By Sam Piha
While the decisions about re-opening schools and afterschool programs are still in process, it is increasingly clear that many afterschool programs will need to incorporate a distance learning model, relying on internet access by their participants. Developing distance learning using internet and video technology is a new skill set for afterschool providers.
We conducted an interview with one afterschool coordinator who has mastered the art of distance learning. Her name is Autrilla Gillis from ISANA Academies in Southern California, and we offer her answers to our questions below. We will sponsor a Speaker's Forum Webinar with Ms. Gillis and the EduCare Foundation on distance learning in afterschool on Fri. August 7th, 2020. To learn more and register, click HERE.
Q: What circumstances led you to develop a distance learning option for your afterschool program?
A: Like many schools in Los Angeles, ISANA Academies closed its doors on March 13th as a result of COVID-19. While school admin and district level staff began to strategize on what distance learning looked like at ISANA, I began to brainstorm ways that the Expanded Learning Program could provide an immediate solution to parents and students in the interim. This led to the formation of EXL LIVE, fun and engaging live lessons centered on Academic, Literacy and Social Enrichment every Monday – Thursday from 2pm – 5pm. The program ran April – June, and during the month of May, we served over 5,000 unique session visitors.
Q: What platform are you using to connect with students?
A: We exclusively use the zoom platform for EXL LIVE, using password protected rooms for each session.
Q: How many hours of programming do you offer and what is the main focus?
A: We offer three hours of programming per day Monday – Thursday. Each day is broken into three, one- hour sessions: Academic Enrichment, Literacy Enrichment, and Social Enrichment. Each session is broken into grade level cohorts and both Academic and Literacy Enrichment are standards based. In the Academic Enrichment block students participate in standards based lessons and activities that are aligned to the work they are completing with their school day teachers. In the Literacy Enrichment block, students in grades K-5 participate in a variety of group reading activities and comprehension tasks and students in grades 6-8 participate in current event activities and discussions.
Q: Were you able to offer any “virtual” field trips?
A: After spring-break we incorporated a weekly virtual field trip. They have garnered our largest single attendance numbers, bringing in up to 200 students in some sessions. To facilitate field trips, we created a master schedule and assigned a school a specific date. Each school site worked collaboratively to determine “where” they would take students virtually. For example, our first field trip was to Disneyland. We created a virtual field trip experience by combining the internet for virtual ride and theme park experiences and compiled them to create “A Day at Disneyland”. Students experienced walking through Main St, riding rides, visiting food stands, and watching a parade. We’ve also partnered with different venues across the country and world to host live virtual field trips. My favorites so far include a live Texas llama farm trip and an actual African Hippo Preserve trip.
Q: Did you establish attendance goals for each session and how are you tracking attendance?
A: Our attendance goal fluctuates each week, I consider 20-30 students per session a success in terms of that number being easily manageable. Ideally, our goal is to add at least 20 students each week. In April, our week one attendance was 266 students and by the time we reached our last session in June, we were up to 900-1200 students per week. Attendance is tracked through a shared spreadsheet. At the conclusion of each session the moderator logs daily attendance on the spreadsheet.
Q: What are some challenges you have overcome to get online programming off the ground?
A: Our major challenge was training the staff on the zoom platform and curriculum design. It was very important that program leaders took ownership of their lessons so that the implementation was natural and not forced. We also faced challenges in shifting program leaders’ perspective. It took lots of conversation to guide staff to the realization that everything was the same, we were taking the same program elements and high- quality implementation out of the school site and into a zoom room.
Q: Were there any surprises along the way?
A: The biggest surprise we’ve encountered is the room capacity for zoom. Prior to our first virtual field trip we had never exceeded the 100-person room capacity. Imagine our surprise when district office and site coordinator phones started ringing off the hook with calls from anxious parents trying to access the room. In response, we’ve purchased a zoom subscription which allows a much larger room capacity to avoid the same outcome in the future.
Q: How did you prepare and support your staff in developing the distance learning modules?
A: It was a rigorous process spread over several weeks that involved navigating the Common Core Standards Website: locating and unpacking standards, finding materials based on the focal point of the standard, creating a lesson plan, and implementing the lesson plan. This was a major shift for my staff, as before we moved to distance learning all program lessons and activities were created in the district office and disseminated to each site. Once that process was complete, the staff hit the ground running. I am very proud of the way that they have risen to the occasion.
In terms of live lesson delivery, we began with a standard Powerpoint training, a demo lesson provided by the District Level Expanded Learning Staff, after which each program leader conducted a demo lesson for the session they’d been assigned. Each received feedback and presented again until their implementation was perfected. Later we held trainings on indoor and outdoor lighting and sound to ensure that the video quality was high.
