By Sam Piha
While afterschool programs are designed to serve all youth, we have learned over the years that the social context that youth experience are very important to acknowledge and, in some cases, design specific activities. We are seeing programs designed for girls, programs for boys, as well as ones for youth of color, undocumented youth, and LGBTQ youth. We think this is essential to our efforts to promote critical social emotional skills.
In this blog we focus on addressing the needs of girls in afterschool. Below we offer an interview with Allison Dymnicki, researcher at American Institutes for Research (AIR), who recently published her study about promoting the healthy development of girls at Girls Inc.
Q: Can you provide a brief overview on the research you did with Girls, Inc?
A: Girls Inc. and the American Institutes for Research (AIR) partnered on a 2-year evaluation to understand the relationship between a high-quality Girls Inc. Experience and academic, behavioral, and “Strong, Smart, and Bold” outcomes for girls and young women. As part of the evaluation, we compared Girls Inc. participants and the comparison group of girls on Strong, Smart, and Bold, and school-related outcomes for two different years (2017–18, 2018–19), totaling more than 3,000 girls.
Q: What does research say about the specific supports girls and young women need in order to be successful in the short- and long-term?
A: Research shows that all young people have inherent strengths, and these can be bolstered through supportive, trusting relationships with peers and adults. In the case of Girls Inc., such relationships allow girls to ask questions and navigate challenging personal situations, inspire girls' creativity, and give them a trusted adult to partner with as they figure out their passions.
Additionally, youth benefit from a supportive environment that makes them feel safe both physically and emotionally. High-quality programming provides safe, supportive spaces for girls and young women to develop their own social and emotional competencies, make mistakes and learn from those mistakes, ask questions, and discover things for themselves, with support. This allows girls to realize their short- and long-term potential.
Q: Why is the afterschool setting a good place to accomplish this?
A: Afterschool is one of many settings that can foster young people’s strengths and provide opportunities to build supportive, trusting relationship with others. Research suggests that all people—children, youth, and adults—thrive in safe, supportive environments that are developmentally rich and identity-safe, characterized by positive relationships and relevant opportunities to learn and grow and this is what afterschool is all about. Opportunities for creativity and flexibility not often afforded by the structure of the school day mean more time to explore interests and engage with peers in ways that promote positive development.
Q: What are the most important findings from AIR’s evaluation of the Girls Inc. program?
A: Overall, we found that girls participating in Girls Inc. were more likely to engage in activities and express beliefs that lead to physical and mental well-being, academic achievement, and the development of leadership skills.
More specifically, Girls Inc. girls had consistently higher math test scores than the comparison group of girls. Second, Girls Inc. girls reported more positive attitudes and behaviors than the comparison group of girls across the majority of survey responses. These responses measure knowledge, skills, and attitudes in areas such as being excited about going to college, engaging in physical activity, and seeing themselves as a leader.
It’s important to note that there were benefits for participating in Girls Inc., regardless of how many hours of programming girls received. This is an important contribution to the field, as it helps build the case that high-quality youth development programs support many aspects of well-being.
Q: How do in- and out-of-school time programming for girls, like Girls Inc., aim to help them succeed in school and life?
A: High-quality programming, like Girls Inc., provides girls with the opportunity to build academic, social, and emotional competencies, and it promotes physical health and wellbeing.
Girls Inc.'s “Strong, Smart, and Bold” outcomes include building skills related to leadership, curiosity, problem-solving, and smart decision-making, such as not skipping school or engaging with illicit drugs or alcohol. Such skills are critical for girls to be able to graduate from high school, go to college, have successful careers, and become citizens who make meaningful contributions to society.
Q: Do you think it is helpful to have groups or activities that are gender specific, i.e. only have girls participating? If so, why?
A: We think it’s important to have a range of activities and opportunities available to young people that allow them to feel safe and comfortable to explore their self-identity, interests, and passions. Gender specific programming is a critical part of those offerings and can afford girls and boys a unique opportunity to grow and thrive.
Q: What do you think educators and local policymakers can do to help girls
succeed both inside and outside of school?
A: We are encouraged by programs and other approaches that acknowledge the whole person, by supporting participation in activities focused on academic success and career aspirations, physical and mental health, and social and emotional skills and competencies. The body of research into adolescent development suggests that such an approach is effective in supporting youth to thrive.
We encourage youth-serving organizations and education agencies to focus on evidence-based practices and strategies that support the whole person in safe and supportive environments, where relationships can flourish, and with a focus on high quality and engaging opportunities for learning and development. Practically, this means investing in building staff capacity, creating career pathways that promote retention, and establishing structures that support program quality. Now more than ever, we need to support the essential staff who are dedicated to fostering youth learning and development and the organizations that have spent years building these supportive systems.
It’s important to acknowledge that young people do not exist in just one system; they participate in many systems, such as school, sports teams or clubs, the justice system, and so on.
Through our work on the Interagency Working Group for Youth Programs and the Readiness Projects, we aim to foster meaningful cross-sector connections to ensure that young people, and the staff who support them, can navigate their experiences in a coordinated way. Girls Inc. is one example of how cross-sector coordination, with school partners and other community-based organizations, can have a positive impact on girls. We can do so much more in this area to support youth learning and development.
