apprenticeship models to assist youth in achieving a sense of mastery.
5. Effective Learning Expands Horizons:
Young people, especially those from low-income families and neighborhoods, benefit by learning opportunities that take them beyond their current experience and expand their horizons. Learning about new things and new places promotes a greater sense of potential of what they can achieve and brings a sense of excitement and discovery to the learning environment. Afterschool programs have the flexibility to go beyond the walls of their facilities. They can use the surrounding community as a classroom and bring in individuals and businesses that young people may not otherwise come into contact with. Expanding young people’s horizons also includes helping them to develop a global awareness. This includes increasing their knowledge of other cultures and places and their understanding of the issues and problems we have in common across cultural and political divides.
"The five LIAS principles are perfectly aligned with a 21st century learning approach – active, meaningful, collaborative learning projects that provide opportunities to expand one’s horizons and master important knowledge and skills – this is the heart of 21st century learning."
- Bernie Trilling, Founder & CEO, 21st Century Learning Advisors
We have developed a number of resources to guide the design and implementation of afterschool programs. These resources include videos, reports on exemplary practices, educational materials and program guides. These all can be found on our LIAS website.
As schools prepare to re-open, afterschool program staff need to consider the experiences of youth who have been away from school and their friends due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We know these vary greatly depending on family income and racial/ ethnic background. What are young people's needs? What should we, as afterschool staff, do to help youth thrive when they return to afterschool programs post COVID? How might we build back school and program culture and a sense of "family" spirit and connection in our afterschool programs? Join Stu Semigran and a panel of afterschool program experts to learn how best to help youth thrive as they return to school and afterschool. To get more information and to register for our next Speaker's Forum, click here.
By Sam Piha
Many of the young people we serve in afterschool come from low-income communities, in both urban and rural settings. Many of these are communities of color. These communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. Afterschool and summer learning programs were a lifeline for underserved communities before the pandemic and now they are more important than ever as families with limited resources struggle to adapt to newly designed school days and years.
Expanded learning opportunities that complement the school day will be key to helping all young people and their families through this crisis. In preparing for young people to return to our programs, it is important that we have a snapshot of how our children and families have been impacted by the pandemic.
“One of the certainties as we navigate through this pandemic is that all children will benefit from being well known, well cared for, and well prepared. Afterschool programs have a long history of designing programs based on what young people need in order to help them be healthier and more ready to learn. Together schools and community organizations can co-design the future of learning in ways that interrupt historic inequities and help all young people emerge from this crisis strong, resilient and hopeful.” - Tony Smith, former Illinois State Superintendent and Oakland Unified School District Superintendent
“The Impact of Coronavirus”, a five-part poll conducted by NPR, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, offers a national look at the problems emerging from the pandemic relating to household finances, jobs, health care, housing, transportation, caregiving, and well-being. Below are some of their key findings and you can learn more here.
The next step is considering what we need to do in afterschool to address the stresses related to these findings. To this end, we are sponsoring a webinar on Monday, March 29, 2021 entitled, “Helping Youth Thrive When They Return to Afterschool Programs Post COVID.” This webinar will be facilitated by Stu Semigran (EduCare Foundation) and features panelists Dr. Gil Noam (Harvard), Gloria Halley (Butte County Office of Education), Jose Luis Navarro IV (Principal and former California Teacher of the Year), and Autrilla Gillis (Director of Expanded Learning, ISANA Academies). You can click here to learn more about the webinar.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.