By Guest Blogger Jason Spector, Policy Studies Associates
We are entering a holiday season unlike any other, with limited gatherings and far too many empty seats at the table. Out-of-school-time (OST) staff, youth, and families face deep grief, challenge and uncertainty. It is not a time where program evaluation is at the forefront of our minds, and when evaluation does come to the fore in the OST field, it is often in the context of service gaps, disparities, and young people’s learning losses. These are all too real and point to the deep challenges of this era, from the disparate educational and health impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color to the mounting academic learning loss that is inextricably connected to race and class across the country. 2020 is a year of intersecting health, economic, education, and racial justice crises; it is also the year where resilience has shone through and there is much to express gratitude for and celebrate in the OST field and beyond.
Asset-based evaluation can be a helpful, and hopeful, approach during this time and into the future.
What do we mean when we say asset-based evaluation? Consider the definition from the Glasgow Centre for Population Health: “Asset-based approaches emphasize the need to redress the balance between meeting needs and nurturing the strengths and resources of people and communities. They are ways of valuing and building on the skills, successes and strengths of individuals and communities, which focus on the positive capacity of individuals and communities rather than solely on their needs, deficits and problems. These assets can act as the foundation from which to build a positive future.” In short, assets do not diminish problems and needs, but they do serve as a broadened foundation upon which to build an evaluation strategy.
How can an asset-based evaluation approach help address your organizational needs during COVID-19? Here are some helpful tips to get started:
As you consider taking one or more steps toward an asset-based evaluation approach, be mindful of evaluation overload. It may be preferable to do fewer things and do them well during this time. Accordingly, be cognizant of matching your evaluation strategy to your organizational needs and capacity, so that asset-based evaluation doesn’t become ‘just one more thing.’ And as you dive in, please share your examples of how you practice gratitude and/or asset-based evaluation—I am grateful for, and look forward to, learning alongside you.
Jason Spector is a Senior Research Associate at Policy Studies Associates. He formerly served as the Senior Director of Strategy and Evaluation at After-School All-Stars. Jason recently authored a chapter in the new book Measure, Use, Improve! Data Use in OST! titled “What’s Your Why? Matching Evaluation Approach to Organizational Need.” He can be reached at email@example.com or on LinkedIn.
By Sam Piha
Every year researchers and experts on youth learning and development issue reports with new concepts and frameworks. They are developed to guide the design and implementation of community initiatives, schools and youth programs.
While many of these frameworks and their critical features are not “new” or surprising, they do offer a more granular examination or focus on a specific issue. These frameworks include (not an exhaustive list):
“In the past several years, a large number of frameworks and standards have been created to provide guidance on what young people need to learn.”- UChicago Consortium on School Research
It is important for youth program leaders to closely follow the release of new frameworks and to be literate in and able to integrate the language and concepts they offer. Many of these frameworks have critical features in common with and are born out of earlier youth development frameworks.
In our most recent paper, Multiple Reflections, we compare recent frameworks and note their commonalities. We offer a summary or overview of many of these frameworks as well as resources to learn more. We also provide a crosswalk chart to learn where their critical features overlap. (Note: Harvard’s Explore SEL has catalogued a large number of program frameworks and allows the reader to explore and compare frameworks to others in the field.)
All of the frameworks named above offer critical features (some use other terms like experiences, components, non-negotiables, principles, factors, or competencies) that are deemed essential. They are all useful in guiding the design and implementation of youth programs, their values and intentions; along with program practices, activities, and assessment tools to gauge fidelity and effectiveness.
Although they do not use these terms, they are essentially about love, acceptance, respect for self and others, mentorship, agency, and preparing youth for success in school, work and life.
Guest blog from the American Institutes for Research (AIR)
Longstanding systemic health and social inequities have put Americans categorized as racial and ethnic minorities at greater risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the same time, Latinos have a history of good health outcomes, some of which contradict the prevailing narrative that race and ethnicity alone largely determine disparities in health outcomes.
For more than three decades, AIR Institute Fellow David E. Hayes-Bautista has researched Latino health outcomes. Using longitudinal data, he has reframed the narrative about diversity, race and ethnicity, and health, he found that Latinos are actually healthier than other groups. The exception exists when we factor in the COVID-19 era. In this partial Q & A, Hayes-Bautista, distinguished professor of medicine and director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, shares some of his findings and their implications for health care policy and practice. Read the complete Q & A with David E. Hayes- Bautista here.
