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It's 2017 and here's what we're up against: A billionaire Secretary of Education is committed to dismantling public education as we know it. The White House is targeting immigrants, many of whom are Latino and Asian families living in the communities we serve. A Congressional majority is determined to repeal the Affordable Care Act and reduce Medicaid, both of which provide the only healthcare insurance available to many of the families of the children who attend our programs.

A Department of Agriculture Secretary nominee is recommending eliminating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), free and reduced price meals and summer meal programs – the food so many children and young people in our programs depend on. Federal 21st Century Community Learning Centers funding may be an easy next step. And the list goes on.

I'm all about doing our best to prevent these things from happening, and I devote part each day to doing this. I also am painfully aware of the fact that the challenges ahead are compounded by the demands we already face. At the state and local levels, new minimum wage laws are increasing program costs each year.

 

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I am clear about the seriousness of all of this, but I outright reject reducing the number of students who can attend our programs. I believe this is outrageous, unacceptable, irresponsible – and unnecessary. I won't look a child or his or her parents in the eye and say I'm sorry you can't be in our program anymore. Will you? We can, and must, do better! If you haven't done so already, the first step is to stop the overdependence that you may have on federal support.

It's been almost 15 years since the first edition of Securing Balanced, Diversified and Sustainable Funding for Afterschool Programs: Ten Steps to Success was published. This article has appeared on hundreds of websites. Thousands of program directors and others have attended my workshops. And many of the CEOs and District Administrators I've had the privilege of working with have positioned themselves to weather any financial storm now or in the future. You can, too!

The premise is simple, replicable, socially responsible, fiscally prudent and politically attractive. The argument is compelling to funders and the strategies have proven to make all the difference in whether programs achieve their potential or come up short financially. You can download a free copy at www.afterschoolsolutions.org. Children can't wait and neither should we. Let's keep co-creating the future together!

For breakfast I had yogurt, blueberries, granola and coffee between social media advocacy and calls to Washington, DC.

Published in Breakfast Club

Under normal circumstances, I'm not one to be political in a public and professional forum, but really, I'm in need of some writing therapy. Every day, I read the latest news story about another negative appointment to the President- elect's cabinet. Who knew there were so many people who both seem to despise the role of government AND also want to lead it? While alarming, those aren't even the most upsetting parts of my daily doldrums. What really brings me down are the escalating stories about racist attacks on a whole array of people who are part of the fabric and heart of this country. Apparently freed by Donald Trump's purposefully divisive and unimaginably offensive comments, far too many people are letting lose what they really think.

To battle my dark cloud, I have three shining lights that brighten my day:

1) California.
2) Expanded learning programs and staff who make a difference in the lives of young people.
3) The amazing young people who will be that difference.

The day after the election, the Partnership for Children & Youth co-hosted a public seminar on social-emotional learning in Sacramento. Driving up from Oakland that morning, I couldn't think past the previous night's unbelievable disappointment. I also assumed there would be zero attendance at the seminar.

Much to my surprise, the room was packed with energetic people, eager to be positive, forward-thinking and impactful. Love California! (If you haven't already, please read this inspiring statement from the California Legislature.) The conversation about social-emotional learning was certainly timely – what stronger call to action than the election of a person who lacks the most basic skills around self-management, social awareness, growth mindset, etc. As you can imagine, the conversation was rich. It focused on the educational imperative to go beyond testing and academics, and to intentionally and effectively support students in building the skills they will need to be responsible, inclusive and active citizens. These citizens – with stronger critical thinking skills and experience as leaders - can work together to build and maintain a positive community for everyone.

SEL circle

Expanded learning was a primary player in this conversation. With deep roots in youth development, expanded learning programs help young people understand their potential and reach for it. Staff, like you, are deeply committed to creating safe spaces, giving kids the opportunity to learn and practice skills, encouraging their ideas and actions, and teaching them about their impact on each other and the world. The essence of youth worker skill is captured in the CDE's quality standards that clearly define what we're doing to make young people feel "I am, I belong, I can" – the essence of SEL skills as defined by your peers in "Student Success Comes Full Circle." Thank you, ELO staff. You are nurturing the next and better generation.

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My 16-year-old daughter cried the night Trump won. But, she woke up in the morning with a smile and the realization that she'll be 18 and eligible to vote in the mid-term election. And then there's my favorite map from the election – showing the beautiful blue voting patterns of 18 to 25-year-olds. Watch out, Trump! There are a lot of smart, extremely motivated young women and men eager to mess with your agenda. Amazing young people who will be the difference!

 

For breakfast, I've been adding extra sugar in my coffee, hoping to get rid of the bitter taste in my mouth. 

Published in Breakfast Club

A crazy thing happened November the eighth
That boggled my senses and battered my faith
In the goodness of people, the size of our brains,
To vote for a con man who rants and complains
That the reason your life isn't all it should be
Is because of some Syrian war refugee.

Who knew that the best way to win an election
Was wage a campaign filled with hate and rejection?
His words were as racist as racism gets,
There were times I could swear he contracted Tourette's.
When NASCAR decides to remove you from branding
It's likely your rhetoric's less than outstanding.

Reality shows fanned the flames of his fame,
So he ventured to run on the strength of his name
Which he values at right around three-point-three billion
(Though Bloomberg would price it at thirty-five million).
Whatever it's worth I'd prefer not to use it
Because if I did I'd most likely abuse it
And as we all know, if he sees it he sues it.

He promised that he'd make America great again.
"You'll all feel such pride when your egos inflate again,"
As if we were suffering from low self-esteem.
He stepped to the mic and said, "I have a dream!
And this dream that I have is to build a Great Wall
That's a thousand miles wide and a hundred feet tall
And the Mexican people will pay for it all."

The first to confront him was fair Megyn Kelly,
Who quoted his slurs but like old Machiavelli
He went for the jugular, speaking of blood,
And begged us to join him down there in the mud
Where his outrageous comments made headlines each day,
And as much as we knew we should all look away
We'd come back once again just to hear what he'd say.

He was media gold; his face was so prevalent,
Sporting a smirk so completely malevolent,
Any opponent who'd dare be benevolent
Soon sunk as low as their lowest low level went.
Of the dozen or so who threw hats in the ring
There were none hurling insults with similar sting.

The name-calling started and taunts quickly spread
First to poor Little Marco and then Lyin' Ted.
Jeb Bush was low energy, Carly too plain,
Chris Christie surrendered and boarded the train.
A new low was reached when the man contemplated
If Ben Carson's type should be killed or castrated.