Q: Can you provide a link that would allow readers to view an example of one of your modules?
A: EXL LIVE is currently on hiatus until August 18th. We are currently running CAMP ISANA, which consist of an assortment of grade level specific, pre-recorded enrichment activities that can be accessed 24/7. CAMP ISANA also includes live instruction on Tuesday (Performing Arts), Wednesday (Physical Enrichment), and Thursday (Virtual Field Trip). The link below will give access to each of the components previously listed and provide access to EXL LIVE when it returns on August 18th. https://isanaacademies.org/distance-learning/
Q: Can you suggest any resources that may be helpful to afterschool programs seeking guidance on distance learning? (i.e websites, videos, papers, etc.)
A: My inspiration came from google searches on online enrichment programs. I would encourage programs to reflect upon what they do well on campus and how that can be transformed into a virtual setting, that will guide their search and help them to formulate a quality program.
(Temescal recommends: The Statewide Network for New Jersey's Afterschool Communities Virtual Afterschool Resource Guide).
Autrilla “Sheba” Gillis is Director of Expanded Learning at ISANA ACADEMIES, Los Angeles, CA. Her family legacy of Long Beach community service dates back to the 50’s and includes her mother, Sharon McLucas and late community activist grandmother Autrilla W. Scott.
As an educator, Sheba has been a middle school History teacher, curriculum specialist, vice principal and principal. On the County level she has twice been elected as the Co-Facilitator of the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s Local Learning Community #8 which provides governance to charter school Expanded Learning programs throughout Southern California and served as a founding member of the CA Charter Schools Association Inaugural African American Charter Leaders Symposium. On the state level, she has served on numerous CA Department of Education Expanded Learning Steering Committees, been featured in numerous training videos disseminated throughout the state, and most recently appoint to the CA Dept. of Education Expanded Learning Policy Committee.
In addition to her work at ISANA Academies, she works closely with the Long Beach Branch of the NAACP, NCNW, Jack and Jill of America – Long Beach Chapter, and Forgotten Images Traveling Museum. Before pursuing a career as an educator, she spent years as an Advertising Executive at the Los Angeles Times and Press Telegram Newspapers. She is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Educational Leadership while balancing her career and most important role, mother to an amazing 6 year old named Aubree.
By Sam Piha
Being a youth worker is a very difficult job. They face a variety of challenges and dilemmas, as they work with a diverse group of young people. We collected a number of questions from youth workers and promised to engage experts and field leaders for their answers. Below are some of the questions we received and the answers that we sought out from field leaders, content experts and innovative practitioners. If you want to submit your own question, click here.
This blog is part 1 of our Q&A series. Stay tuned as we continue to explore questions from youth workers. (Note: we know that there are many answers to any question. Below, we offer some well-thought-out answers that we received. Because schools and agencies may have specific policies, we recommend that youth workers share their questions with their immediate supervisor.
Q: Distance learning with high school students (over 1,200) who can choose to attend or not seems overwhelming. Coming up with ways to engage students in order to take attendance will be a challenge to say the least! What do you suggest or can you offer resources that may help with this issue? - Youth Worker, Fresno County, CA
A: "The sudden change to education due to the pandemic has greatly decreased student participation and therefore increased the need for individual student supports, and is and continues to still be a huge challenge for BOTH the Instructional Day and Expanded Learning Programs.
As a real-world example, upon the initial school closures our California After School Safety & Enrichment for Teens (ASSETs) high school programs in Compton Unified School District immediately started working with all 4 respective site's administrations in a highly collaborative partnership to reengage the large numbers of "missing" students.
All 4 site's administrators were respectively in complete agreement and highly supportive of ASSETs leadership reaching out to students to create and offer a "Virtual Teen Center" which would be the first step towards reengagement. The goal was to create a safe place and environment with easy access for students to be able to participate. This would allow students to see each other and have conversations as they wish, and also allow for engagement or reengagement with ASSETs staff to continue those relationships. Once students begin attending, their expressed "wants" would then initiate the "student-driven" activities, programs, and classes that would be introduced moving forward.
For these "missing" students, intentional recruitment had to be a very key strategy, as reaching out to 1,200 students/parents was a more than daunting task. So each separate site's administration determined which specific grade levels/groups/subgroups/etc would be recruited in a then determined prioritized order. This allowed ASSETs staff to break up the task into "recruitment groups" with reasonable student numbers. This also allowed ASSETs staff to map out a reasonable amount of time to complete the task.
Note: Our biggest challenge has been in attaining/securing "parent permission" for the "Virtual Programming" so that students may attend."
