By Sam Piha
We know that the COVID-19 pandemic, the resulting stay-at-home orders, and school and youth program closures or distance learning, have been very difficult for young people. This is the perfect time to promote social emotional learning in response to the negative impacts of these events.
Visits by or the presence of a comfort dog would ease these impacts for young people, both in school and afterschool programs. However, COVID-19 restrictions make it impossible to schedule visits by a comfort dog. Thus, we are working to create videos with a virtual talking comfort dog that young people can access online.
My Pal, Luke is designed for youth program leaders, educators and parents. It addresses many social emotional elements through Luke's words and questions, including a check-in with kids. Luke also reads his favorite books with kids and educates them on how they make sense of current events.
Is there anything more comforting than the reassuring touch of a dog? Scientists have discovered that interacting with animals boosts levels of oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin in our brains, and can even improve our immune system. These findings prove that dogs bring comfort to the people they interact with. - American Kennel Club
Please help youth access My Pal, Luke. You can do this by including this in your in-person program or embedding this resource into your distance learning. You can also help by sharing this with educators, parents and parent groups. Follow the My Pal, Luke instagram here or to watch episode 1 on YouTube, click here.
By Sam Piha
The last few months have been very challenging for afterschool program providers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for distance learning and national reflection on racial equity. To assist afterschool program leaders, we have sponsored several webinars on these topics. We have linked these resources below, which can be accessed online for free.
"Check-In" With Youth Remotely? There's An App For That- This Speaker's Forum webinar (90 mins) features HelloYello, which is a web-based app that students use to "check- in" with their teachers to express their thoughts and feelings and share their daily experiences. Teachers, educators, counselors, and afterschool staff can use HelloYello to understand all of their students from a "whole child" perspective, monitor their students' emotional wellness, and sustain trusting relationships.
COVID-19 Era- Afterschool's Whole Child Approach- This Speaker's Forum webinar (56 mins) features Katie Brackenridge (Turnaround for Children) and Dr. Deborah Moroney (AIR) presenting on the topic of Afterschool's Whole Child Approach. This webinar covers many strategies including exploring the science of learning and development, and the practices that are most essential in this COVID-19 era.
Not Business as Usual: The Needs of Low-Income Youth of Color in the Era of COVID-19- In this Speaker's Forum Webinar (55 mins) Dr. Pedro Noguera (USC) presents on the topic of the needs of low-income youth of color during the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities of color have been hit particularly hard in terms of number of cases and deaths, as well as the negative impacts on youth due to school and program closures and poor internet access.
The Art of Distance Learning in Afterschool- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (66 mins) Autrilla Gillis of ISANA Academies and EduCare Foundation staff share their distance learning models and discuss how they prepared/ supported staff, recruited participants and their lessons learned navigating this new model.
Healing the Impact of Racial Injustice and Inequity: The Role of Afterschool- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (80 mins) Dr. Shawn Ginwright (SFSU) examines how the COVID-19 pandemic and the long list of African Americans killed by police has laid bare the racial injustice and inequity in our society. Should we urge/ support youth to engage in civic action? And, is there a way to do some of this work remotely, as programs may not re-open in the Fall? Dr. Ginwright addresses some of these questions in his presentation and later answers participants' questions.
Pause: Cultivate Grace for Yourself and Your Community- In this Speaker's Forum webinar (56 mins) Stacey Daraio (Temescal Associates) and Laurie Grossman (Inner Explorer) lead a webinar on Mindfulness in afterschool. Grace is most easily found in the present moment. Journey with them to learn mindfulness practices that you can share with your community to live in the present. You will leave calmer and with resources to use and share.
By Sam Piha
Providing opportunities for youth to reflect on and express their thoughts and feelings are a critical strategy for any afterschool program. These opportunities are essential to promoting youth voice, healthy youth development, social emotional skills and resiliency, especially those who have experienced trauma. Strategies and activities include sharing circles, poetry and spoken word, journaling, videography, art and the theater arts.
We interviewed Daniel Summerhill (poet, performance artist and Assistant Professor of Poetry/ Social Action & Composition, School of Humanities & Communication, CSUMB) on the importance of using journaling and poetry/ spoken word to promote young people’s self- expression. Below are some of his responses.
Q: Why is it important to provide youth with opportunities to reflect on and/or express themselves and their feelings?
A: Because they HAVE them and don't always have space to express them. Often outburst or "disruptive behavior" are a sign that a child isn't receiving the proper space to express or reflect. However, many times, us as adults and teachers etc write children off as just being "bad" or "misbehaving." Misbehavior is merely an expression that goes against whatever construct or rule you have in place. You have to allow space for humans to express. That is why the uprising of black people and allies these days is so healthy. It provides a sense of liberation and expression. Youth are no different.