Everything out of his mouth was so wacky
That Huckabee, Jindal, Santorum, Pataki,
John Kasich, Jim Gilmore, and even Rand Paul
Just withered and shrunk from this Neanderthal
As if none could believe that his venom and gall
Had become the accepted debate protocol.

People opined that he's not presidential,
A characteristic quite inconsequential
To voters in places like South Carolina,
Who agonize that the Republic of China
Has taken our jobs; a practice promoted for
Billionaires just like the one they just voted for.

His delegate count grew to scary proportions
Endorsing a ban on the right to abortions,
And vowing to arm all the teachers in schools
Right after defunding alternative fuels
And putting a stop to this climate change hoax,
But first reassuring those not funny folks
Making "small hands" the stuff of their sick Twitter jokes,
He was packing zucchini and two artichokes.

In May, when his win was considered presumptive
The democrats cheered, "Their whole party's defunct if
They think this buffoon stands a miniscule chance
Of persuading the country with that song and dance!"
But something transpired the left couldn't see
As they watched through the lens of MSNBC.

Though most of his backers preferred to stay silent
He warned that a loss might just turn them all violent,
And then we'd be dealing with riotous mobs
Who are better prepared than you know-it-all snobs
(Who can tolerate Muslims who wear those hijabs)
To engage in a fight when the spit hits the fan
And it's time to enact your survivalist plan.

When conventions were over and tickets were chosen
(Scott Baio's career path was briefly unfrozen)
Republican leaders withheld their endorsements.
Paul Ryan admonished, "Don't back the wrong horse, gents.
We'll wait 'til he begs us to send reinforcements.
You won't see me jump like that sucker Mike Pence.
As for now, I'm quite comfortable perched on this fence."

And now it was time to start mudslinging Hillary.
"I don't like her look and her voice is too shrillery.
She may have support in the 'hood and the barrio
But middle-aged women think Bill's a lothario.
We'll shout like a squadron of crazed kamikaze,
'Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi!'"

He stood with the troops and said, "I've got your sixes.
This ISIS has never seen my bag of trickses.
The thing I can tell you about politics is
If Hillary wins, that's when ISIS relaxes.
You put me in charge and they'll all watch their backses.
I support you completely (just not with my taxes)." 

When asked who'd advise him on matters of policy
His answers did not quite engender the solace we
Hoped we might find as we sought some relief
From the thought of this guy as Commander-in-Chief.
He said he was born with a really good brain,
So relying on instincts he'd soon ascertain
The most perfect solutions then toast with champagne.

And then came the bromance with Vladimir Putin
Whose mind he admires like Sir Isaac Newton.
He claimed they'd have meetings he'd be resolute in
And probably wear a nice Calvin Klein suit in
Surrounded by bowls to put lots of fresh fruit in
(Putin stays fit by abstaining from gluten).

But then it was finally time to display
If this blowhard had something substantial to say.
Fox News was the host of the first big debate
And before the whole nation this junior lightweight
Was invited to offer some semblance of proof
His campaign wasn't all some elaborate spoof
That would end with him flipping the bird for a goof.

While he may be hard pressed to find Uzbekistan
And refused to renounce the support of the Klan
He proved quite adept at creating distortions
With overly magnified facial contortions.
And though she succeeded in stomping his gojis
He did invent seventeen brand new emojis.

By the final debate he'd become such a mocker
She couldn't cross stage without having him stalk her.
The discourse they shared was a far cry from elegant,
Worse than the script of a telenovela went.
Hillary's barbs were just passive aggressive,
Provoking retorts that were downright regressive.
"I'm rubber, you're glue," sounded less than impressive.

They caught him on tape with his "locker room" talk
That would put any candidate's head on the block,
But I guess it takes more than molesting some women
To change a small mind that two brain cells might swim in.
He said, "They're just words," not disgusting debauchery.
Perhaps he enjoys getting grabbed by his crotchery.

When the day finally came for the votes to be counted
It seemed her advantage could not be surmounted.
The pundits for both parties prognosticated
That once all the ballots had been tabulated
This hated, fixated, conflated, X-rated,
And thoroughly, utterly unmitigated
Imposter would NEVER be inaugurated.

But then something happened distinctly unthinkable.
It turned out the Kool-Aid was perfectly drinkable.
We watched as the map got progressively redder
With poor Rachel Maddow appearing half-dead her
Historic night drowning in Wisconsin cheddar.
Even Republicans seemed to be thinking
"Did we just elect him or have I been drinking?"

We woke the next morning still earnestly wondering,
"Did we just witness electoral blundering?"
Perhaps it was all just a terrible dream
And maybe I don't have to let out a scream,
Or regurgitate using the Heimlich maneuver,
Then ask for a visa to live in Vancouver.

We opened our browsers and then it sunk in.
She really did lose and he really did win.
We could hate it, bewail it, lament it, or curse it,
But nothing on Earth could begin to reverse it.
The only thing left was endeavor somehow
To get up out of bed and consider, "What now?"

As I looked in the mirror I happened to see
A reflection that made me reflect, "Golly gee,
All those people who voted for him look like me!"
I was greatly concerned that I might be mistaken
For dudes who vote right and then toast with some bacon.
And it might just be possible that I deserve it if
I don't take steps to appear less conservative.

I thought about how I might change my appearance
To hide any trace of the slightest coherence
With crackers who have no intelligence clearance.
Should I think about dying my hair a bright blue?
Or perhaps get a prominent rainbow tattoo?
I wished I could show all the people around me,
Especially those whose opinions confound me,
That I'd never side with the side that just clowned me.

But then I heard President Barack Obama.
For eight years he's made me so proud of my mama
Who raised me to listen and judge what I hear
By one's words and convictions and let disappear
The distractions of color and accent and fear
Of a person who doesn't seem typical here.

And he asked that this man be permitted his chance.
He may be more pomp than he is circumstance
But he won fair and square and if you look askance
When he takes the high office, well, that is your right.
You can say what you want in this country and fight
To defeat him when he reappears in four years;
Fight with your blood and your sweat and your tears,
And if that doesn't work maybe drink a few beers.

My tolerance, on which I place a high value,
Has forced me to pause and to ask myself, "Shall you
Attempt to relate to the folks who oppose you?
Or will you just stick with the peer group who knows you?"
It's safer to feel like a highbrow superior
Than heed the critique of our nation's interior.

I have to admit that I've often colluded
With friends whose "enlightenment" kept us secluded
From hicks we deemed thick headed, as perhaps you did,
Dismissing their rancor which therefore precluded
A meeting of minds and so onward we feuded.
I'm guilty. I'm sorry (this poem excluded).

