As a father of two girls ages 7 and 10, married to an amazing educator of over 20 years, I have a 360-degree perspective of the teaching and learning experience. As a matter of fact, my 4th grade daughter is my wife's student. It's a complete family affair. Most people I share that with have an initial reaction of concern. The most common questions are, "How is that working out for your daughter? Isn't that weird for her? Does she feel challenged?" All these have merit. What this arrangement has created for our family is that we tend to continue the teaching and learning timeline at home.
This doesn't necessarily mean that the constructs of the school day are extended into our dining table or living room. It becomes more about expanding the subject matter, questions, activities, content, or curriculum, taking them in a variety of directions. Whether it's using origami to communicate lessons in geometry and structure integrity, talking about how biomimicry (the study of emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies) helps us become better designers, or appreciating the history behind the lyrics in Lin Manuel-Miranda's Hamilton, all of it has served as an immersive voyage into context, relevance, and meaning for our kids. The result of this approach has typically ended in them taking back what we expanded on as a family to enrich their learning during the regular school day.
My kids are lucky. As parents, we are also fortunate that our lives allow us to expand on the academic careers of our children. As a teacher, my wife knows she has a champion that ensures that the hard work she puts into the classroom is not gone to waste. In many ways, my family IS the village that we so often talk about in education.
Many kids are not this lucky. Many parents are not this fortunate. Many teachers do not have someone further inspiring what they started.
In 2002, I was offered the opportunity to help start what would be a series of afterschool programs in the City of Los Angeles. Alongside an amazing group of change-makers, we launched the After-School All-Stars program in East and South Central Los Angeles. These neighborhoods sit in unincorporated areas of the city, meaning that they are under-resourced, under-represented, and had definitely fallen behind in a "No Child Left Behind" era. These neighborhoods had suffered years, and one dare say a generation, of low expectations and high rates of poverty and crime. Looking back, it was easy to see the skepticism school principals had when we first arrived on the scene. These particular schools had seen their share of "help" coming in, and just as quickly head out. Teachers and school leaders had very few champions they could lean on. Students had grown accustomed to adults promising more and delivering less. Kids here had few other adults in their lives, as their parents were busy helping their families survive in the literal sense! Parents in these communities felt the helplessness of not having the ability to talk about what their children were experiencing during school. Kids weren't that lucky. Parents were not that fortunate. Teachers had no champions.
A colleague of mine made a keen observation early in the lifecycle of our programs quoting that "two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time". Basic law of physics. This same law existed on the blacktops of these two schools. Our job was to drive out the negative culture that was so prominent by being steadfast and committed to making a difference on these campuses. In doing so, we had the opportunity of changing the feel of the community. Think about that for a moment. For a program to enter neighborhoods such as these and set sights on transforming their aspirations and expectations was a tall order indeed, but it happened.
It started with engaging youth and their attitudes about what it means to learn. Standardized tests do not account for this. It continued with staff walking into an empty and run down school auditorium with the belief that they could fill the space with students and their families (something the school day had seldom seen). You had to be at this event for it to be "demonstrable". It was in moments that included a staff member having the vision of taking a handful of beat up acoustic guitars and grow the idea to become a nationally recognized rock music program. As programs grew from 3, 7, 10, 21, 34, and eventually 54 school sites, programs that our current White House administration claims as having no impact have resulted in students and school day leaders giving direct credit to programs like After-School All-Stars for their high school success, college entry AND graduation, with youth appreciating how we set them up for a lifetime of prosperity and giving back.
The stories are too many to keep up with. A young lady without a voice finding it in the All-Stars of Rock music program, building up her courage and vision all the way to a Yale Education. It was evident in a young man's memory of the program being the first place where he had a desk to do homework (home only offered the floor). That young man is now sitting at a school desk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Another is the story of a young lady who thought our site leader's idea of her picking up basketball was a joke. There's nothing funny about her full athletic scholarship to Cal Berkley where she was one of the stars of the Pac 12 division of schools, playing basketball for the Cal Bears. She can look at the basketball she now dribbles for the Atlanta Dream and laugh at the irony of it all. You can see it in a young man out of South Florida who's on a mission to become a police officer, finish college, get into law school, and then the White House. Looking back, he shares, "After-School All-Stars helped me deal with my anger. I started writing poetry and played football. So through afterschool, I was actually working with my anger constructively. I was a lot happier." Part of his White House journey has begun with him meeting the former First Lady Michelle Obama during a summer experience with After-School All-Stars.
