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.
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 2 of our Q&A series. You can review part 1. 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. At the bottom we provide a brief bio about the respondent.)
Q: Staffing is a HUGE issue for my program. I spent all this year down 2 staff members, and it looks like will be down 3 staff to start back in the fall. My organization offers low pay, low hours, and absolutely no perks (training, paying for school, free child care, etc). I also live in a rural area, and our community college serves older students who have families to feed and can't possibly work for such low pay. With these issues in mind, how do we not only attract talented staff but also retain them? - Youth Worker, serving youth 5-11, Nevada County, CA
A: "Staffing is always an issue, especially in rural areas. Here are a few ideas:
Gloria Halley works for the Butte County Office of Education. She has been in the Health Promotion / Community Development / Education field for approximately twenty-five years. She currently serves as the Region 2 Lead for the California Department of Education – Expanded Learning Division, statewide System of Support for Expanded Learning (SSEL). In her role she provides support services for state and federally funded before school, after school and summer learning programs that serve elementary, middle school and high school students in nine northern counties: Butte, Glenn, Tehama, Shasta, Trinity, Siskiyou, Modoc, Lassen and Plumas. Gloria is a highly-regarded trainer, coach/mentor and consultant. She has successfully facilitated several school-community initiatives.
By Guest Blogger, Ursula Helminski, Senior Vice President, External Affairs, Afterschool Alliance
WHAT YOU NEED TO BE DOING NOW
Earlier this month, Jen Siaca and Alison Overseth wrote a great piece in the Hechinger Report on 5 things afterschool programs need to be thinking about as we look toward fall. We wholeheartedly agree, and have a few more big ideas to add to the list – starting with an immediate call to action – and some challenges for us to address that can help put afterschool in a strong position to help youth, families, and schools during re-opening.
Reach out to your school and district leaders to talk about the role you are willing to play to support them and students in re-opening; schools share many of the same concerns we do around social and emotional support; learning loss; and children needing supervision, meals and support on days outside of school. We need to let them know we want to be part of the team to help youth recover and re-engage.
Contact Congress and your local policymakers to make sure they know afterschool programs are key to recovery, but can’t help without additional funds for smaller staff ratios, expanded hours, & PPE, and access to additional space.
Flexible, expanded schedules – As states begin to share guidance and ideas for schools to reopen, many call for staggered schedules to limit how many youth are in school at a time. Families will need supervised, engaging programs for children on remote learning days in addition to after-school hours. While schools are focused now on their own logistics, they will feel pressure to help parents who cannot be home when students aren’t in school, and to make sure remote learners have a space to log on. We’ve already seen what this might look like in Missouri, where a 21st CCLC program in Missouri re-opened in conjunction with their school district summer school to offer full day programming on a split schedule so that half of the students are doing enrichment with afterschool staff in the morning while the other half is with classroom teachers doing their summer school classes. They then switch during the afternoon. So, where the 21st CCLC program normally serves 350 students daily before and afterschool, they are serving 750+ until the end of June.
Alternate space & facilities – We’ve got to prepare for the possibility that schools may be closed to afterschool providers. If you have access to other facilities, this could be a great asset to bring up to local school leaders as you seek to partner with them on re-opening plans. If you usually operate in schools, think about how you might access other spaces or facilities. Think about libraries, parks, community centers, cultural or performing arts centers that may have under-used spaces. Talk to local city or county leaders about ideas. In Lincoln, Nebraska, afterschool providers are providing in-person care at churches and community centers in the area of the schools.
Staffing considerations – Programs will likely need to sustain staff ratios of 10-1 per health guidelines; prepare for the possibility that some staff may not be able or comfortable working tin the same capacity; and be ready for continued, or resumption of, virtual programming.
“Doubling down on social-emotional learning (SEL).” – The social and emotional needs of children have never been greater; make sure you are prepared to help students re-engage and re-connect, to when youth need additional mental health support, and have a plan for connecting youth to that additional support. The American Institute for Research released a new brief, Recognizing the Role of Afterschool and Summer Programs in Reopening and Rebuilding.