The great Aristotle once philosophized
That the mark of a person who's self-realized
Is a keenness to ponder, without reservation,
A concept one feels warrants denunciation.
As much as I loathe him, the truth it must be
That if I close my mind I'm no better than he.

My son is just eight but already perceives
The great sadness his parents are feeling and grieves
That we ruined the world by electing this man.
So I try to deliver what comfort I can
And remind him the future is always unsure,
And while things don't occur as we'd always prefer
We can always be proud we proclaimed, "I'm with her!"

Published with the author's permission. 

Published in Breakfast Club

The third issue of the Journal of Expanded Learning Opportunities (JELO) has arrived! This spring issue launched at the 2016 BOOST conference and features a conversation about quality programming in afterschool, an article on the role that social emotional learning can play to close the achievement and learning gaps, and an article focusing on the links between professional development and quality STEM learning experiences. You can visit last week's installment about social emotional learning and today, we invite you into a researcher and practitioner conversation.

The expanded learning field continues to bring multiple stakeholders together to advance program quality and research. In this issue of the JELO, we talk to Carol McElvain, J.D. from the American Institutes for Research (AIR) and Michael Funk from the California Department of Education (CDE) about their ideas on program quality in the expanded learning field. Ms. McElvain is the Managing Technical Assistance Consultant at AIR. She directs AIR's expanded learning work, focusing on providing research-based, high-quality training, and professional development, and disseminating research results and policy reports to diverse audiences in the public education sector throughout the country. Mr. Funk is Director of the After School Division (ASD) at CDE. He led the development of a strategic plan for the ASD, building upon expanded learning to create programs that maximize outcomes for youth, families, school, and communities. This work led to the development and implementation of California's Quality Standards for Expanded Learning Programs in 2014. Prior to his current work at CDE, Mr. Funk was the founder and executive director of the Sunset Neighborhood Beacon Center in San Francisco for two decades. He also started Experience Corps and Aspiranet Oakland Afterschool.

Ms. McElvain is representing the researcher perspective and Mr. Funk is representing the practitioner perspective. Following their responses below, both Ms. McElvain and Mr. Funk share their reflections on each other's perspectives, revealing a common vision to move the great work of this field forward.

 

Many states have developed and adopted quality standards for expanded learning programs. What value do these standards bring to the expanded learning field?

Michael: California's quality standards are the North Star for program quality. They give us a common vision and common language. This is critical if we are to maximize the unique scale of our state's expanded learning ecosystem. The standards make it possible to align the state's system of support, policy decisions, funding process and statewide evaluation. Of course, that alignment requires disciplined intentionality at all levels and is very hard work. That hard work is taking place in California right now. The implementation of the Expanded Learning Strategic Plan is underway, and the first and most critical step was the development of the Quality Standards for Expanded Learning.

California's quality standards go one step further and include the "standards in action" which describe what the standard looks like at the program, student, and staff levels. This makes the standards incredibly accessible and relevant. Since the California standards have been released I have heard countless people state that, "The Quality Standards affirm what we value. The California Department of Education is endorsing what we have always believed quality programs look like."

The context and guidance for how the standards should be used is just as important as what the standards articulate. In California, we have specified that the standards be used for site level continuous quality improvement. They are not to be used as a compliance tool for outsiders to judge the quality of a program, for ranking of programs, or for assessment to determine future funding.

Finally, the Quality Standards tell a story. They are the base of a very important narrative that needs to shift. Since the early 1990's the Expanded Learning (afterschool) "brand" was primarily public safety. "Keep kids safe and off the streets." Gradually, the importance of childcare for low-income families and homework completion became part of the narrative. What we now know is that high-quality expanded learning opportunities are an engaging place of learning that is an integral part of a young person's education, preparing them for college, career and life. We need to position expanded learning programs as a place of learning. To that end, my office has just launched the Expanding Student Success campaign. At the heart of the effort is a direct line of communication between K-12 education leaders in order to tell the story of the power of high-quality expanded learning opportunities. We would not be able to tell that story if we did not have the Expanded Learning Quality Standards in place.

Carol: Only a small handful (less than 10) of states are not in the process of either developing or adopting quality standards. In some cases, states that are not actively working on their own standards have provided a variety of options for programs to assess themselves, such as the NAA core competencies, or the Weikert Center's Youth Program Quality Assessment, just to name a couple, so programs can begin to look actively at their own quality and plan for improvement. While most of the states who have participated in standards adoption have built their own state coalitions to build their programs' values into their standards, a recent crosswalk of existing state standards showed us that there is enough critical overlap in the main areas addressed to state that there is essential agreement on what quality is. These areas include safety, staffing, human relationships and youth development, activities and activity structure, as well as program administration and family engagement. Several states have already undergone revisions or expansions to their standards to include more specific guidance to programs on areas such as social and emotional learning, diversity and equity, sustainability, and program quality standards for older youth.

The value of adopting, promoting, and training to quality standards is first and foremost that high quality standards in action provide the best possible afterschool and summer learning programs for youth of all ages. There are many other elements, as well. In training, I often ask whether anyone was given the job of running an afterschool program as part of several other responsibilities they had at the time, without much more guidance than that. I am surprised each time at the number of hands raised in answer to that question. Program quality standards help any afterschool or summer learning program (regardless of funding source) provide the baseline for understanding what a good program should look like. They help build common understanding, a language for staff and other programs to talk with and help each other, and provide a pathway for improvement and professional development.

Standards bring other benefits such as informing key decision makers like policy makers and families of the elements they should be either funding or looking for when looking at available programs.

What does a quality after school or summer program look like to you?

Michael: Notwithstanding my listing all of the standards in action to answer this question, what I look for first is youth and staff who are engaged. When you walk into a room you can feel it. It is palpable. What creates engagement? I'll take this moment to plug the Learning In Afterschool and Summer's five elements. Learning that is active, collaborative, has meaning, supports mastery, and expands horizons. These five elements constitute the foundation on which the California Quality Standards for Expanded Learning were designed. They are also easily understandable and relatively easy to observe. I also look for passion. Does the leader of the program have a passion for helping staff and students find their life's calling? Is it just a j-o-b or is it an opportunity to impact other humans in a way that is almost sacred?

Carol: I could go through a litany of elements of high quality programs but let's talk the essentials. When it comes to the critical part of a quality afterschool or summer school program, I look for programs that engage and respect youth and provide them with opportunities to develop their skills, interests, confidence, and provides encouragement for their growth and development. It's not a matter of the type of program or even the focus—it could involve recreation, STEM, arts, language or career development or really anything--it almost doesn't matter what focus the program has, as long as the basics of providing children and youth with the building blocks they need for success in life is present, the program is focusing on quality.