Q: In California, Latinos make up about 60% of COVID-19 cases and 39% of the population. Does that surprise you at all? How do these data points fit into the overall picture of your research findings?
A: COVID-19, which is a communicable disease, has different patterns than the chronic diseases I’ve mentioned. I cannot sneeze on you and give you a heart attack. I can just breathe on you and give you the coronavirus.
Initially, some attempted to connect higher COVID-19 case and death rates among Latinos to comorbidities, such as obesity and diabetes. Latinos do have higher rates of obesity and diabetes than some other populations, but comorbidities only come into play at the end of a very long trajectory of COVID-19.
The higher COVID-19 rates are connected to the very high work ethic of Latinos and the nature of work that many Latinos do. Latinos are essential workers. For the first two to three months of the pandemic, we took great pains to make sure that nurses and physicians had access to personal protective equipment (PPE).
We didn’t even think about farmworkers, construction workers, or food industry workers. The average grocery store checkout clerk probably has 200 to 300 clients pass within arm’s length on an average shift. With no PPE, a person in that occupation is hundreds of times more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus than someone who can stay at home.
The communicable disease pattern also has a lot to do with the lack of connection between Latino communities and the formal public health structure. Latinos are still twice as likely as others to be uninsured. They have less ability to seek health care services. For instance, a COVID-19 test can cost anywhere from a hundred dollars to $2,000. If you’re a farmer making $18,000 a year, that means one COVID test might cost up to two months of your income.
With much more exposure and much less likelihood of knowing they’ve been exposed, it’s not too surprising that Latinos have much higher case and death rates.
Q: What racial and ethnic health disparities should policy and decision makers pay attention to in the next few years, particularly as COVID-19 could have long-term health consequences?
A: Making the connection between Latino communities and the formal medical care system more robust would help. The United States is the only advanced industrial country that does not offer universal access to health care services to all people within its borders. Every other developed country has managed to do so—and they spend less in terms of GDP and per person than we do on health care.
We also have a tremendous physician shortage in the U.S. We have such a lack of Latino physicians in California that it will take all the current medical schools at the current rate of graduation 500 years to make up the shortage for 2015, much less Spanish-speaking physicians. Yet Latino physicians are far more likely to practice in heavily Latino areas and to speak Spanish. This needs to be addressed.
Q: What suggestions do you have for future research on racial and ethnic health disparities?
A: My advice for researchers is to pay attention to the basics—theory, method, and data. The theoretical models we use do not work for a diverse population. They have no predictive power for Latino, Asian, and American Indian populations. We need different theoretical models that can handle the epidemiology of diversity. We don’t know how to handle racial ambiguity because for so long our “science” has been based on the notion of separate, distinct biological races. We need to blow up all of our concepts and start almost de novo.
The mission of the American Institutes for Research (AIR) is to generate and use rigorous evidence in the areas of education, health, international issues and the workforce that contributes to a better, more equitable world.
David E. Hayes-Bautista is an AIR Institute Fellow and Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Director of the Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in the Division of General Internal Medicine. For over three decades he has researched the Latino Epidemiological Paradox and its implications for populations (infants, maternal, adolescents, immigrants, elderly, farmworkers, undocumented,) chronic diseases (heart, cancer, diabetes, etc.) communicable diseases (HIV-AIDS, Hepatitis A, tuberculosis, etc.) and health behaviors (tobacco use, diet, physical activity, etc.) His research in health services delivery currently focuses on developing metrics for population health that have predictive power with Latino populations, and on developing measures of health disparities that do not rely on the current race/ethnic categories. His earlier work in health services research focused on Latino provider shortages (physician, nurses, dentists,) access to health insurance and access to primary care.
MY PAL LUKE
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 episodes of My Pal, Luke, click HERE.
By Sam Piha
Helen Janc Malone is the series editor of Current Issues in Out-of-School Time. The Series promotes and disseminates original, theoretical and empirical research and promising practices from practitioners to further grow and strengthen the OST field.
The latest book in this series is entitled At Our Best: Building Youth-Adult Partnerships in Out-of-School Time Settings edited by Gretchen Brion-Meisels, Deepa Sriya Vasudevan and Jessica Tseming Fei. Because the formation of positive youth-adult partnerships is such an important issue in the out-of-school time field, we approached the editors with a few interview questions. Their responses are below.