As programs like ours continue, so do the stories. More and more of our alumni are coming back with narratives influenced by our program's ability to expand their learning. Fast-forward to the NOW, we are standing at the cross roads of a revolution in what it means to prepare a young person for the future. More and more businesses are asking our educational institutions to expand the definition of what it means to learn. Scour the web and you will find a collection of credible research and articles asking questions such as, "We're Graduating More Students Than Ever, but Are They Prepared for Life After High School?" (Slate.com/ Laura Moser – April 2016).
Google cites intangibles when considering future employees. They call it "Googleyness" and it includes attributes like enjoying fun (who doesn't), a certain dose of intellectual humility (it's hard to learn if you can't admit that you might be wrong), a strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees), comfort with ambiguity (we don't know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google internally requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity), and evidence that you've taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life.
Enrichment programs that include coding, video game design, makerspace, and entrepreneurship all have elements of ambiguity and a high need for collaboration and problem solving strategies. All this requires an expansion of the teaching and learning norms that we're familiar with. The new economy is pushing for new ways to facilitate the success of our students. Innovation does not look at test scores, homework completion, and compliance. The future calls our young people to take risks in their learning, to go after things that others think as impossible or unlikely, and to think oneself as the solution to today's and tomorrow's challenges. It requires expanding the definition of success. This calls for a village of adults that youth can count on, champions that teachers can lean on, and people that serve as an extension of a parent's concern for the academic and social wellbeing of their children.
As a leader of a national non-profit committed to expanding the opportunities of youth across the country through afterschool programs, it is imperative that the current administration do the following:
I look back at After-School All-Stars and think about how lucky students have been in having the opportunity to expand their academic experiences. I think back at how fortunate parents have been to know they can provide for their families without worry for the safety and development of their children. I think of school teachers that look at afterschool practitioners as having their back, trusting that the learning continues after the school bell rings.
We all know it take a village. Does our leadership really believe that taking away the village is the answer? If so, then village needs to stand up and say, "not on my watch!"
For breakfast I had an omelette, fresh fruit, and an iced coffee!
Imagine if we, above all else, prioritized creating a more connected world. If we blend and integrate our passions, what innovations will we discover? What challenges would we overcome?
To celebrate National Nutrition Month, this article explores how local agriculture can help foster social connectedness.
To do this, I spoke with youth and adults representing urban and rural communities, non-profits, business and government and education agencies. Each brings a perspective that explores linkages to the built environment, education, youth engagement, workforce and inclusion.
I hope you find this exploration inspiring and enlightening. Perhaps you will identify a new partner or a new connection for your work.
My first two questions were for Lindsey Piant-Perez, Senior Architect and Southeast Sustainability Leader at DLR Group. Lindsey has been with DLR Group for 12 years and recently received a DLR Group Professional Development Grant to implement a garden-to-table project at Trinity Lutheran School in Orlando.
As both a parent of a young child and an accomplished architect, why do you think designing experiences that bring people together in nature is essential?
Lindsey: It always amazes me how much children naturally want to explore their environment. They like touching dirt, bugs, they look up to the sky often and truly notice the world around them. Architects focus on "what can be" about the built environment and how spaces can foster personalized learning. When we integrate indoor and outdoor environments and allow educators to bring learning concepts to life, there is a profound impact on performance.
How can the built environment create stronger families and communities?
Lindsey: A personal goal I have for my garden-to-table project is to explore how the school garden finds its way home. Will the garden influence kids in their eating habits? Will kids ask their parents to start a windowsill or backyard garden? I would love to see parents get involved with our garden; imagine if parents tended the garden with their child prior to heading home. Would that that experience reduce stress for the caregiver? Would it bring the parent and child closer?
My next two questions were for Erica Walther, Farm to School Specialist with the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education.
Tell me more about Farm to School efforts in DC and what excites you about your work.
Erica: Farm field trips are a big push for us right now and we provide grant funding to schools and community organizations to take students on trips to farms in DC, Maryland and Virginia. The DC Farm to School Network is working to create opportunities to convene champions and promote dialogue. We also actively celebrate our achievements in getting local food into school meals. We are in our fourth year of collecting data from schools on the local foods they are purchasing and serving. This allows us to track trends in local food procurement and expands our network of farmers and distributors that grow and sell locally sourced items to schools.