"Two very influential statewide education leaders not deeply involved in the field stated publicly that expanding learning is going to be a very critical, essential component to the reopening of schools. One of the biggest reasons that people embrace our field and believe in its work is the way that staff care and nurture for children in their programs. These benefits are based on the quality standards that call for positive relationships, safe supportive environments, and engaging activities."
- Michael Funk, Director, Expanded Learning Division, CDE
Enhancing academic support/enrichment – With estimates that students will experience more than a 50 percent learning loss this year, it is more important than ever to work with schools to complement school day lessons, open lines of communication with teachers to help identify youth who need extra help and shape your homework help, tutoring and enrichment activities to their needs. For instance, establish regular meetings between the afterschool program director and principals, assign staff members the responsibility of managing and maintaining communication, and host joint professional development opportunities for both school day staff and afterschool program staff.
Ursula Helminski is currently Senior Vice President of external affairs at Afterschool Alliance and has worked with the organization since its inception, as part of its founding team. She develops strategy and communications for the organization and oversees public awareness initiatives such as the national Lights On Afterschool event and Afterschool for All, a campaign uniting high-profile and grassroots voices from diverse sectors in support of afterschool. Before coming to the Afterschool Alliance, she was a Senior Associate at the communications and organizing consulting firm, Fowler Hoffman, where she worked on issue campaigns ranging from youth violence prevention to telecommunications, and advised foundations on their communications strategies. She has served as editor of a trade journal covering policy in Washington, D.C., worked in cause-related marketing at The Nature Conservancy and taught English in a Moscow public school.
By Guest Blogger Nikki Yamashiro, Afterschool Alliance
Since the first statewide stay-at-home orders were issued in mid-March, individuals across the United States have found their lives and livelihoods upended by the coronavirus. As states enact safety measures and transition between phases of reopening to combat the virus, families are struggling with school closures, job losses, food insecurity, and more. Afterschool programs are joining local efforts to address the urgent needs of children and families while facing an uncertain future themselves.
Throughout the crisis, many afterschool providers have been innovating to stay connected with students and keep them safe, healthy and engaged in learning, even while struggling to keep their own doors open. Many programs face budget shortfalls and will need additional staff and professional development, as well as more space and resources to provide consistent care for children and families as school schedules shift. In the first in a series of surveys, in partnership with Edge Research, we take the pulse of the afterschool field and it is clear that although afterschool programs remain a vital partner to help young people emerge from this crisis strong, resilient, and hopeful, they are in need of dire support. The future of afterschool programs is in jeopardy.
In our first survey we learned that afterschool programs are severely affected by the hardships created by the pandemic. As programs work to continue to provide services in their communities, they face their own struggles, from funding to staffing, with a majority unsure if the worst is over or yet to come (55%). Read the full report of survey responses at the following link: http://afterschoolalliance.org/documents/Afterschool-COVID-19-Wave-1-Fact-Sheet.pdf
There is also an interactive dashboard with the survey results to see the differences in response by region: http://afterschoolalliance.org/covid/Afterschool-COVID-19-dashboard.cfm
Help us keep up the story of how COVID-19 is affecting afterschool and summer programs by completing a follow-up survey that focuses on what programs have been able to offer this summer and plans for fall. The survey should take no more than 10-15 minutes of your time and your responses will be anonymous. To thank you for your time, 50 respondents to the survey will be randomly selected to win a $50 cash prize. You can start the survey at: https://3to6.co/survey
Nikki Yamashiro is Vice President of Research at Afterschool Alliance. She joined the Afterschool Alliance in June 2012, and works to coordinate and implement annual research activities, design surveys on pressing issues in the afterschool field and analyze research findings, communicating the need for and great successes of afterschool programs to policy makers, afterschool providers, advocates, and the public. Prior to joining the Afterschool Alliance, Nikki served in a variety of research capacities, including as Policy Advisor at Third Way, where she handled a wide range of domestic policy issues such as juvenile justice, and as legislative assistant to former Rep. Hilda L. Solis, where she handled education and youth issues.
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.