What do you think it costs to run a quality program?

Michael: The cost of quality is impacted by so many variables including the program's emphasis, the area's cost of living, staff to participant ratio and many others. The Wallace Foundation has developed a cost calculator that accounts for all these variables. 

I plugged the following variables into the calculator. The program had 100 slots, run by a community-based organization, located at a school, and operating five days per week for three hours during the school year. The staff ratio was 15:1 because that is the lowest ratio that they have data for. Then, selecting a city for cost of living the calculator gave me the following information on the cost per participating student per day to run a quality program.

JELO Article 2

There are more studies looking at the true cost of quality. One thing we know for sure is that the current California rate of $7.50 per day per student is well below what is necessary and, sadly, has not increased since 2006.

Carol: I wish I could give you a straight dollar amount, but it's going to vary based on local factors such as the goals, services, and structure of the program, average area salaries, what kind of staffing structure is involved in the program (volunteers, aides, certified teaching staff, youth development staff, etc.), the number of children participating and the ages, and whether transportation is a large factor in the budget, among other factors. Depending on the location and safety, for example, the budget line item for transportation might be the smallest or largest part of the budget with perfect justification.

A couple of things I think are highly important in developing a quality program are attention to who is responsible for running the program and whether time is built in adequately for program preparation and staff development. Over and over we have seen the value of a full-time program director focused on the development of and attention to quality in the program. While that's not to say that programs that do not have a full-time leader can't be of high quality, it certainly makes the job harder, because quality takes observation, planning, and development. Providing opportunities for staff to reflect on how the program is doing and get guidance on improving practices helps build a path toward quality, wherever your program is.

Think of the programs you visit. Do you feel the programs you see are quality programs? Why or why not?

Michael: If I am invited to a site visit, it is usually going to be a program that a school district or community-based organization considers high quality. It is probably the case that quality will vary from program to program in the same district or city and that quality can vary at different times of the year (or even the day) in the same program. The principle of continuous quality improvement means that regardless of how high quality the program appears, the work of improving things for our students and staff is never over. If I walk into a program that is obviously high quality, or into a program that is struggling, I am always going to ask the same questions: "How are you being intentional about improving the quality of your program?" "What influenced you to choose the area of focus you did?" and "What is your plan for improving the quality in that area of focus?" I am always more impressed by depth rather than breadth; therefore, any program choosing more than three standards to improve is not necessarily working harder at quality improvement.

Carol: I would say that for the most part, we see programs that offer a safe place and are run with good intentions by people who care about the youth and families in their programs. I know that sounds like I'm damning programs with faint praise, but I'm not. When I look at bullying, violence, and safety statistics for youth—particularly in the out of school time hours, keeping our children safe should be our number one priority. There are still too many children in this country who face going home alone every day.

That said, I also think rigid academic requirements or improved test scores that many schools and programs look for as markers of success have a tendency to make programs too uncreative and boring for too large a number of kids, particularly in higher poverty areas or in struggling schools. Adherence to program funding requirements without enough resources to adequately meet children's needs generally tends to lead to a rote program. Programs in that mode tend to be overly directive and rule-driven, and may not take families' needs into account. I really think this is because this is the best a lot of programs can do with the resources they are provided.

However, that is not to say that any community or program regardless of the level of poverty—urban, rural, sub- or exurban can't pull together to provide high quality programs for youth and their families. Some of the best programs we see are ones that honestly assess their resources and assets and provide support through youth and adult programming, job training, professional development time for staff, and a strong link to the school day. Focusing on the critical element of paying attention to youth and supporting them as they develop their interests, confidence, and skills goes a long way toward helping youth come to (and stay in) school, and where they can get more support to develop their academic skills.

What do we need to do to ensure programs run at that quality level? 

a. What do practitioners need to do?

Michael: Practitioners need to implement the continuous quality improvement process as outlined in the California Department of Education web page.

Then, practitioners need to seek resources to help them with quality improvement. California has a robust system of support for quality. Don't go at it alone! Bring in a fresh set of eyes to help you see what you might overlook.

Carol: Practitioners need to study quality standards and really make a concerted effort to look honestly at their programs to determine where their strengths and weaknesses are, then look at paths they can take to work on improving their program. Looking to each other as peers to support each other (either through peer assessment or regular professional development) creates a stronger understanding of what quality in afterschool is and how programs can get there.

In trainings, I often tell practitioners that if they are going to pay attention to one thing, it should be attendance from day to day. This is not primarily because I think programs should be keeping track of this statistic for its own sake, but because I think daily attendance and its fluctuations can tell a program so much about how it is doing. The highest quality programs I've seen have a system in place where they follow up with youth and/or their families if attendance is off for more than two days. Often, these programs find out the real reason for not attending the program is something they can help with or help get the right people to assist. For example, a family may have lost its housing, or a local employer has changed its scheduling so that the program hours may need to be adjusted. Looking at attendance trends over time, a program might find that there is unchecked behavior or bullying issues in an activity, or just maybe that they need to shake up staffing or the activities that are offered to keep children engaged.

b. What do researchers need to do?

Michael: We need more researchers to tailor their work to inform quality improvement. We also need research for publishing and documenting the impact of the programs. Research should inform quality improvement.

Carol: We are thrilled with the recent focus on developing closer interim measures of youth success other than test scores in both school- and out-of-school time. Providing a research base for more effective models of this success would give policymakers and practitioners more options for how they structure their programs to be more engaging and creative, not just an extension of the school day.

As someone who works to apply research to the practice of running a high quality program, I would also welcome further dialogue about how to put research into practice in programs. For example, researchers could ask, "Where have we seen programs improve significantly from the process of going through quality assessment and continuous improvement planning?"

c. What do policy makers need to do?

Michael: In some cases, get out of the way! Policy makers and government agencies are starting to focus more on performance management than simple compliance. This shift is taking root across the country. We must help programs successfully meet the compliance requirements. If programs feel supported around compliance the leadership can more easily focus on other aspects of quality.

Carol: Policy makers at all levels need to take a much more holistic approach to what children need to be successful and provide funding for programs with those goals. Although saying "more money" tends to make policymakers roll their eyes, we also need to be frank that most mid- to upper-income range families who can afford to do so participate in the type of afterschool and summer activities that lower income communities need to "prove" increased achievement. Asking afterschool and related programs to directly affect test scores is too long term and depends on too many other factors to be the measure of success for programs. Are the children happy? Healthy? Made to feel like they (and their voice) matter? Are children provided with a variety of engaging activities to better develop their interests? Do they have access to activities in which their family's circumstances might not allow them to participate? These are important elements that funded programs can address that I think are an investment well made in our youth that our policy makers can encourage (and fund).

d. What does the community need to do?

