By Sam Piha
On Jan. 15, Aspen's National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development released a report, From a Nation at Risk to a Nation at Hope: Recommendations from the National Commission on Social, Emotional, & Academic Development.
This report calls on all of us to ensure that all youth have access to quality social and emotional learning (SEL). We advise anyone who works with youth, whether in the classroom or in the community, to read this report. View the full report and its complementary research, practice, and policy briefs at NationatHope.org.
When we interviewed Karen Pittman (Forum for Youth Investment and Aspen Report Commissioner) for the History of Afterschool documentary, we asked her about the rise of SEL and where afterschool fits in. She responded, “The concept of social, emotional and academic development has really sort of come to a frenzy in the past couple of years. It's certainly come to the attention of schools over the past decade.
Where does after school fit into all this? You would hope that we'd be right at the forefront, saying, ‘We've been doing this for years. We know how to do it.’
Unfortunately, because we've been calling this youth development, when the K-12 field started to say, ‘We need to do social and emotional learning’, they were developing specific curricula around social and emotional learning, and we have a little bit of a language difference with K-12.
We think on the after school side that we know that these are the skills that young people are building, and we have had a focus on making sure that we're meeting those standards for developmental settings, and what we talked about is building quality programming. We’ve had a little bit of a hiccup in making sure that K-12 educators understand that when we talk about quality programming, we're talking about creating settings where these skills can happen.”
Ms. Pittman also issued a letter to youth development leaders and funders regarding how best to leverage this report by the commission. You can read it here. You can also read commentaries by New York Times columnist David Brooks, by Rick Hess and Tim Shriver, and by Chester Finn.
By Sam Piha
Teacher strikes are not new, but they are on the increase. In 2018, teacher strikes occurred in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona. They also inspired smaller-scale protests by school staff in Kentucky, North Carolina, and Colorado. In 2019, we have seen strikes in Los Angeles (which appear to be settled), and there are rumblings in Denver, Chicago, and Oakland. Motivations for the strikes include increased wages for teachers and support staff, larger school budgets, and smaller class sizes.
Teacher strikes are difficult for everyone – teachers, administrators, youth, and their families. They are equally difficult for school-based afterschool programs. This was recently reviewed in an article in Youth Today. To learn more, we spoke with an afterschool provider on the front lines about some of the challenges. See below.
"The big issue is that after school is being put in a position of frustrating either our teacher colleagues or our admin partners. We have been asked to have our staff come during the day to supervise the children, which annoys the teachers/picket line. If we say no, we annoy the Principal who is asking us for help as a partner. This is a total no-win.
We are working to keep the programs fully operational but only about 30% of students are attending school and you can only attend after school if you come to school. For average daily attendance (ADA) reimbursement contracts, this poses a tough financial situation. We have to keep the program open but get no ADA so we have no revenue. If we furlough part time staff we will lose them. If we pay them to show up but they have no students, we are wasting public and/or private funds.
If children need supervision before or after school during the strike, they deserve it. We would love to have the problem of too many kids. It is the opposite. We have many school-based programs. Yesterday the top ADA was 40. We had a few schools with less than 10 and one school where the principal told security to remove all kids from the campus even though the district mandated we run a full program. ADA was zero while our staff had to remain on campus.
We will not penalize students who do not come, in any way shape or form. Getting the teachers to understand we are trying to help kids and families by being there for them while we fully support their right to collective bargaining is the hard part. We have no answers but we know we are not alone in really feeling the pain with this strike."
This raises several questions for afterschool policymakers and funders. Afterschool providers must be given guidance on the issues cited above. Although teacher strikes are considered a local issue, the funds supporting these programs are often at the state or federal level. Below we summarize some of the issues that need to be discussed and considered:
It is important that these issues be considered and guidance be given to afterschool providers in advance of any strike. We look forward to seeing any progress on this and review any comments in responses to this post.