What role do you think connecting children with local agriculture plays in educating them about global issues like health, safety and food insecurity?
A huge one and it's one of the reasons I love coming to work every day! Children are the future of our country; we cannot wait to help them build healthy habits and play a role in our community. I see local agriculture as a way to get children excited about eating healthy because they can connect directly with where their food comes from. They can pull a carrot from their school garden, harvest kale at a DC-based farm and meet a herd of cattle in Maryland. We see students react positively when they taste those items on-site, get to ask questions and learn about different agriculture practices.
To learn more about both farm to school as well as farm to afterschool, I turned to the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). According to Clarissa Hayes, Child Nutrition Policy Analyst at FRAC, using local foods in summer and afterschool programming not only improves the quality of meals served but also strengthens connections to the farming community.
FRAC's Fresh from the Farm Guide explains that locally based agriculture marketing not only helps local economies by providing jobs and keeping farm sales within communities, but keeps working agricultural land open and gives local farmers an opportunity to play a role in nutrition enrichment.
To explore the linkage to youth leadership and service-learning, I had the opportunity to speak with two student officers for Minnesota Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) and their advisor.
FCCLA Advisor Tammy Borman has been involved with FCCLA for 15 years. Tammy states she "highly encourages teachers to look for opportunities to engage students in service-learning based on community needs children themselves have identified."
Mya Christensen, State President Elect has been involved for six years. She shared how being part of FCCLA has given her an opportunity to learn advocacy skills, make new friends and get out of her comfort zone by speaking in public.
When I asked Mya why she and other students should be involved in service-learning, she shared, "I think that it is important for students to be actively involved in service-learning projects because it helps them learn skills that are important to not only provide a positive impact on themselves, but also provide a positive impact on their communities."
Mya also shared two programs of FCCLA focused on health, wellness and food insecurity. Student Body, a program that helps members develop healthy living skills and Lead2Feed, FCCLA's national outreach program that teaches students how to help with hunger locally and globally.
I also spoke with the Minnesota FCCLA State Secretary, Johannah Nielsen for advice on involving students. Johannah shared, "Be persistent and patient because it can sometimes be a challenge to get students involved, but it all pays off greatly in the end... Every student has different interests, so planning diverse service projects that are fun and engaging is always a good idea."
LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT
Creating opportunities to link children to local agriculture takes political champions, including local government. My next two questions went to Nancy Thellman, who works for Douglas County, Kansas as a County Commissioner.
Workforce development is a critical issue in our country. In your experience, how can connecting children with nature and local agriculture encourage them to pursue careers in farming and food production?
Nancy: Meeting farmers, especially young farmers, opens kids' eyes to a variety of careers that most have never thought of. There is a whole world of food-related work that doesn't necessarily require owning land or planting a single seed, including marketing, processing and distributing, culinary arts, food system planning and policy work. Food and agriculture offer a remarkable job sector that can be low-tech or high-tech, rural or urban, part-time or full-time, first career or second, third or fourth!
Do you think this linkage helps foster greater understanding of global issues like food insecurity, safety and health?
Nancy: Kids have a natural sense of what's fair and what's not fair. They know people shouldn't go hungry. Kids know people would rather be well than sick. Helping them understand how access to healthy food is part of the equation for solving hunger and improving health. Wouldn't it be great if our local farmers could be heroes in kids' eyes?
Providing a more urban perspective, I asked Sean Madden, Transition Coordinator for St. Louis YouthBuild: Workforce development is a critical issue in our country. In your experience, how can connecting children with nature and local agriculture encourage them to pursue trade school or higher education?
Sean: Connecting children with nature and local agriculture goes a long way towards reinforcing energy conservation, a need for a greener economy and nurturing a greater understanding of global issues. Teaching young people how to be urban farmers has been one of the many focuses of two local St. Louis organizations called Gateway Greening and Earth Dance Farms in Ferguson, Missouri. Introducing more students to aspects of a green economy allows them to see a different career pipeline after high school.
INCLUSION AND DIVERSITY
Ultimately, outdoor experiences and linkages to nature are only as impactful as they are inclusive. To round out the conversation with tips on inclusion, I spoke with Lori Watkins, Coordinator of Recreation for the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama who regularly coordinates hunting camps for individuals with disabilities.