Michael: Our communities need to come together to build partnerships that bring supports and opportunities to kids. The power of partnerships is often lost because people confuse attending meetings or community input with true engagement and collaboration. We need communities to build true partnerships and for each institution in the community to also commit to a cycle of quality improvement.

Carol: The best thing a community can do is come together and leverage all of its resources together and work toward a common goal—it can be as simple as raising healthy and happy children or as lofty as everyone in the community has access to a path to higher education. This is not to dismiss that bringing everyone together is easy: it's not. It is often difficult to get people to put aside their own interests toward that larger goal. It is possible, however. Whether it's a commitment to providing safe transportation to students so they can actually attend programs, or training a cadre of volunteers in mentoring or tutoring skills so regular program staff can pursue improvement and development activities, or providing language classes to parents who are new to the country to help them feel welcome—every effort a community makes demonstrates commitment to the children of that community.

Researcher and Practitioner Reflections

Michael: I really didn't know what to expect when sharing my responses and then viewing Carol's. How near or how far apart would our perspectives be? I knew how closely Carol has worked with the Afterschool Networks across the country so it does not surprise me that her comments are informed by wisdom and a clear passion for what is good for kids. I discovered so many similarities in our perspectives.

I loved that when describing quality Carol emphasized the importance of engagement and respectful opportunities for youth to develop their skills, interests, and confidence. We are so on the same page. She went on to state that the design and focus of the program are in fact less important than these kinds of opportunities.

Carol also emphasized that program staff must have the capacity to reflect on their program and get guidance on improving practice to build a path towards quality. This is certainly in alignment with California's Senate Bill 1221 that dropped a lot of old accountability language and now requires programs to engage in a data driven cycle of continuous improvement.

Here is one of my favorite quotes. "... I also think rigid academic requirements or improved test scores that many schools and programs look for as markers of success have a tendency to make programs too uncreative and boring for too large a number of kids." Amen.

Carol: When I responded to a series of questions thinking deeply about the afterschool and expanded learning field and quality programs, I had a moment of panic the moment when I shared my responses. Although I am very passionate about the field and our work, was I too critical? Too far removed from day-to-day work? What would a practitioner think about these responses? However, I felt instantly calm once I read Michael Funk's responses to the same questions.

I feel as though we are strongly reiterating one another from different angles. We both value quality and believe it is possible, with appropriate development and planning. Being intentional in that planning—that is, knowing your ultimate goals and aligning your decisions toward meeting them—is essential. It was great to learn more about how California emphasizes "standards in action," to provide additional guidance to move toward quality, and to reiterate how quality improvement is a process that is never done.

It was good to see the calculations of costs for a program based on location, and the reference to Wallace's excellent cost calculator. Even more potent is the recognition that current funding levels are not adequate for our children. I hope that can build a call to action for the field to bring to policymakers to invest in our children's participation in expanded learning activities because they know it contributes to a child's successful development.

What most impressed me, though, is that the respected leader of the largest state-funded afterschool and expanded learning programs in the country clearly stated, essentially, that engagement is key for students. He didn't say "finishing their homework" or "increasing their test scores on phonemic awareness:" Instead, he said he looks for whether a leader has passion for helping their staff and students "find their life's calling" and a path toward it in engaging and meaningful ways. That is extraordinarily powerful and it makes me glad to be part of a field that emphasizes students' pursuit of happiness.

 

For breakfast, Carol usually swaps between a big protein fruit smoothie to last me all morning, and Noosa yogurt with granola and fruit. And coffee. Lots of coffee.

For Michael, every morning it is a Peanut Crunch Cliff Bar. Boring eh? But on a special day it is eggs over easy, shredded hash browns and Tabasco.  Plenty of strong coffee and some crisp bacon.

 

In 2107, The JELO will publish two issues: a special issue in Spring and a regular issue in the Fall. At this time, they welcome the submission of papers for both the Spring 2017 special and Fall 2017 regular issue. Please visit the blog post from yesterday to learn about the call for papers for more details. The deadline to submit is August 29, 2016. You can also visit Central Valley Afterschool Foundation for more information. 

Published in Breakfast Club

You are after school, you are expanded learning, and your voice is more important than you know.

Youth voice is critical to the success of an after school expanded learning program. Seeking youth voice helps to develop caring relationships between staff and students, and increases the program's relevance and meaning for youth participants. While practitioners consistently seek the voice of their youth and other stakeholders (parents, teachers and principals, partners) they often underestimate the importance of their own voice to ensure that high-quality programs are possible for the youth they serve. While it is true that advocates are hard at work advancing the after school and expanded learning movement, their voice will not make it very far without you. IT IS YOUR VOICE THAT WILL ENSURE THAT QUALITY EXPANDED LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES ARE AVAILABLE TO THE YOUTH AND COMMUNITIES YOU SERVE.

state of the stateIn March 2015, the Afterschool Alliance released America After 3pm, which summarized a national survey assessing participation, access, public support, and family satisfaction with after school programs. Based on their findings California (where I work) was ranked number one in the nation for after school. The report surfaced strong public support for after school in California, which demonstrate a strong return on investment. In May 2015, the California AfterSchool Network (CAN) released the State of the State of Expanded Learning in California. The State of the State surfaced that California has nearly 5,000 publicly funded expanded learning programs serving nearly 500,000 of California's highest need students on any given day. The report surfaced that expanded learning opportunities are vital to closing the achievement and opportunity gap by increasing student achievement, engagement, and well-being outcomes for youth all year long. Despite strong outcomes, a significant return on investment, and strong public support, after school programs in California and the nation find themselves at risk.

While many states in the nation are envious of California's expanded learning infrastructure, California's programs are facing significant fiscal challenges. Increased cost pressures related to good policies such as increased minimum wage, the Affordable Care Act, and California laws mandating that employers offer sick time have all increased the cost of doing business. Expanded learning programs must adjust to these new cost pressures in the context of flat funding and a rising consumer price index. Expanded Learning programs are seeing the cost of doing business go up without any relief.

