By Sam Piha
Jessica Tseming Fei, Deepa Sriya Vasudevan and Gretchen Brion-Meisels served as editors of At Our Best: Building Youth-Adult Partnerships in Out-of-School Time Settings. We interviewed them to ask about the forming of youth-adult partnerships in the era of COVID-19, social distancing, and distance learning. Their responses are below. (Note: In a future blog we will hear from them on their new book and more about youth-adult partnerships.)
Q: We know that one of OST’s superpowers is promoting positive adult-youth partnerships. With school closures and social distancing, promoting relationships can be very difficult in the era of distance learning. Can you comment on this?
A: Relationship-building in the era of distance learning can definitely be challenging. When we are physically apart from each other, maintaining a sense of togetherness with others requires intentional and robust efforts. This type of effort is necessary, though, for OST programs to continue playing a key role in young people’s learning and growth. Nurturing our sense of connection to people and places –– that represent community and care –– is essential for our mental health and well-being. Although the work can be daunting, this is an important opportunity for us to explore new ways of being in community and operating as collectives. It does take significant initiative, and perhaps a leap of faith, for adults to bring this sense of possibility in relationships to an online setting. Foror both adults and young people, it can feel strange and surreal to work closely together outside of the shared physical environments of their OST programs, both in continuing relationships and in starting new ones with summer programming.
Yet, with a lot of checking in (individually and with one another) about our experiences and how we can show up for one another, our relationships can become even more responsive and resilient. With creativity and commitment, the principles and practices of relationship-building that anchor our in-person OST settings can be translated into the virtual space. We’re confident that the promotion of relationships can remain a superpower of OST, and become an even more meaningful and purposeful part of our work.
Q: Given the difficulty of developing partnerships between youth and adults when they are interacting remotely, which children are at greatest risk?
A: In some ways, this time mirrors and exacerbates issues of access already happening in programs and schools. Having individual phones, laptops, and reliable internet connection, for example, are critical for continued relationship-building, and there are systemic discrepancies in access when it comes to these utilities.
In this particular time, many children and youth have parents who are essential workers - in healthcare, food, and sanitation. Older youth have had to step up in their caregiving responsibilities to younger siblings and may not feel like they have time to engage in synchronous structured programming or activities. At the same time, they may desire the routines and community that OST spaces provide. As educators, we have to recognize where we fit into the ecosystems of care right now, know that we might play a role in providing essential services, and also honor our roles as social and emotional support providers for our students and their families.
Most young people (and adults!) feel stressed or overwhelmed by the constraints of stay-at-home orders, distancing, and the trauma of lives lost during this pandemic. For youth in particularly vulnerable communities, this can be an even more difficult time, particularly for: youth with parents working outside the home in essential services or who are themselves working to support their families, youth experiencing mental health issues, illness, and physical disabilities, undocumented and mixed status families who have been excluded from government assistance, queer youth who may not be out or safe at home, incarcerated youth or youth in group homes, youth in uncertain home circumstances (e.g. foster care, domestic violence), and youth of color – particularly African-American youth, whose communities have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, and Asian-American youth, many of whom are experiencing increased violence due to anti-Asian racism and xenophobia.
Q: Can you state any strategies that programs are using to maintain and promote relationship building (adult-youth, youth-youth) in the era of COVID-19 restrictions?
A: At Sadie Nash Leadership Project, a community-based youth organization where Jessica serves as Director of Programs, educators have continued to use rituals like opening circles and games to sustain and deepen the interpersonal relationships between youth. Adults and youth engage together with prompts that invite vulnerability and storytelling—grappling together with topics that range from self-care to family life and coping with grief and loss. Group activities--for example, mindfulness activities, feminist fashion shows, and singing games--continue to create a sense of joy and healing that strengthens the bonds between individuals.
In addition, there are many ways to take collective action while socially distanced, and the processes around these actions can further fortify relationships and solidarities between groups. Throughout Sadie Nash programs, educators facilitate project-based work through which young people can enact their own visions, with support from peers and adults.
Recently, Sadie Nash has leveraged youth-adult partnerships to facilitate wellness events for LGBTQQIA+ college students and communities of color, develop awareness campaigns about the impacts of COVID on youth in foster care and on people experiencing domestic violence, and conduct outreach via social media about the Census. The organization has also expanded relationships by doing more parent/family engagement--offering support to whole households through workshops on financial planning, intergenerational game nights, and small grants that provide emergency financial assistance for basic necessities such as food, groceries, and rent. The overarching strategy has been to lean in to the program’s embeddedness in community--staying present in this collective experience, attuned to the differences in vulnerabilities, and rooted in the values that have long guided the organization.
We are encouraged by the flexibility and nimbleness of OST educators in response to this moment, and by the commitment to partnership-oriented relationships with young people that we have seen. At the same time, we recognize that OST educators and community-based organizations are particularly vulnerable right now, often providing significant physical and emotional labor without having the financial security that should accompany this. Keeping this in mind, we hope that funders understand their role in offering financial continuity and stability for programs that foster partnership. We also hope that adult program staff make intentional space for honest conversations, affirmations, and ongoing team building to buoy one another. For adults, supporting and caring for each other more holistically in these uncertain times can model the kinds of positive relationship-building we aspire to with our young people.