Acknowledging that making outdoor activities inclusive can be intimidating, Lori offered the following recommendations:
Thank you to everyone who contributed to this discussion. It is my hope that these diverse perspectives help you identify additional partnerships and resources through which you can leverage local agriculture to create a more connected world.
To read extended interviews and join the conversation, visit the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Healthy Out-of-School Time blog.
For breakfast I had coffee, yogurt, berries and granola.
What can after school programs do to support children who are experiencing fears related to the impacts of deportation? Many of our programs work with children and families who have deep fears about the changing immigration climate and increased deportations. Knowing what to do to support students and families on these issues can be hard for staff. They want to help but do not have expertise in this area. They also want to know what is ok to say and do in their role.
Here are some actions that can be taken in in partnership with our school districts to address these new immigration issues. In developing this list, I relied heavily on the resources of Teaching Tolerance.
1. Issue a program-wide statement in multiple languages indicating that the program is a safe and welcoming environment for all students.
2. Focus on building inclusive environments to reinforce the feeling of safety and security. This could range from establishing classroom ground rules to anti-bullying programs to creating time each day for students to express themselves in a safe environment.
3. Support staff in how to speak to students. Staff should let them know that they have a right to a safe educational environment. Staff can also let students know that it is ok to be confused or scared and that there are resources available to support them. It is, however, also important staff not make promises that cannot be kept in this uncertain environment.
4. Create a bilingual list of community organizations who provide resources, counseling, and support on immigration issues. This can then serve as a referral list for when issues arise.
5. Provide materials and community resources that support families in knowing their rights. Many communities also have organizations that are holding workshops on these issues that you can share with your families. Here are some additional sources of information on immigration rights as they pertain to schools:
6. Identify a bilingual staff member to be a resource for families around these issues.
7. Work with the school to provide counseling and support to students who have had a family member deported.
8. Provide support for staff and time for them to talk about these complex issues.
For everyone working in Expanded Learning programs, you are providing a safe and vital environment to all children and families. You help students feel safe, supported, and heard which is so vital now.
For breakfast I had toast with jalapeno cream cheese, a cutie, and coffee.
Designing welcoming environments for children and families has never been more important.
Let's look at some statistics and then talk action!
When reading these statistics, it's easy to feel discouraged. But – AFTERSCHOOL IS POWERFUL.
Imagine if we energize the 10.2 million children attending afterschool programs to feel a greater sense of connectedness and responsibility for each other and their communities.
Inspired by a recent visit I made to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPAD), below are four activities to try this month to foster inclusive and welcoming environments. I've also intentionally blended these activities with the National AfterSchool Association (NAA) Standards for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity because a healthy afterschool site should always be an inclusive site.
1. Lead a Site Walk-through
Gather staff and students to lead an inclusion-focused walk-through of your afterschool site. If you operate on school grounds, invite school administration to join you. If you're a recreation agency, invite someone from your city council to join you. Before a child or family member even walks through your front door, what small changes can you make to ensure they feel welcome?
What opportunities will you uncover on your walk? Here are some ideas:
One new solution might be to create a fun and active trail made with Alliance for a Healthier Generation task cards leading up to your front door. Print, laminate and post activities using paint sticks. It'll add color and movement to your site while making a statement that something fresh and engaging happens inside!
Why not ask teens to design an "all about me" welcome bulletin board that features site staff and their favorite physical activities or hobbies. Integrate this activity into new volunteer or staff on-boarding to reinforce that your program prioritizes healthy role-modeling.
Keep the creativity flowing and help new students feel included by providing clear and vibrant signage. Decorate water fountains, hang encouraging stairwell signs and make it the norm to dance from point A to point B. In a challenging world, filling our afterschool programs with art, music and movement can provide a much needed oasis for children who may not otherwise have it.
A site walk-through gives children the opportunity to express their creativity and take ownership of the physical space of their afterschool site where they can find places to "absorb, act and show". Invite in-school staff to collaborate with afterschool staff and work together, especially if you share space. Consider putting a shared use agreement in place to make your efforts more sustainable.
Invite maintenance staff to participate so they understand your program goals. Something as simple as requesting light bulbs to be replaced can make it easier for children with disabilities, brighten up dark corners and encourage stairwell usage. Why not partner with your local creative community to paint a mural with positive and healthy messages? Not sure how to get plugged in? Check out a Creative Mornings event. A service-learning grant could help make it happen and a local art store might donate supplies and talent.