Allison B. Dymnicki is a principal researcher at AIR with extensive expertise in youth development, implementation science and systems change. She has particular expertise in research on school and community-based programs. Her work has helped to advance understanding of how schools and communities can facilitate positive youth development and prevent engagement in risky behaviors. She has also helped develop social-emotional learning, school climate, and readiness assessments. Dymnicki has conducted prevention and intervention research at the Collaborative for Academic Social and Emotional Learning, the Ounce of Prevention, and the Institute of Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has published over 25 articles and book chapters.
By Guest Blogger Eva Jo Meyers, Spark Decks
According to an article published in Keshet this summer, crisis calls to the Trevor Project’s hotline doubled during the quarantine.
Prior to the pandemic, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2017 LGBTQ teen survey showed that:
In addition, according to CDC data taken from the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior (YRBS) Survey of LGBTQ students,
It is because of statistics like these that Spark Decks said, “Yes!” when we were approached about making a deck to support LGBTQ+ Youth Allyship. Or, actually, what we said was, “NO! But we will work with young people to create a deck BY youth, for youth.” And so that’s what we did.
Like the name suggests, Spark Decks are decks of cards. Each card contains one idea, or “micro-practice” that can be implemented in youth-serving programs. We have decks on topics ranging from SEL to Supporting English Language Learners, to Self-Care. Users pick one card at a time, try it out in their program, and then reflect on how it went.
But while all of our previous decks have been for adults, this one is different - because this one is for youth.
Thanks to the support of San Francisco’s Department of Children, Youth, and Their Families (DCYF), this past fall, prior to shelter-in-place orders, we hosted six sessions with Middle, High school, and Transitional-Aged youth, focusing on the question, “What can an ally do to support LGBTQ+ youth and staff at our school?”
We started each session with an icebreaker, then spent time discussing the statistics outlined above. Did these numbers match participants’ experience? (Yes!) Did any of the statistics surprise them? (Yes!)
After creating collages that illustrated allyship, (you can see parts of the collages on the box of the new deck!), we spent an hour doing a brainstorm activity to generate ideas about how an ally could be a support, and put those ideas into categories. It’s those ideas and categories that now live in our new “LGBTQ+ Youth Allyship” deck.
As with all Spark Decks, the new deck has 52 ideas, culled from the six sessions. Based the cards, here are a few actions youth in your program might consider implementing during the pandemic, and beyond:
Once the school year gets underway, Spark Decks will be offering Training-of-Trainer style workshops that teach staff how to run an allyship workshop using the deck either at their sites - or virtually.
And what did participants have to say about being part of the project? “That people will dedicate themselves to learning pronouns is inspiring.” “I learned that it is really important to be an EDUCATED ally.” “I learned that advocacy starts with communication and collaboration.” “Thank you for holding space for us to talk about this.”
I hope you will all join me in making space to “talk about this,” even - and especially - during the pandemic.
Eva Jo Meyers is the co-founder of Spark Decks and the author of the book, “Raise the Room: A practical guide to participant-centered facilitation.” She has held positions as a program leader, manager, and district coordinator for afterschool programs. To learn more about Spark Decks, visit www.spark-decks.com.
Check out My Pal, Luke! My Pal, Luke is designed to address many social emotional elements through his words and questions, including a check-in with kids. Luke also reads his favorite books and educates kids on how to make sense of current events and the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be easily embedded in distance learning efforts or used with in- person programming. To watch an introduction to My Pal, Luke, click here.
By Sam Piha
Kwame Scruggs, Ph.D is ED of Alchemy Inc. in Akron, Ohio. He was featured in the 2014 documentary, Finding the Gold Within. This documentary chronicled the transition of young black men from high school to college, the issues of racism they encountered, and the role of Alchemy Inc., an afterschool program in supporting this transition. We were so taken by the film, that we sponsored several screenings in the San Francisco Bay Area. (To watch or stream the documentary, Finding the Gold Within, click here.) Below are Dr. Scruggs' responses to our questions about the documentary and the strategies he has incorporated into his afterschool program, which serves boys of color.
Q: In the film, Finding the Gold Within, it portrayed the use of "talking circles" to provide support for the young men. Why do you believe that "talking circles" are an important strategy in youth work?
A: I think any format that allows youth a safe setting is important. A circle is ideal because of the symbolism of oneness, there is no real beginning or end, everything is connected. You can have order or non-order in a circle. Our circle is somewhat unique in that the youth sit in the circle by age, from youngest to oldest.
Q: You also encourage the use of writing/ journaling. Why do you believe that the use of writing/ journaling is an important strategy in youth work?
A: Writing causes you to reflect. When speaking we often blurt-out the first thing that comes to our mind. Writing causes you to pause and give your thought more thought.
Q: People often comment that young African American youth do not like writing, therefore this is not a good strategy. Your comments on this?