This year, an important conversation began in the California legislature. Legislation was put forward by Senator Loni Hancock to increase per-student-per-day funding for expanded learning tied to the minimum wage and implement ongoing Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs). Furthermore, the legislature recommended a funding increase in the budget sent to Governor Jerry Brown. Sadly, our Governor did not have the same foresight as California's legislature and he did not approve a funding increase for expanded learning in the final budget. Loni Hancock's Senate Bill (SB 645), which had been amended to facilitate a smooth rollout of increased funds in the budget, was further amended to assist California's programs in dealing with fiscal challenges by allowing programs the ability to implement furloughs. While this is not the ideal outcome, the conversation continues in our legislature. Now more than ever, we need the voice of the field to advance policies that will help the nation's strongest after school infrastructure continue to be successful. Imagine what we could do together with the combined voices of the staff of close to 5,000 programs and all of the families and communities that benefit from them!

This is a big deal in California but we have even more to do nationally. Recently the United States House and Senate have each put forward their plans to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act commonly referred to as No Child Left Behind. Because of strong national advocacy, the Senate ultimately included the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (Federal expanded learning funding) in their version of the ESEA reauthorization. The more conservative House did not, opting instead to ELIMINATE THE 21st Century program in favor of a block grant for states that could be used for a variety of purposes including (if they chose) after school. In California that could mean a loss of close to 700 programs serving close to 100,000 youth.

There has never been a more important time for you to make your voice heard by your state leaders and federal Senators and Representatives. Advocates are working hard every day to ensure that these programs remain in tact and high quality, but they cannot do it without you. I hope you will choose to use resources like the America After 3pm report, the Expanding Minds Compendium of research on expanded learning, and resources like the State of the State of Expanded Learning in California to communicate the importance of these programs to your legislators and decision-makers. I hope you will attend your state advocacy days such as the California Afterschool Challenge and the national Afterschool Challenge. I hope that you will host a Lights on Afterschool event at your site and invite your local, state, and federal representatives. I hope you will answer the call to the barrage of emails asking for a call to action. I hope you will discuss these issues with the families you serve and others who understand the value of expanded learning programs so that they can effectively raise their voice.

Your voice matters and it must be heard. The youth, families, and communities you serve every day depend on it.

 

For breakfast, I had granola cereal with lowfat milk.  

Published in Breakfast Club

A year ago February, President Obama launched the My Brother's Keeper Initiative (MBK). The goal of MBK was to lift up and strengthen any and all efforts that were "helping more young men of color stay on track. Providing the support they need to think more broadly about their future. Building on what works, when it works, in those critical life-changing moments."

As a life-long youth worker, my professional calling has been dedicated to those "life-changing moments." As a mother of two young boys of color, I am singularly focused on connecting my sons to as many opportunities to "stay on track" and keep a broad focus on their future as possible – with afterschool programs being an essential trump card in my deck. And, as a mother of young boys of color, I also worry about the too-frequent moments in between where my proactive efforts and positive encouragement may not be enough: those equally life-changing moments in which boys' of color potential is undermined and they are viewed as threats rather than assets.

pic for alicias blog

This past year in particular, I, along with many around the nation, have reflected on the moments that intersect with the lives of young people of color – both those that offer promise and those that portend threat. Bridging the divide, at a systemic level, between such fundamentally different moments seems to be what My Brother's Keeper is about.

Over the last three months, I've been working as a facilitator among community leaders in the City of Detroit, one of 160 communities that have accepted the President's MBK Community Challenge to cities to focus, align and re-double their efforts to lift up boys and young men of color. According to the Campaign for Black Male Achievement, a reboot and rededication of resources is desperately needed. Twenty years ago, the Urban Institute profiled 51 "promising" or "effective" programs tackling issues related to black male achievement. Ten years later, the survey found that 25% of those organizations no longer existed and 50% ended their focused work on black male achievement. In other words, 3 in 4 of such programs were lost. In the meantime, students of color are up to four times more likely to be suspended or expelled and make up more than 70% of those involved in school-related arrests or referred to law enforcement. In short, there are too few programs like ours that are squarely focused on maximizing promise and potential, and too many moments in direct opposition to those that might positively surround them – supportive and affirming programs (both in school and out), strong and supported families, and caring and engaged community members. In light of these realities, cities like Detroit are trying to reboot and renew the promise bargain between boys of color and the nation.

If we are to "keep our young brothers" and help them to keep themselves then we have to do more to close the gap between the diametrically opposite experiences of promise and peril that so many young people – and especially boys of color – face. We have to do more to combat the pervasive structures that cause harm – systemic bias, chronic community trauma, and weakened supports for families trying to make it – in addition to keeping as many life-affirming programs going as possible. It is a monumental task, but not entirely un-scalable. If we believe that boys of color hold promise for our nation, then let's continue the work of keeping some brothers – and let's hold up our end of the promise bargain. We indeed have many brothers (and promises) to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.

This morning I had cereal and orange juice for breakfast.

Image Source: Kirwan Institute 

Published in Breakfast Club

Most people in the expanded learning field would be able to answer the question, "Do you know your why?" without much trouble, but I'll be really honest with you. I didn't find my "why" until I had worked in this field for a while. I got my first job in an after-school program by answering a classified ad in January of 1992. Why did I apply? Mostly because I had just obtained my college degree and I was ready to try something that didn't involve serving food. Also because I thought it might be fun. When I first started, I made all of the classic rookie mistakes. The kids could literally smell my lack of confidence. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to work with a very talented youth development specialist named Ray Trinidad, and by watching him I learned how transformative these programs could be. I also learned that youth supervision was not my strong suit, so I was put in charge of completing and submitting the paperwork that was required for grant compliance. And it turned out I was really good at that. So I became an after-school administrator. But rest assured, the fact that I didn't possess a natural talent for youth development did not make me any less passionate about the work we do. And by "we" I mean "you." My talents lie in the development of attendance calculation spreadsheets and legislative code, but I have seen first-hand how those skills can make a positive impact on direct service.

quotescover-PNG-82My "why" became a bit more focused recently when, after 22 years as an after-school professional, I finally became a consumer of the services we offer. My wife Jan has resumed her career as a clinical therapist, and my 6-year-old son Oliver goes to an after-school program every day. We are fortunate enough to live in a neighborhood that offers a good one, and I couldn't be more grateful. The experience of parenting, latent as it may be in my case, has strengthened my belief that every kid deserves the opportunity to spend their after-school hours with caring adults. It is self-evident that a safe and supervised child is better off than one who is not, and we, as a society, have a collective responsibility to ensure that every child is afforded this basic right. Contributing to the realization of this vision is why I do the work I do.