Combine intentionality and spring-cleaning and who knows what inspired materials you'll find in your supply closet!
2. Make Daily Cooperative Physical Activity the Norm
It doesn't matter if your program is focused on STEM or homework help, starting your program day with an inclusive brain booster can help children get active, clear their mind and foster connectedness. Make rainy days cooperative days even if they catch you by surprise. Create your own collection of favorite energizers so it's easier for children to help staff select activities that meet best practices.
Make this practice sustainable by adopting a wellness policy that ensures all program time begins with physical activity. Add cooperative physical activities to staff meetings and family events too for consistent messaging and role-modeling.
Avoid games with elimination elements that might target children who are new or different. Never run out of ideas by hosting your own do-it-yourself brain booster activity. Commit to never playing games like dodgeball – ever.
Daily cooperative activities give children an opportunity to learn, practice and develop a life-long love of movement. Cooperative games also make it easier for children to share in leadership.
3. Build Community through Healthy Snacks and Meals
If you serve afterschool snacks, meals or summer meals, promote dialogue and discussion through intentional conversations and activities. Structured mealtimes prevent small cliques from forming. Pay attention to needs of children with physical disabilities who many need accommodations. As you plan for summer meals, consider how new partners can spread the word, such as healthcare providers, the faith community and social service agencies who can help you reach a broader audience.
Let shared food experiences show youth how to identify commonalities with their peers and community members. Taste tests and potlucks at family events create space for families to get to know each other, share culture and traditions of cooking, meal times or even food preservation.
4. Build a Movement through Partnerships with Purpose
From maintenance staff willing to replace your light bulb to a police officer who likes to Zumba, creating healthy inclusive communities requires all of us. Learning how to work together can be the most challenging part. Begin staff meetings with intentional icebreakers to help staff connect on a personal and professional level.
Ensure your social media reflects families that you want to recruit into your program and depicts an inclusive environment.
Imagine the world we could create if we harnessed the power of the 10.2 million children who attend afterschool programs. That potential grows if we involve passionate staff, unconventional partners and extended families. We can accomplish a lot in afterschool, from health and wellness to STEM, but our impact will only be as strong as our ability to be inclusive and welcoming.
For breakfast I had a coffee and two clementines.
Community gardens serve as a place-based tool for connection, empowerment, and cultural identity. Today, more gardens are popping up in school yards, in vacant lots, nonprofits, and housing developments. Educators are using gardens as creative and holistic tools for teaching beyond the walls of the classroom.
In 2014, I wrote the piece, Using Gardens as Classrooms and shared how educators can use garden-based learning in formal and informal education settings with resources related to academic enrichment, family and community connections, storytelling, intergenerational relationships, and ecological sustainability. As I continue in my work with community gardens and youth programs in my own community, I came across this article by Margaret Lamar from the Children and Nature Network. She eloquently shares that, “natural green spaces are only part of a very complex set of solutions to our divisions, but perhaps they can provide some of the conditions for our coming together–to know one another, to see each other, to tell our stories, and to learn to live and thrive together.” She next poses ten questions for educators to consider as we use nature as a tool for change. Today, I will use two of her questions to shape the resources shared in this post:
Question 4: How can we use nature or outdoor programming to encourage cross-cultural exchange and community-based youth leadership?
Question 9: How can the smallest community gardens and the largest botanical gardens foster connections among cultural traditions, food, and multi-generational wisdom?
Because gardens produce vibrant and tasteful foods, one idea to celebrate the diversity of your community is to hold a garden feast. During this event, you can invite members of your community to bring a fresh dish from their culture. Provide conversation starters on tables that encourage cross-cultural exchange. In addition to the meal, you can plan music, art, or wellness activities that connect to different heritages. The Regional Park District in Oakland, CA set a good example for the intentionality of bringing community groups together by holding multicultural wellness walks and trail days.
My hope is that these resources can empower your education community to use gardens as a place where the exchange of culture comes to life and participants continue to see the world through all lenses. The ideas are endless! Everything from a pumpkin exchange to a community garden feast can build social connection and capital, increase skills and knowledge, improve our mental and physical welfare, and can be a positive tool for change.
For breakfast, I had hard boiled eggs, a banana, and iced coffee.