Q: Do you think that journal writing is a good way to provide these opportunities? Why?
A: Absolutely, even if it's just a stream of consciousness writing. In each of my creating courses at CSUMB, students spend 10 minutes at the beginning of each class dedicated to journaling. The only rule is that they write. They can write, "i hate writing" for 10 minute as long as the pen doesn't stop. Usually, they don't. Even if they begin writing something like "I hate writing," typically their mind is still going and ends up on the page. This is the idea of stream of conscious journaling. Allowing the mind, thoughts and feelings to drive the writing, rather than something external. Journaling allows you to slow down and notice yourself and your thoughts, which is greatly therapeutic!
(From Temescal Associates- Check out this article from the National Afterschool Association, Finding Their Voice: Why Kids Should Journal and the Pandemic Project).
Q: Do you think that poetry writing/ spoken word are good ways to provide these opportunities? Why?
A: Poetry allows the writer to discover things about himself and spoken word often allows others (listeners/readers) to see things about themselves. So in many ways, poetry is very conversational, whether it be with the self or with others. This idea in its purest form is expression, communication is simply expression. There are very few mediums that allow a person to converse with themselves the way poetry does. You are able to use images and language that you aren't typically allowed to in conventional discourse, that is liberating and allows you as a writer to tap into all of your senses the best way you can.
Q: Do staff need special training?
A: Staff don't need "training," but to need to acclimate themselves with the history, orality and the culture of spoken word. Specifically, the roots in African storytelling and more recently, the beat poets, last poets are now the plethora of good poets out there performing. These are base level things to be learned in order to yield good understanding and teaching of performance poetry. There are some good resources for this, including Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X and Dr. Joshua Bennet has a work of narrative nonfiction, Spoken Word: A Cultural History.
Q: Can you provide one example of a writing project that you did that provided youth with good opportunities for self- expression? What age were the kids?
A: I used to be a teaching artist and would frequently teach poetry workshops to teens mostly, middle school as well. It wasn't so much me having a prescription for expression. Humans are hardwired to express, but oftentimes don't have the platform or medium to do so. My role wasn't to teach them how to express, they already knew how. They did it by talking, walking, eating, listening to music etc. My role was to figure out how to create the safest and most rewarding space for them to express as fully and as authentically as possible.
For example, Black Joy workshop, headed by Chapter 510 and published by Nomadic Press, had a diversity of young men a part of it. I didn't tell them how to express their interest in skateboarding, activism, sports and food. That is what they were into; however, in that particular workshop, my role was to connect those expressions to "black joy" and to help them understand their expressions as "joy." Joy is an expression. A good one.
Q: Can you recommend any good resources/ websites for afterschool programs that want to learn more?
A: Spoken word is still a growing and semi-new art form, in the modern sense. So there isn't a lot of literature about it other than the two books I mentioned above. Saul Williams has an older film called "Slam" that is worth checking out and the Poetry Foundation might have some good resources. Otherwise, it is best to just get to know the spoken word artist out there. follow them, support their work and immerse yourself in their world. There are a lot of really good spoken word artists out there.
Daniel B. Summerhill is an assistant professor of poetry/social action and composition studies at California State University Monterey Bay. He is the author of Divine, Devine, Devine (forthcoming), a semifinalist for the Charles B. Wheeler poetry prize. Summerhill holds an MFA in creative writing from Pine Manor College (Solstice). He has received the Sharon Olds Fellowship and was nominated to Everipedia’s 30 under 30 list.
Daniel has performed alongside greats such as Jasmine Mans, Abiodun Oyewole, Lebogang Mashile, Gcina Mhlophe and others. He co-headlined a European tour and was invited by the University of Kwazulu-Natal and the U.S. Embassy to teach and perform at the annual International Poetry Africa Festival in 2018. He is the 2015 NY Empire State Poetry Slam Champion and a 2015 Nitty Gritty Grand Slam Champion. His poems are published or forthcoming in the Lilly Review, Califragle, Button, Blavity and elsewhere. A chapter of his research, Black Voice: Cultivating Authentic Voice in Black Writers is forthcoming by the Massachusetts Reading Association.
By Sam Piha
(Note: This interview was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has several restrictions on people's ability to play. As a result, Playworks offers a number of play-at-home videos on their website.)