A: I am not certain if this only pertains to African American youth. In our situation the proof is in the pudding, so it IS obviously a good strategy for us. There have been numerous occasions where our youth have informed me that it was opening-up their journals that assisted them through their darkest moments. It was the quotes and recalling moments in the myths that allowed them to persevere. It was their responses to questions that reminded them of what they thought at a certain moment and how that same thought would add comfort to a challenging situation.
To find where to view/ stream Finding the Gold Within, click here. For an update on the documentary protagonists, click here.
G. Kwame Scruggs, Ph.D is the founder and director of Alchemy, a non-profit organization in Akron, Ohio established in 2003. Alchemy uses mythological stories to engage urban adolescent males. In 2012 Alchemy was one of 12 programs to receive the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities—the nation’s highest honor for after-school and out-of-school programs. Alchemy was also the backdrop for the award-winning, feature-length documentary, “Finding the Gold Within.” Kwame has over 20 years of experience using myth in the development of urban male youth. He holds a Ph.D. and MA in Mythological Studies with an emphasis in Depth Psychology. Kwame also holds a MS degree in Technical Education with an emphasis in Guidance and Counseling. In 1993, after being formally initiated into the Akan System of Life Cycle Development (African-based rites of passage), Kwame became a Certified Facilitator of this process. In 2016, Kwame was one of seven recipients awarded the National Guild’s Milestone Certificate of Appreciation and one of three to receive the University of Akron’s Black Male Summit Legacy Award. Kwame is a recently appointed board member of the Joseph Campbell Foundation and serves on the National Advisory Committee of the Creative Youth Development National Partnership.
By Sam Piha
The Center for Promise is the applied research institute for America’s Promise Alliance. They set out to listen deeply to a diverse group of over 100 young people across the country about the critical program features driving their learning and development. The themes and insights that emerged make up the report entitled, All of Who I Am: Perspectives from Young People About Social, Emotional and Cognitive Learning. The report affirmed what we have known for decades, but it is always good to hear straight from youth. Below we quote the report's 6 critical program features youth name most essential to their learning and development.
To learn a little bit more about this study we interviewed Jennie Rosenbaum (EduCare Foundation's ACE Initiative Site Coordinator at Social Justice Humanitas Academy, LAUSD), who's youth participated in the study. Below she responds to our questions.
Q: How is it that you were selected to participate in this study?
A: Last spring, we received word from Jennifer Peck (Partnership for Children and Youth) on how to apply for an upcoming study by the Center for Promise. The Center for Promise wanted to include young people in conversation and research to better understand what young people felt was necessary to create conditions that supported their social, emotional, and academic growth.
Highlighting our extensive work in social-emotional learning since 1990, we at EduCare Foundation applied and subsequently received word that we were one of seven organizations nationally selected for the America's Promise Alliance's study. High school students at Social Justice Humanitas Academy, one of our outstanding LAUSD Beyond the Bell afterschool program sites and an EduCare ACE Initiative school site, were chosen by EduCare to participate. ACE Initiative school sites empower students, teachers, and parents to enrich themselves and their school community with kindness, empathy and human connection.
Q: What did you think about America’s Promise findings?
A: The America’s Promise findings reveal what young people need to feel safe, seen, heard, understood, worthy and loved--that which we all seek in order to thrive. In these times when inequities are even more prominently visible, these findings direct us towards a framework to re-invent educational spaces to meet everyone’s needs, not relying on youth to figure it out or to get lucky in a system that doesn’t always work in their favor.
Q: Would you comment on the critical features named in the report?
A: I most liked the interdependence and intersectionality of the six themes. Growth and self-actualization does not happen in a vacuum. The best lesson taught by the most renowned teacher passes over the head of the student who has no connection to the person teaching them or the people sitting to their left and right. Even then, the lesson stays in the student’s head, leaving no impact on the world, leading to no change if the student lacks agency or a way to apply it meaningfully.
Q: Can you give an example/ practice of how “agency” is promoted?
A: Our school supports agency through a summer bridge program to help incoming ninth grade students build new relationships with teachers, peers and near-peer mentors, learn the expectations and supports offered at their new school and acclimate to the school culture in a low-risk setting. In the second week, teachers offered students options in STEM, Art and ELA through which students explored their identity and their goals for themselves and their communities.
Q: Can you give an example/ practice of how “intentionality” is promoted?
A: Our school reinforces intentionality through its partnership with EduCare’s ACE Initiative in which we start each school year building relationships with team building games, problem solving challenges outside of our comfort zones, goal setting for the year and beyond, and reflective talking circles or “heart talks.” For our students, this frames their way of starting their school year and their lives by developing greater personal leadership, empathetic connections, and a compassionate school culture in which they can be supported and thrive.
We'd like to share the latest project from Temescal Associates and The How Kids Learn Foundation- My Pal, Luke. My Pal, Luke is designed to address many social emotional elements through his words and questions, including a check-in with kids. Luke also reads his favorite books and educates kids on how to make sense of current events and the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be easily embedded in distance learning efforts or used with in- person programming. Check out episode 1 here or follow the My Pal, Luke Instagram for updates.
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.