There is nothing more powerful in our efforts to improve our society than understanding how to cultivate deep and meaningful partnerships with young people. “At Our Best” offers key insights about the power of youth-adult partnerships in out-of-school time settings. Brion-Meisels, Fei & Vasudevan have compiled a powerful and comprehensive collection of voices of people who are blazing a new path in partnering with youth. This book is a must read for researchers and practitioners searching for fresh analysis and innovative insights into building youth-adult partnerships. -Shawn Ginwright, Ph.D, Associate Professor of Education & Africana Studies, San Francisco State University , Chief Executive Officer, Flourish Agenda, Oakland CA
Q: Why did you choose to focus on the topic of youth-adult partnerships?
A: All three of us have a research and practice-based background in youth development work and/or out-of-school time (OST) settings. As readers of this blog may agree, when you work in OST settings, you witness and engage in a lot of forms of youth participation; these can range from more tokenized and performative youth participation (for example, inviting a youth participant to share their program experience at a funders’ event) to youth facilitating and deciding the kind of activities happening in their programs and communities.
Something that the three of us talked about in our shared teaching and research is how centering youth voice and decision-making is oftentimes an intentional approach to OST program design for older youth, and yet, there aren’t many written resources that focus on this contribution of the OST field and the complexities of these collaborations from educator and youth perspectives. We wanted to gather a chorus of voices that considered what the ideals of partnership work might look like in practice. We invited a variety of people–– youth workers, scholars, educators, and young people –– to reflect and theorize their experiences with intergenerational partnerships both within and beyond OST programs. The response was incredible; we really appreciate how honest our authors have been about both the rewarding and messy parts of intergenerational collaboration, both in theory and in practice.
Q: Can you define what you mean by “youth-adult partnerships”?
A: Theoretically, our work draws on Roger Hart’s “ladder of child participation,” which defines participation as “the process of sharing decisions which affect one’s life and the life of the community in which one lives” (Hart, 1992, p.5). Thinking about the essential role of positive youth-adult relationships in supporting youth participation in educational settings, we build upon Shepherd Zeldin, Brian Christens, and Jane Powers, who define youth-adult partnership as the practice of, “(a) multiple youth and multiple adults deliberating and acting together; (b) in a collective fashion; (c) over a sustained period of time; (d) through shared work; (e) intended to promote social justice, strengthen an organization and/or affirmatively address a community issue” (Zeldin, Christens, & Powers, 2012, p.388). This definition resonates with our experiences working in and studying OST programs, as well as the perspectives of many contributors to our volume.
Much like schools, in OST settings, youth-adult partnerships require everyone to push against hierarchical relationships and pervasive, negative constructions of youth as “at risk” or “in need of control.” They necessitate a full interrogation of the meanings, purposes, and processes of youth development. Our definition of youth-adult partnerships holds that in order to be authentic, intergenerational relationships in OST settings must focus on community and societal goals. In other words, settings must focus on nurturing collective development and outcomes rather than individual development and outcomes. Indeed, as we can see in abundance during this time of global pandemic and global uprising for racial justice, adults and youth become better able to address pressing needs for transformative change when we tap into the power of community care, social solidarity, and collective action.
Intergenerational collaboration and learning are not new; the authors in our book draw on a legacy of intergenerational solidarity in the United States. The partnerships that they describe highlight practices in which youth participate and engage in mutual and reciprocal teaching, learning, and creating with adults. In this paradigm, youth are involved in decision-making that meets both their individual needs and priorities as well as their communities.’ A partnership model still includes mentorship and wisdom from adults, but it requires adults to honor and center the knowledge and perspectives of young people. It necessitates quite a bit of rethinking and ongoing reflection among adults, which is what we emphasize in this book. Our authors share examples of what it means to challenge adults’ instincts to control a situation, and to fundamentally reassess the nature and the goals of our work in OST settings.
Q: Can you provide an example of practices that promote positive youth-adult partnerships?
A: Yes! We were inspired by many practices shared by the contributors to At Our Best. One example is the development of group rituals that foster humanizing spaces for adults and youth. This can involve: a) holding regular check-ins where group members can talk honestly about their emotions; b) playing icebreaker games that highlight the importance of team building and fun; c) creating community agreements that uphold shared values and goals; and d) engaging in debrief discussions where people can share feedback to support individual and collective growth. These activities support ongoing processes of trust-building and relationship-building between adults and youth. Combined with structures for democratic decision-making, they also contribute to balancing power and participation within the group.
Q: What are some of the dilemmas that adults may face in their efforts to promote positive youth-adult partnerships?