This morning Ollie and I shared a breakfast of kiwis and strawberries (organic, of course), and whole wheat toast. I hogged all the coffee for myself.

Published in Breakfast Club

Put your hand in.

Right now, as you're reading this blog post, take one of your hands and hold it out, palm down, in front of you. It'll only take a second.

No, seriously. We're going to make a virtual circle of hands here. Let's do this.

Is it in? Good. Keep reading.

Now on three, let's all imagine a really loud "Go team!" and you can lift your hand up.

Ready? One, two, three, GO TEAM!

That felt good, right?

This is when I'd love to ask you to stand up and do a trust-fall, except I'm not actually there, and you might break your monitor or laptop, and you'd then be facing the wrong way to keep reading anyway. But I'm sure you've got enough experience to know that teamwork needs trust.

There's a reason teams do these activities – or some manner of these activities. It's the same reason that "improving teamwork" is a key component of any organization's strategy. When everyone is working together towards a common goal, with everyone's work coordinated in the same direction and tapping into each individual's strengths, then any reasonable goal will be met, both more efficiently and with greater impact.

Within each district, and at each site, exists a set of teams ... that work more or less well together. At the site level, we have a pretty good idea about what makes good teamwork, and we can identify a solid set of best practices to make that happen. But what happens within districts to support programs working effectively – not just in a few sites – but across the whole system?

We at the Partnership for Children & Youth were curious and set out on a journey more than a year ago to find out. We wanted to study how a "circle of hands" comes together at the district level to make expanded learning programs run like clockwork. In other words, what accounts for success in districts where expanded learning time is truly time well spent?

time well spent

We did a series of expert interviews, looked through all the literature we could find, then headed out into the field for a series of site visits and more interviews.

There were different sizes, shapes and grips of hands in the circle pretty much everywhere we went. In fact, of the eight districts we visited, all were configured uniquely; with each of the districts, their community partners, and their county offices of education handling different roles and responsibilities.

But what we hoped we'd find – and, in fact, what we did find – was that there were common strategies in use throughout all of these partnerships. The hands in the circle were different, but the circle was always there, and it always meant the same thing for supporting student learning; "We're in this together."

Everywhere we went, when a district and its expanded learning programs were coordinated; there were five overarching, common strategies.

• The school district was building on its existing assets, and was creating a broad-based expanded learning system and infrastructure.
• The school district had set the vision that expanded learning was part of the core work of its schools.
• The school district was creating and sustaining authentic partnerships, through shared planning and management.
• The school district was supporting the system's capacity for continuous improvement.
• The school district was clear about the critical role school-level leadership plays in creating and sustaining effective programs.

Take a look through our report, Time Well Spent, and register for our one-hour webinar, taking place on Wednesday, November 12 at 11:30 Pacific, to learn more about how exactly these strategies work together – and how they're being employed in various districts across the state. And take a look at your own district. Are these strategies in place? Are any elements missing? How can you learn from other teams to achieve more?

California was ranked the #1 after school system in the country last week. We did this by continuously striving for quality. And quality in expanded learning requires teamwork, making sure the gears are aligned – and that everyone's got a hand in the circle – so it can truly be Time Well Spent.

For breakfast, I had a strawberry/blueberry smoothie.

This blog post was written by guest blogger, Jessica Gunderson: Policy Director, Partnership for Children and Youth. 

 

Published in Breakfast Club

In November, 2002, California citizens passed Proposition 49, which requires the Legislature to annually appropriate not less than $550 million to the California Department of Education for the After School Education and Safety (ASES) Program. The Proposition passed with a financial trigger that delayed the release of the appropriation until the 2006/07 fiscal year. The funding has been level since that time, unlike many other programs that were decimated during the recession, but despite its protected status during the last eight years, certain factors threaten to make ASES grants unattainable to those who seek them and financially untenable for those who currently operate them.

Factor #1: ASES programs have achieved stable participation levels. This is a good thing for current grantees who must meet their projected program attendance targets in order to maintain full funding, but it is not so good for a school that has never before applied for ASES funding, or one that has sustained a grant reduction it would like to recoup. With a static $550 million annual appropriation, the only ASES funding available from year-to-year is the total amount voluntarily or involuntarily withdrawn from existing grantees that have failed to meet their attendance targets.

During the 2013 calendar year, ASES grantees lost just under $6.4 million of the nearly $542 million granted to elementary and middle schools across the state (less than 1.2% of the total funds available) through attendance sanctions. Stated differently, 98.8% of all ASES funds granted were "earned" in compliance with attendance regulations. The amount of ASES funding requested for the 2014/15 school year was $49.3 million, or nearly eight times the amount available.

ASES grants are made to individual schools based solely on the percentage of the student body that is eligible for meal subsidy. In the last round of grants, only schools with eligibility rates of 90% or higher received funding. Just three years ago, schools with as low as 65% eligibility were granted awards. The pot is shrinking rapidly, and schools seeking ASES funding are almost always on the outside looking in.

mi4hyrqFactor #2: Nearly all ASES programs operate more than 15 hours per week. When expanded learning professionals talk about ASES programs, they tend to refer to it as a three-hour daily program. This is likely because programs are required to operate not less than 15 hours per week. But the truth is most programs operate closer to 20 hours per week. ASES programs are required to commence immediately upon school dismissal and close not earlier than 6:00pm. The vast majority of California elementary and middle schools maintain bell schedules that release students around 2:30pm, including a weekly early release day (around 1:00pm) for staff development time. That translates to a 19-hour weekly after-school schedule. The actual cost of operating an ASES program is contingent upon the school's bell schedule, and the grant provides no fiscal mechanism for compensating those programs that run longer hours.

ASES grantees are funded based on a formula of $7.50 per student/per day, which is statutorily interpreted as $2.50 per student/per hour when applied to before-school or supplemental (non-school day) programming. ASES grants require a local match of $1 to every $3 granted by the state, and it is permissible to meet this obligation with in-kind resources, such as facility usage, snack service and administrative oversight. But if we consider ASES funding in this hourly context, the grant only pays for the first 15 hours of any given week, and the grantee covers the balance with cash contribution. That's $10 per student/per week for a 19-hour elementary program serving 85 students per day, or $30,600 annually.

Factor #3: Personnel costs are on the rise. On July 1, 2014, California raised the minimum wage from $8 per hour to $9 per hour. On January 1, 2016, it will raise again by another dollar. This affects the labor costs of not only hourly workers, but also full-time professionals who must be paid at least twice the minimum wage in order to be exempt from overtime compensation. Several California cities have either passed, or are considering, local ordinances requiring even higher rates of up to $15 per hour. This impacts ASES programs, which are statutorily capped at $112,500 for elementary schools and $150,000 for middle schools, and must maintain a student to staff supervision ratio of not more than 20:1. Current programs typically spend more than 80% of grant funding on direct service personnel expenses, leaving limited resources for materials, supplies, training and program administration.

