Guest Blogger, Dr. Gil Noam
The election season is upon us. As a researcher in the field of education, I pay close attention to the ways education and youth development are discussed and framed on large policy platforms. This year, I have noticed one area consistently neglected in these high-profile discussions: educational settings that care for school-aged children and adolescents beyond the school day. These spaces are often referred to as afterschool programs, out-of-school time, summer experiences, or extended education.
This year, the Democratic candidates have largely focused their talking points on health care, immigration, trade, and gun violence with education in the periphery. When education came up in the first five debates, the most discussed issues were universal pre-K and tuition-free public colleges and universities. Some candidates also argued for raising teacher salaries and increasing funding for low-income students and schools. But every family in this country has to figure out what to do when school is out and how to pay for high quality and safe environments for learning and care.
Some Democratic candidates have more detailed platforms that include expanded learning opportunities. For example, Bernie Sanders has proposed spending $5 billion annually to expand summer and afterschool programs and youth centers in particular. Elizabeth Warren’s platform includes investing $100 billion over ten years to restore and implement in-school and out-of-school programs. Amy Klobuchar also has had a record of speaking up in favor of increasing access to afterschool programs and community hubs. On the other side of the political aisle, President Trump’s campaign platform does not specifically mention afterschool programming, but his administration did attempt to cut the only federal funding stream dedicated to afterschool and summer programs (21st Century Community Learning Centers) on three occasions.
I believe that out-of-school time should be treated with the same attention as current education hot topics like pre-K and college tuition costs. Often times, when politicians debate over resource allocation or ways to increase the quality of education, they focus on the start and end of a child’s educational journey (i.e. universal pre-school and college access). This approach often overlooks the many opportunities that could be improved upon in elementary, middle, and high school years. For example, the three months of vacation between each school year can lead to “summer slide,” which denotes the loss of academic gains during the summer months when young people are often less engaged with academic material. Also, the opportunity divide during the summer between children who grow up in poverty and those who have affluent parents is enormous.
Candidates in any party would be well-served by putting more emphasis on this topic. Unlike debates surrounding healthcare or gun regulations, it is not a matter of taking away or replacing something, but rather about the expansion and supplementation of new programs. There are more than 30 million families with children under the age of 18 in America, with the majority being employed. The workday does not correspond with the school day and that is a very serious matter. Many of these voters are in essential primary and swing states and know whether a leader takes their situation seriously. Ultimately, this is a low-risk, high-yield topic, and it’s time to give it the deserved place on the debate floor. If you don’t discuss your plan, you will be seen as being out of touch with a very significant need of every family in our nation. READ MORE.
Gil Noam, Ed.D., is the founder and director of The PEAR Institute (Partnerships in Education and Resilience) at Harvard University and McLean Hospital. The PEAR Institute is a translational center that connects research to practice and is dedicated to serving “the whole child-the whole day.” An Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School focusing on prevention and resilience, Dr. Noam trained as a clinical and developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst in both Europe and the United States. Dr. Noam has a strong interest in translating research and innovation to support resilience in youth in educational settings.
By Sam Piha
An important part of engaged learning is ensuring that the learning experience is active. We know that young people tend to be wiggly and need to be physically active and that they learn best when they are allowed to learn by “doing”. We also know that they are more difficult to manage when we allow them to be who they are, and hands-on projects are messier and pose greater challenges in planning and implementing activities. It is important that we accept the need for young people to be active learners and take on the challenge of designing activities that meet these needs.
What does new brain science tell us about active learning?
As the neuroimaging evidence has shown, the more a student is engaged in a learning activity, especially one with multiple sensory modalities, the more parts of his/her brain are actively stimulated. When this occurs in a positive emotional setting, without stress and anxiety, the result is greater long-term, relational, and retrievable learning.” – Dr. Judy Willis, Neurologist and Classroom Teacher
What ACTIVE learning looks like:
Four things program leaders can do to begin promoting active learning:
1. Explore and assess: It is important that you take the time with your staff to explore and assess your alignment with this first learning principle.