We know that building a sense of a positive community is foundational to promoting character building and SEL skills. We also know that play is very important for young people’s development. This is why we have devoted previous blog posts to the importance of play. Play comes natural to young people, but it is important that the adults take the time to think about and learn how to promote healthy play. This can include the teaching of conflict resolution and leadership skills.
According to Playworks, “schools and youth programs can and should create play environments that help kids be their best. Studies show that recess/free play matters: a thoughtful approach to recess/free play improves children’s physical health and social and emotional learning”. They help schools and youth programs make the most of recess/free play through on-site staffing, consultative support, professional development, free resources, and more.
We conducted an interview with Robert Sindelar, Executive Director of Playworks California, in late 2019, about how they help schools and youth programs make the best use of recess and free play. Below are some of his responses.
Q: How can play impact the school and afterschool community?
A: When youth leave the structured and safe space of a classroom, recess/free play can be an unknown. There are often new youth, unclear boundaries, confusing games, and a higher chance of conflict. Play is critical to the development of children but can be challenging to implement in the context of some school day and afterschool programs. Bullying, overt conflict, and injuries can be common during times of play.
In my experience with Playworks, it is typical for partners to join our program as a result of the high amount of incidents experienced during recess/free play. Youth’s frustration, conflict, fear, or isolation can carry over from those times of play into the classroom or the after school program and negatively impact the overall community. If implemented well, it is possible for play to have the opposite effect on the community.
Q: What does Playworks do to build a positive community?
A: The Playworks program leverages the power of play to bring out the best in every kid. We add consistency in rules, expectations, and leadership on the playground. We reinforce positive sportsmanship by incorporating a verbal “good job, nice try” when youth are not successful during a game, which is paired with a high-five. When adults are modeling this kind of behavior, youth are quick to follow. We also introduce rock, paper, scissors as a tool to reduce conflict and empower youth to solve their own problems. These tangible practices create an environment for safe, healthy, and inclusive play.
Playworks also incorporates a “Junior Coach” program. This is a leadership development program that engages a group of 4th and 5th graders who become role models for their peers by facilitating games at recess/free play, supporting other youth in conflict resolution, and building relationships. Student leaders on the playground hold both themselves and others accountable, fully taking on leadership during recess/free play.
Unhealthy playground tendencies flow back into classrooms and programs, impacting community. The positive impacts of play do that as well. Our Junior Coaches step up, being more helpful for teachers and more participatory in class. Healthy play fosters positive relationships between youth and their peers as well as relationships between youth and adults. Positive relationships build more trust and bring about a positive community.
Youth who were formerly causing trouble have turned into leaders. The faculty has been able to concentrate more on the curriculum rather than fixing the issues, and the classrooms have become more peaceful and a safer learning environment.
Q: What role do you see afterschool professionals having in building community?
A: In California, over 800,000 youth are served through afterschool programs annually. We are inspired by the vision of these children experiencing healthy play and building a healthy community because of it. Afterschool professionals, like all youth-serving adults, can leverage the power of play; it is not bound to recess/free play or a school yard. By incorporating healthy play into programming, they can not only empower the youth served, but build a healthier community at their site and beyond.
Q: How does Playworks support afterschool professionals in building healthy community?
A: Playworks offers professional development workshops for anyone working with youth, including afterschool professionals. Our workshops teach proven strategies to prevent and redirect challenging behavior, support youth engagement, and enhance opportunities for learning. Taught by professional Playworks trainers, each workshop draws on various learning styles and builds on core principles of youth development.
This was an amazing opportunity to learn how to engage with the youth we see on a daily basis better. And to keep things new and exciting for them.
Workshops include The Power of Play, Group Management, Game Facilitation, and Indoor Play Design. These trainings provide opportunities for afterschool professionals to understand how to build up youth leaders, empower youth to solve their own conflicts, and structure play for inclusion. These skills will begin to build positive community.
If you do a web search, you will find a number of resources for group games. Ones that we liked include Playworks and Playmeo. If you prefer video, you can search the name of the game on YouTube. Also below are a number of papers on the importance of play:
Robert Sindelar joined the Playworks team in 2013 as the Executive Director of the San Francisco office. Prior to becoming part of Playworks, he served as District Vice President with the YMCA of San Francisco, where he worked for many years. Robert holds a master’s degree in Nonprofit Administration and is an avid runner. His current favorite game is Ninja.
Playworks helps schools and districts make the most of recess/free play through on-site staffing, consultative support, professional development, free resources, and more. They also support youth programs and other organizations that wish to improve playtime. Organizations like The Centers for Disease Control, and City Year all look to Playworks to inform practice and policy.
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.