A typical elementary school program with a full-time Site Coordinator and four part-time Program Leaders could incur up to $7,500 in additional personnel expense for every dollar the minimum wage increases. If ASES grant funding continues to remain level, programs will quickly become unsustainable without a heavy influx of funding from other sources.

Factor #4: Governor Brown subscribes to the "principle of subsidiarity." Initial attempts on the part of expanded learning advocates to lobby the state government for an augmentation of the ASES appropriation were met with recommendations to seek additional local investment. During an Assembly Budget Subcommittee on Education Finance hearing earlier this year, a representative of the Department of Finance stated that to augment the Proposition 49 appropriation would be inconsistent with the Administration's emphasis on local prioritization of education funding. The philosophy behind the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) gives local education agencies (LEAs) the authority, within prescribed boundaries, to prioritize spending for the programs and services that best serve their communities. Therefore, any fiscal relief that ASES programs may receive to mitigate the impact of increased costs will almost certainly have to come from LEAs.

With LCFF funding increasing incrementally toward full implementation in Fiscal Year 2020/21, school districts will have greater resources and flexibility to use these funds to augment their ASES programs if they so choose. It is incumbent upon the expanded learning community to educate our local school boards and administrators about why expanding and augmenting ASES programs should be an important component of their Local Control and Accountability Plans moving forward. Use this link to read a brief prepared by the California Afterschool Advocacy Alliance (CA3) which makes the case for why school districts should consider using LCFF funding to support expanded learning.

For breakfast this morning, I had a scrambled egg on an English muffin, a pear, and coffee.

Published in Breakfast Club

For my first post on the BOOST Breakfast Club Blog, I had planned to play it safe. Stick to a topic like youth program quality or youth outcomes measurement that I know well and have already written about, and pose a provocative, though largely, intellectual question or two about it.  But this week, I’ve been distracted by the most devastating, and difficult to process, news I’ve heard about a young person I’ve known personally in my twenty years in the field.

I was shaking when I received the phone call from his mother a little over a week ago: “L is in jail on murder charges. The trial starts next Tuesday.” Though I haven’t seen L in more than five years and haven’t been directly involved in the community programs he was part of in at least ten, I’m still connected enough to his family that his mother knew how to reach me.  I am devastated. His mother is nearly destroyed by this turn of events – it took her months to talk to anyone publicly.

I don’t know how to talk about it – it’s emotionally incomprehensible for me to think about. You see L was not supposed to land in this place. At 15, he was on a path that most of us would mentally put in the “doing well” category – he was very involved in sports and, along with his cousins, was a regular in a summer youth program.  While there were some challenging influences in his neighborhood, he had a strong parent who encouraged him to persist in school, and had decent grades. He graduated from high school, and after high school found employment with a delivery company. 

silhouette-child-behind-barsBut somewhere between the ages of 18 and 22, things began to unravel for L.  I don’t know why. But I do know that, unlike in his teen years, there was no youth program available to support him.  He was too old for most programs and not (yet) in enough trouble to be directed to those developed for older teens and young adults who have visibly gotten off track and in trouble. 

L was an active participant in the school system and the OST system and was able to leverage those experiences to get a job.  But what systems were there for him as he continued the journey to adulthood?  I don’t know the circumstances that pulled L off track.  But I am left wondering why this gap in supports exists.  If there were better “hand-offs” – and a more complete system of supports for young people, especially in the transition out of OST programs and into young adulthood – might any of this have been different? 

I wonder whether he faltered at work, lost his job, couldn’t find housing, got into debt or started to use drugs.  Perhaps he got frustrated because he wasn’t able to further his education or lost a friend to violence.  I do know that there are few places young people can go to get good advice, gracious support, and a second chance if needed. We talk about disconnected youth in our professional circles (sometimes reframed as opportunity youth), but the focus on the “youth” part is misplaced when what we really mean are disconnected systems.

While L’s story is still unfolding, it clearly shows that what remains, by and large, is a disconnected system that is failing to fully “start early, and sustain support” for all youth. And L’s story isn’t singular – as a news story on Gary, another young person that wasn’t supposed to land in prison, confirms. Gary, too, was headed in a good direction as a younger youth and was a star high school athlete known for his sensitive nature. Coaches, counselors and teachers were invested in Gary, and Gary seemed invested in himself.  But Gary was also pulled by forces in his larger environment – the untimely passing of his guardian grandparents and a peer group that seemed to embrace him while also steering him off track. These forces converged, finding Gary in the role of the triggerman in an armed robbery attempt with his friends, and later, in a gunfight with a rival group. The latter landed him in prison. Being just shy of 18, he was tried as a juvenile rather than an adult. Seven years later, Gary is back in the community – but the terrain he must navigate is much changed from the community he left.

Both Gary and L’s stories are prime examples of single programs that do engage youth, while the larger system fails them. As youth work professionals, we bear witness to the lives of thousands of Garys and Ls. Perhaps their narratives might challenge us all to think more deeply about not merely the importance of good programs, but why deeply connected systems – those that might shore up the leaks in the pipeline of supports for youth – are critically important.

The lack of a strong system to shore up good programs does not absolve L of any responsibility, but having sat face-to-face with this young person numerous time makes me think that the outcome for him, for Gary and for many, many young people might have been different if the leaks in the pipeline weren’t so big, more out-of-school time systems expanded beyond 18 (just as expanded learning programs are giving at least some youth more time and support beyond the arbitrary “school-aged” cutoff of 18 to obtain a high school diploma), and there were more early warning signals embedded within a community-based system of supports to divert kids that are heading way off course. 

Recently, Patrick McCarthy, CEO of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in a plenary session at the 2014 Ready by 21 National Meeting suggested this very thing – that while those who work with young people typically focus on providing effective programs (in place for L), we need to pay more attention to building effective systems (not in place for L) (You can watch it here). “A bad system will trump a good program every time,” he cautioned. Regretfully, I deeply agree with this statement -- L’s trial started this week.

A note on the blog’s theme: Though my appetite in the last few days has been dampened, I did eat cereal and an apple – and am reminded that, for me, eating a good breakfast is an act of self-care I committed myself to years ago, especially on days like today when, in youth work and in life, the questions are many and the answers are thin.

Published in Breakfast Club
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