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.
By Sam Piha
The recent protests demanding racial equity have resulted in many supportive statements from afterschool intermediaries and providers marking a turning point, hopefully, in our country. We were inspired by the rally and march organized by youth at Oakland Technical High School (which is two blocks from my home). It was very successful and well attended- over 15,000 in attendance (read more here about how they did it). Oakland Tech High School has a strong history of student activism. Students from this high school
“Educators. This is a teachable moment. Don’t be afraid to teach about the meaning of justice and the murder of George Floyd by the police. Our students are watching.” -Pedro Noguera, UCLA
“It is not enough to acknowledge the inequities that exist. Now is the time to direct our collective outrage to create real change.” -Karen Niemi, President & CEO, CASEL
It is important that we educate ourselves and others and serve as allies and lend support to youth to take the lead on this issue. There are many resources being offered by OST organizations. Below are a few resources that may be helpful which were suggested by the California Afterschool Network (CAN).
“The out-of-school time field is one of liberation; it has always been a space fertile for the birthing and development of a future we have yet to behold. A future where the hearts of our children are on fire with possibilities, their minds are filled with images of wonder, their ears are filled with freedom songs and their bodies are FREE. Their bodies are FREE. FREE to live, to grow, to be.”- Isabelle Mussard, JD, Executive Director, CalSAC
By Sam Piha
(This blog was authored prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. At this point the decision to re-open schools in the Fall, and afterschool programs, is not yet clear. Thus, at the end of the blog, we list some suggestions on how youth can be involved in the Fall election digitally.)
The 2020 election offers a number of opportunities to engage older youth and with recent Black Lives Matters escalating efforts, there is no better time for youth to be involved in making a change through the ballot box. We can frame these efforts as “meaningful participation”, “civic engagement”, “youth leadership” or “community service”. There are a number of organizations and initiatives that have designed curriculums, program tools and other materials to assist afterschool providers in their efforts to engage youth in the 2020 election.
Did you know that young people can pre-register to vote at the age of 16-17? I didn’t, until I learned this from some of these materials below. There are a number of ways that youth can be involved in the 2020 election, even if they are not old enough to vote. These include sponsoring a voter registration event, supporting family and friend’s participation, uplifting stories and issues they care about, supporting a candidate’s campaign through volunteering or being part of the election process.
We asked Donny Faaliliu, Director of Leadership and Community Outreach with After-School All-Stars, Los Angeles, how they are planning to engage youth in the 2020 elections. He responded, "After-School All-Stars, Los Angeles plans to engage our high school students through our youth leadership programs. The expectations would be for each school to host informative meetings on campus to educate students to use their voice through the voting process. The Democracy Class curriculum will help us to accomplish this goal. This curriculum is user friendly and the activity plans are easy to follow. It is a great resource for students because it provides valuable information on voter education, registration and the importance of voter turn-out. The webinar trainings were also very helpful and informative on how to best maximize this wonderful resource."
We also learned about how teachers and youth workers can use a video by rapper, Yellopain, entitled, "My Vote Don't Count," which can be viewed by clicking on the image below.
Below are a number of resources that you can check out:
By Sam Piha
We know that young people missed a lot of classroom learning time when schools were closed due to the COVID-19 crisis. We also know that afterschool programs will likely be pressured to help make up for this classroom time that was lost. Afterschool programs may feel pressured to make up for these missed instructional minutes by doubling down on academics. But we know that afterschool programs have something much more important to offer. High quality afterschool programs specialize in positive relationships, safe and supportive environments, and engaging activities. All of these rejuvenating experiences will be essential to get students’ brains re-balanced and ready for learning after an incredibly disruptive spring and summer. We can anticipate that the transition to learning will be particularly hard for students who may be coming from unstable or stressful environments. Afterschool programs can play a vital role in supporting learning and well-being by focusing on their core areas of expertise and experience.
On May 18, 2020 we sponsored a webinar entitled, COVID-19 Era- Afterschool’s Whole Child Approach featuring Katie Brackenridge (Turnaround for Children) and Deborah Moroney (AIR). You can view a recording of the webinar here.
Katie offered Turnaround for Children's “3-R’s Framework” (Relationships, Routines, Resilience) to describe how we should prioritize our work when we re-open afterschool programs. Below she offered relevant practice examples:
Relationships: For example-
- Learn about your students’ lives.
- Talk to students one- on- one.
- Check-in with families.
- Run morning meetings/ advisories.
- Loop teachers for more than one year.
Routines: For example-
- Co-create and practice norms and routines.
- Keep it simple- clear instructions, written signs and non-verbal signals.
- Model ways to organize and prioritize tasks.
Resilience: For example-
- Liberally spread oxytocin with smiles, hugs and laughs.
- Be attuned to individual students’ emotions and reactions.
- Use mindfulness, journaling, movement to calm the brain.
Katie Brackenridge joined Turnaround for Children in 2019 as a Partnership Director. Katie has worked in and with schools, school districts and community organizations for her entire career. Before becoming a consultant, Katie was the Vice President of Programs at the Partnership for Children & Youth (PCY). Katie’s work is grounded in her nine-year experience as Co-Executive Director for the Jamestown Community Center, a grassroots youth organization in the Mission District of San Francisco.
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. 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.