2. Project-based learning: If your program is lacking the use of this teaching and learning method, offer a training in project-based learning for your staff. Try adding one club that features project-based learning. The Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco, CA features a large number of project-based clubs for their middle school youth. They published a great guide entitled The Best of Both Worlds: Aligning Afterschool Programs with Youth Development Principles and Academic Standards. Click here to purchase.
3. Promoting positive behavior: When young people are physically active and engaged in hands-on activities, they become excited. It is important that program staff are skilled in behavior management, which is often the result of good training. You can contact Temescal Associates if you wish help in offering a training in promoting positive behavior.
4. Activity planning: Active learning requires that activities are carefully planned and the right materials are available to ensure the activity is a success. It can be very useful to require that program staff develop clear lesson plans that articulate the sequence of the activity and activity directions and list the needed materials. This takes time and it is important that the organization provides staff with training and additional time to develop these plans.
Below is a good program example of active learning:
Techbridge; Oakland, San Lorenzo, Fremont, and Concord School Districts; (Grades 6 – 8) Techbridge offers hands-on summer academies that inspire middle school youth (particularly girls and those underrepresented in STEM) a chance to explore science, technology, and engineering. Curriculum is developed with girls in mind, and includes projects like remotely operated vehicles where girls design and construct their own remotely operated boats and test them out on water; Electrical Engineering, where girls build solar night lights and learn to solder; Cleantech, where girls build solar cells and learn about renewable energy; and AppInventor, where students use creativity and technology to create their own Android app. In addition to the learning being very active, the youth also expand their horizons as staff provide career exploration to help students make the connection between STEM projects and careers. Role models and field trips are key to their success.
By Guest Blogger Rebecca Fabiano
Bryan Belknap has worked at the McPherson branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia since 2015. The McPherson branch provides a safe haven for children in the Kensington area of North Philadelphia, PA, which is known as the epicenter of the opioid crisis in Philadelphia. Bryan is the Lead Maker Jawn Instructor with the library. Jawn is a Philly colloquialism to mean just about anything (space, things, place, person, etc.). Monday through Thursday children and teens can drop in to the library’s Maker Jawn space.
I’ve known Bryan for a couple of years and hold him in high regard. Earlier this summer he dropped the term HOMAGO in one of our conversations “HO, what,” I thought? I had to know more. This is what I learned from our conversation where he schooled me on this framework:
“HO-MA-GO” comes from the field of youth media and is an approach that Bryan and his colleagues at the Free Library of Philadelphia have been utilizing for the past couple of years.
“HOMAGO fits well at this particular library because its structure provides a safe place for youth to be, and the neighborhood is often unsafe for residents of all ages,” says Bryan. He goes on to say: “Providing a safe place has always been the top priority, and you’re [youth] free to come in here and you can get comfortable here and feel safe here you can just come hang out. There’s no additional requirement other than contributing to the atmosphere of safety and welcoming.” And while Bryan received training on HOMAGO from the Free Library when he started, they’re not just using it related to youth media, but more an approach to youth engagement. HOMAGO is backed by research, which demonstrates high retention of learning, development of problem-solving skills, and critical thinking skills. Though they are a drop-in program, offering clubs and ‘free’ time in the Maker Jawn, the participants attendance tends to be cyclical, it is also predictable.
In fact, HOMAGO aligns well with the three core protective factors developed by using a Positive Youth Development framework: positive relationships (hang out), clear, fair and high expectations (mess around, understanding how to use the materials and tools) and opportunities to connect, navigate and to be productive (geek out). While I visited Bryan, I saw several of the projects the participants were working on including a jacket a young person had taught herself how to make through trial and error, getting to know how to use the sewing machine, watching YouTube videos and lots of encouragement.
To facilitate HOMAGO, they set up work stations with sewing machines, cardboard, hot glue guns with popsicle sticks, snap circuits are always out and something messy like slime or painting. There’s also a computer where youth can play video games, which they usually do in a small group huddled around the computer. Having these all out all the time, youth see each other messing around and get inspired to try new things.