- Bill Fennessy, Think Together
Bill Fennessy is Think Together's Director of Work-Based Learning and Community Partnerships. He supports High School ASSETs Programs in collaborating with Career Technical Education Programs at school districts and sites to better support Workforce Readiness and Work-Based Learning activities, with a special focus on internships. Bill is passionate about out-of-school time because he believes in the great potential of Older Youth, and wants to support their dreams by providing opportunities for their greater success. Bill was motivated to join the California Afterschool Network's Leadership Team because he feels this is the next significant step in his over 15 years of being able to serve the Expanded Learning Field as a thought leader, pioneer, innovator, and practitioner.
By Sam Piha
There is a lot of discussion and debate about how and when to re-open schools and youth programs. For youth programs that are located within schools, it is important that afterschool leaders stay abreast of the current thinking on this topic and ensure that any re-opening encompasses youth development values. Because the pandemic situation is very fluid, ideas about re-opening schools are very dynamic.
“As you prepare to welcome students and adults back to school, you face the layered impact of schools closures, the pandemic, racial inequities amplified by nationwide mobilization, and more.”
-CASEL Newsletter, 7/9/20
The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) has released a roadmap for re-opening schools. CASEL collaborated with over 40 leading organizations in developing 4 critical practices:
"As we sit down and really try to figure out what is going to be a long haul of reopening slowly...we're going to need such a different approach to the traditional 'show up and sit in your seat.' We need all partners at the table together."
-Karen Pittman, President & CEO, Forum for Youth Investment
Below we have offered a link to this entire report as well as some other resources. (Because the plans for re-opening is developed locally, it is important that afterschool leaders track their local plans.)
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT...
By Guest Blogger Dr. Deborah Moroney, AIR
Last summer was pretty great. My 13-year-old son took a math class and attended a soccer camp at the local high school, led by the high school team players. My younger son, then age 12, worked stage crew on a youth-led production. Then, in July and August, they went to their favorite place on earth, a YMCA camp in northern Michigan, where they forged lifelong friendships. As the world continues to experience the coronavirus pandemic, this summer will likely be very different, and not just for my children.
As a researcher who has studied out-of-school time experiences, I know just how important these opportunities are for my children and children and youth around the country. Summer is a great time for children and youth to develop and explore their interests—and have fun.
Summertime experiences usually include both structured and unstructured time for learning and development. Structured opportunities include day and residential camps, such as district-led summer learning programs, and specialty camps like the ones offered by the Serious Fun Children’s Network. Children and youth also participate in programs on nature and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); summer school, where they catch up on or dive deeper into core subjects; and sports and recreation programs for physical activities. For older youth, Summer Youth Employment Programs provide practical experience that they can draw on as adults.
In a typical summer, the demand for structured summertime experiences far outweighs the availability. For youth who live in poverty and/or in rural areas, these issues of access are even greater. This year, when the coronavirus has had a significant effect on our daily lives, summertime programming is a question mark both for families and program providers.
Whether summertime programs can open and operate this summer depends on where they are located, the policies of their parent organizations, and their budgets, which dictate not only what they can offer but also their staffing and other operational necessities. Seasonal hiring by organizations operating summertime programs is risky at best this year.
Many organizations offering summertime programming are dependent on fees or per-participant reimbursements and have been experiencing financial uncertainty during this time. Some organizations have faced the challenge of having to keep select programs open for children of essential workers, while also furloughing significant numbers of staff. Public agencies’ budgets are also tight, and many major jurisdictions have proposed funding cuts to Summer Youth Employment Programs. One bright spot is that corporate sector philanthropic investors—like JP Morgan Chase, a longtime supporter of summer youth employment programs--remain committed financially to quality summertime offerings.
Support and Resources for Summertime Program Providers
In the midst of these challenges and the general flux of what this summer might be like across the country, here are some resources for those who intend to provide summertime programs in-person, online, or in a digital format.
Dr. Deborah Moroney is the Managing Director, American Institutes of Research (AIR). She specializes in bridging research and practice, having worked as a staff member for out-of-school programs early in her career. She's written practitioner and organizational guides; co-authored the fourth edition of “Beyond the Bell®, A Toolkit for Creating High-Quality Afterschool and Expanded Learning Programs,” a seminal afterschool resource; and co-edited Creating Safe, Equitable, Engaging Schools: A Comprehensive, Evidence-Based Approach to Supporting Students and Social and Emotional Learning in Out-of-School Time Foundations and Futures. Presently, Dr. Moroney serves as the principal investigator on national studies of afterschool initiatives.
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.