“From the creators of the hugely successful Master of Mindfulness, this charming children’s book for readers ages 4 to 7 tells the story of Nessa and Leo’s friendship, and how mindfulness helps them deal with strong emotions such as fear, shyness, and anger.” -Greater Good Science Center, UC Berkeley
By Sam Piha
We have been promoting the use of mindfulness techniques in afterschool, for both young people and adult staff self-care, for many years. We are happy to announce that a second book created by young people on this topic was recently released. Below is an interview with Laurie Grossman who organized this effort.
Q: Can you say a word about what this book is about?
A: Breath Friends Forever is a book about two best friends who share the same birthday. One is often calm and the other often frustrated. As a birthday present, Leo teaches mindfulness, the power of using her breath when she gets upset, angry, nervous or sad. Leo teaches readers a few mindfulness techniques that are easy to use, one of which, the Sharkfin was originally created by Temescal Associate’s own Stacey Daraio.
Our world has become, it seems to me, more difficult to navigate for all of us, little ones included. Teaching kids mindfulness to deal with the challenges they face even at very early ages, can help them develop emotional regulation, deal with difficulties with more calm and make their lives happier and healthier.
Q: Can you share some of the back story about how it was developed?
A: In 2014, I was doing lots of volunteer work bringing mindfulness to Reach Academy in Oakland, CA. One day, Mr. Musumeci, a fifth grade teacher, mentioned to me that in selecting superheroes, one of his students thought they should have a mindfulness superhero.
Several weeks later, while practicing mindfulness, it occurred to me that we should write a book. I asked the teacher what he thought and he thought it would be a great learning experience for the kids. I came into the class and asked them if they liked mindfulness. 100% did. I asked them if they thought other kids should know about it. 100% did. Finally I asked them how we could tell other kids about it and eventually someone said we could write a book. Voila, the beginning of the first book, Master of Mindfulness: How To Be Your Own Superhero in Times of Stress.
That book did well so the publisher, New Harbinger, asked us to do one for older kids. Angelina Manriquez, the book designer, thought it would be more important to begin with the little ones, thus Breath Friends Forever was born.
Chasmin Moses, a fourth grade teacher at Reach was a huge advocate of mindfulness. When I inquired about her interest in participating, she jumped at the chance. This book seemed much harder because we wanted to make it a story book for Pre-K through 1st or 2nd graders. We had no idea what the story would be or if the characters would be animals, zombies or people. It took about three months but we finally got the ball rolling and things started coming into place.
Q: Can you say something about how this book can be used in afterschool programs?
A: All kids love birthdays and all kids need mindfulness. It's a great read a loud. Kids could practice what is taught in the book and kids can also listen to the practices the authors dictated to learn mindfulness.
Older kids could read it to little ones. Kids could act out the story and they could also write their own books about mindfulness. Knowing that kids like them wrote and published a book could inspire them to do the same.
Q: Is this book only for children who have experienced mindfulness practice?
A: No, because Leo teaches Nessa how to practice mindfulness so readers can learn too! Also, the authors' audio practices lead students through a variety of mindfulness practices.
Q: Are there any resources that afterschool leaders could use?
A: There are many resources providing research evidence, case studies of how schools have used mindfulness techniques, and guidance to program practitioners. Many of these can be founds by doing an online search of mindfulness techniques for youth. I have listed a few below:
Laurie Grossman, one of the founders of the mindfulness in education movement, has been an activist since 1975. She believes that mindfulness in schools is the tool most likely to help achieve social justice. Over the last two decades, she started two innovative programs: one that created partnerships between private and public schools, and one that brought mindfulness into schools. In 2007, as part of Park Day School's Community Outreach Program, she and two colleagues launched a pilot program of mindfulness in an Oakland, CA, elementary school that was covered in The New York Times and on NBC. Grossman is cofounder of Mindful Schools, now one of the largest mindfulness-in-education programs in the world. She currently works with Inner Explorer, an organization focused on bringing daily mindfulness practices into schools to improve educational outcomes and the well-being of children and teachers. She is passionate about Inner Explorer because the organization has made mindfulness scalable, providing easy and immediate access to every K-12 classroom, anywhere, anytime.
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.