Things to consider if you want to try HOMAGO at your drop-in or afterschool program:
· Learning and exploring is self-directed by the participants
· There’s a lot of organized chaos; what makes it organized is the clear expectations for how to use the space, the tools and materials.
Rebecca Fabiano, MS in education, is the founder and president of Fab Youth Philly, a small, woman-owned business that supports youth-serving organizations and serves as a lab to create programming for and with youth.
By Sam Piha
In Part 1 of The Science of Learning and Development, we discussed the importance of this new science. Below we continue our interview with Dr. Deborah Moroney. Dr. Moroney is the Managing Director at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), and she recently authored a briefing paper entitled, “The Science of Learning and Development in Afterschool Systems and Settings.”
On December 5th, 2019, Dr. Moroney will serve as our featured speaker at an upcoming Speaker’s Forum. She will be joined by Jeff Davis (California Afterschool Network), Dr. Femi Vance (AIR), and a youth worker and an afterschool participant from the All Stars Project of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Below is the continuation of our interview with Dr. Deborah Moroney.
Q: Your brief emphasizes the importance of relational settings. Can you describe what you mean by this?
A: I do think there is a lot to unpack in that term. First, we all can agree relationships are important – even primary to learning and development. No one disagrees with that, but we need to first make them explicit and define actionable strategies to bolster relationships to be meaningful, reciprocal, and mutually respectful. Many of us have had that one teacher or youth worker that changed our lives in some really big way. I certainly did – he was a counselor at a camp where I had a made-up apprenticeship after I aged out of the program. Not only did this counselor create an age appropriate way for me to engage in the camp, but he provided opportunities for me to be a leader in a scaffolded way, try new things, and build skills in areas I was interested in. We spent time daily reflecting on these experiences.
The first idea here is that relationships are intentional – and not the result of happy accidents. Secondly, relationships are more than a set of interactions. They take place in settings that offer the conditions for those relationships to thrive. Key characteristics of relational settings are those that offer both physical and emotional safety, where people’s cultures and identities are defining elements (as opposed to being acknowledged, at best), and that celebrate people’s strengths. High-quality afterschool settings are set up in their design to be relational settings. My friend David Osher and colleagues in the SoLD Alliance wrote a great paper on this – everyone should read it.
Q: One of your findings is “context is the defining influence on development.” Can you say more about what you mean by “context”?
A: The SoLD Alliance describes context as the world around us – our experiences, environments, and cultures (SoLD Alliance, 2019). I am not sure I can do any better than that in a paraphrase. In our brief, we pay special attention to cultural competence and responsiveness as a part of context – not because other parts are less important but because a) through our quality efforts we check a lot of the context boxes, and b) because this is an area where I think we all (not just afterschool but people who work with youth) can improve as culturally responsive settings are key to establishing and maintaining contexts that are equitable for all young people.
Q: What do you believe are the greatest opportunities for afterschool programs and systems implementing these important qualities you discuss in your brief?
A: First, I think we have an opportunity to capitalize on the afterschool systems we have already invested in. These systems were designed to support afterschool programs in implementing the design elements articulated in SoLD. Some of these gold star systems include the intermediaries involved in the Every Hour Counts partners and cities (including California’s Partnership for Children and Youth), the National Afterschool Association Affiliates (which includes CalSac) and the 50 Statewide Afterschool Network (such as the California Afterschool Network). The federally funded 21st Century Community Learning Centers to have the potential to adopt and implement components of SoLD as they have other innovations in afterschool. Again, I think California has a shining example of a statewide system that partners successfully with other intermediaries to provide valued services to local programs to promote quality implementation. So we need to learn from these systems and ensure that all afterschool programs are high quality, which is foundational to the other components of SoLD.
Second, we need to use these systems to promote the other aspects of SoLD where we need to grow (e.g., partnering with other service systems, developmental fit, cultural responsiveness) through professional development for staff.
Third, we need to support staff by providing them with stable career pathways and incentives for professional learning. We cannot continue to innovate as a field if we cannot support the adults who are so critical to fostering youth learning and development. We have an opportunity to up our game here on behalf of young people, but we have to start with staff.
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.