A: Adults often face dilemmas around how to use their own power to support the work of the group, while still centering the voices and the leadership of youth. It can be challenging to figure out when to step up and when to step back, and there are no easy answers. Within youth-adult partnerships, adults must frequently reflect upon how dynamics of power, positionality, and privilege are operating within the group. Importantly, a major part of youth-adult partnership is dialogue about the impact of these dynamics, and about ways to transform any harmful dynamics that exist. Many of our practitioner authors recommend practices of transparency –– as well as cultures of accountability –– to help counter the adultism that we have to work to unlearn. Importantly, decisions about how and when an individual should exercise their own power and privilege to help a group accomplish its goals do not have to be made in isolation; this is yet another place where adults can listen to youth and lean on the collective wisdom of the group in navigating what to do.
Q: How can youth take the lead in promoting positive youth-adult partnerships?
A: Young people can take time to explore the thoughts, questions, issues, and phenomena that fascinate and galvanize them. They can take initiative to express themselves to any adult who they trust. This creates an opportunity for young people to be more deeply understood by the people around them, and it is a valuable skill-building experience, too. Through voicing their desires and talking about what’s important to them, young people learn about what it takes to advocate for themselves and others. Ideally, it can also be a confidence-building and hope-generating experience--one that enables young people to access resources and supports that can help them in their next steps, and that demonstrates that they do not have to be alone in their journeys. We have seen so many examples of young people taking the lead in promoting youth-adult partnerships over the last two months - it has been truly powerful to behold.
Q: We know that putting a priority on the formation of positive youth-adult partnerships goes beyond the work of individual youth workers- it has to be supported at the organizational level. Can you comment on this?
A: Absolutely, there has to be organizational leadership and whole-hearted, whole-team and buy-in to partnership efforts and practices. If there isn’t this expressed ongoing commitment and willingness at the organizational management and leadership level, youth workers can become frustrated and exhausted by partnership work that goes unseen and undervalued; youth will probably not trust or believe that their efforts will matter. Something we appreciated about the youth programs represented in this book–– Intergenerational Change Initiative in NYC, Teen Empowerment in Boston & Somerville, Massachusetts, The Center for Youth and Community Leadership in Education, Youth in Action in Providence, Rhode Island, and Humanities Amped in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to name a few –– is that partnership work is embedded in the mission, approach, and philosophy of the whole organization. This means that youth hold leadership positions within the organization and adults have systems for ongoing debriefs and critical reflections at the organizational level to evaluate the processes and outcomes of their partnership work. Partnerships do a good job of holding organizations accountable and transparent about their work, too; when working in partnership, a program doesn’t become about one charismatic leader or “savior” of youth, rather, it becomes about building a caring community.
We do also want to note that partnerships need to be recognized as a promising practice and activity in the eyes of funders as well. Organizational leadership can feel pressure to show individual outcomes vs. community outcomes to keep program doors open and may perpetuate this kind of expectation of youth workers. This can lend itself to more traditional educational practices that position only adults as experts and decision-makers.
Q: Who do you think the audience is that would benefit from this book?
A: With our collective experiences in afterschool programs, classroom teaching, academic research, and community arts, we truly believe that educators both in and out of schools can benefit from this book. Many out-of-school time organizations are already seeking to work in partnership with youth; for them, this book will provide concrete practices and strategies, as well as examples of the challenging tensions that can emerge.
On the other hand, we believe that school-based educators would benefit from engaging the type of pedagogical moves and tools for relationship-building that our authors describe. By building trusting relationships, drawing on problem-posing methodologies, engaging democratic participation and providing opportunities for collective action, schools will become more authentic and engaging sites of learning. Moreover, there are many principles and practices of youth-adult partnership that can deepen and enrich the work of school administrators, educational researchers, community organizers, and community-based artists. This book is intentionally designed to speak to a wide array of people interested in intergenerational work with goals of social justice and collective well-being.
Jessica Fei is the Director of Programs for the Sadie Nash Leadership Project. As an educational researcher and practitioner, she seeks to center the voices and leadership of youth, and to build relationships and communities grounded in authentic care.
Deepa Vasudevan is a visiting lecturer in education at Wellesley College, whose research focuses on the occupational identities and expertise of community-based youth workers, constructions of care work in education, and youth engagement in out-of-school learning experiences.
Gretchen Brion-Meisels is a lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, whose work draws on critical participatory action research approaches to understand how schools and communities can become more equitable and loving spaces.
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.