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.
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.