Carlos Santini is the National Vice President of Programs for After-School All-Stars. His focus is to provide leadership and support for 17 After-School All-Stars program cities across the country in the area of program quality, professional development, and evaluation. Previously, Carlos was part of the team that helped launch the Los Angeles chapter of After-School All-Stars in 2002, spending close to 13 years working with Ana Campos and others in helping establish ASAS LA as one of the largest, leading after school programs in California. Carlos served as the Associate Director for ASAS-LA and focused on securing program partners, establishing organizational infrastructure, leading the organization’s professional development agenda, designing program quality initiatives and metrics and assisted the executive leadership in raising program revenue. Before ASAS, Carlos spent three years working for various public relations firms in the tech industry. Carlos is a graduate of UCLA where he majored in history and worked for various youth programs including UCLA UniCamp and UCLA’s Youth and Family Programs. Carlos is a native of Honduras in Central America and is married with two young girls ages 5 and 8.
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!
This is the second installment of our two-part blog series focused on practical student recruitment strategies. You can read the first part blog here.
#6: Think socially
Create opportunities for participants to bring their friends. It's not always about your students coming to their class everyday. Create events or opportunities for registered students to go through a little bit of your program's experience. It could be team building games at lunch, or a scavenger hunt after school, or a Bring-A-Friend Field Trip.
By the way, start naming things other than what they are. For example, call your field trips "vacations" or some of your dances "clubs," "grooves," "turn-up," etc.
Have classroom challenges between your classrooms. Create contests by where students join their program leader in growing the size of the class! Create incentives to where if someone brings their friend to program for five straight days, there's something in it for both of them. Remember that coming to program is about the win-win for students. Middle school students are not known for being altruistic. At least not in the beginning.
#7: Call it what it is...DATA!
Someone has to be committed to tracking the numbers. It's a cold-hearted breakdown and you have to be OK with it. This person, most likely you as the Program Manager or Site Coordinator, have to look how attendance is fluctuating and pinpoint some of the reasons why. For examples...
You get the point. Someone has to push for meaning. What's behind the data? These challenges require some thoughtful "Plan B's" if you will.
#8: Understand that there is a "tipping point"
You know the old adage, "If you want to have 50 people at your party, invite 200 of them!"
If you really want to see your numbers increase, you have to go for volume. I know we can start thinking about making a difference for one child at a time. You can still do that, but we know our pursuit is impact. You will have to reconcile in your mind that you will start making a difference for a small group of kids. Say about 20-30. It's how you work with that small cohort that makes all the difference. This group is your base. Your believers. You know have to take that political capital and grow that number of students that you are serving.
In my mind, there are two populations of students:
We can reach out to kids all year long, while maintaining a focus on serving those that are coming to program everyday. The greater the number you reach out to, the better your chances that you will increase the number of youth you serve throughout the school year! For this, culminating events, showcases, shows and performances are HUGE! These events build your brand, which then draws in more kids you're outreaching to, which ultimately may lead to them being served by you for the rest of the school year!
#9: Understand the family dynamic
Over the past few years, I have witnessed more and more siblings joining us either with their oldest brother/sister, or coming to the program shortly after the oldest moves on to high school. Talk to your students about their little brother or sister coming to program. I have often witnessed that older siblings coming back and frequenting the programs if their little brother, sister, niece, nephew or cousin are participating. Sometimes, these same students become staff that can reach out and connect with youth better than most. The responsibility of having a family member in the program elevates the level of ownership for our alums.
#10 : Adopt the mindset that recruitment is a year-round endeavor.
One of the most important components of school site leadership, it for site coordinator to not let off the recruitment "pedal". As you establish all the habits and strategies listed above, it is imperative that you and your team continue to push ahead and continue reaching out to the student body throughout the school year.
When you approach your student recruitment plan, follow this logic:
For breakfast, I had a bacon, cheddar, and egg sandwich from Starbucks and an iced coffee.
This is a two-part blog series focused on practical student recruitment strategies. This first installment features five tips and five more tips will be shared on Friday.
Here are some common strategies when dealing with recruiting students for your program. Remember, you HAVE to be comfortable with the idea of the numbers game if you are going to succeed in achieving your attendance goals. Great programs worry about quality AND quantity.
The New Yorker wrote an article shortly after the 2008 presidential campaign entitled "Battle Plans." It more or less dissected how then Senator Barack Obama won the Presidency. In the quote below, we see that behind the great campaign message of "HOPE," there were entire teams dedicated to looking at hard data, the "numbers," that would ultimately make the difference.
"You can have the most inspirational candidate, you can have the best organizing philosophy in the world, but if you can't organize your data to take advantage of it and get lists in front of the canvassers and take these volunteers and use it in a smart way and figure out who it is we're going to talk to—I mean, the rest of it is all pointless."
-John Carson, Field Director / The Obama Campaign of '08
#1: It's all about your staff
So choose wisely. There is no shortcut to this. You must do everything in your power to find the right people. This means that you are meeting and talking to people throughout the year. Talk to your best program leaders and ask if they have friends that want to make a difference. Think ahead and get a handle as to when your local universities finish the school year. Most semester schools finish in May, so you should be visiting career centers during Spring Break to make your pitch and post flyers in college career centers.
I know it is difficult to talk to someone in March-April about a part-time job in August-September. You can always visit some of the local summer camps to talk to camp directors about hiring their staff once the summer camp season is over. I always say that the "math is in the relationships." Great staff connect with students, which then keeps them coming, which in turn keeps your dosage healthy and attendance steady climbing!
Added bonus: Great staff also create great, positive energy. They are a centrifugal force that draws people in. Also remember that great energy does not necessarily mean someone is hype all the time. It just means that their mind and body are engaged and self-aware of the influence they have.
#2: Design after the consumer needs/requests
Your program design must match the true interests of your student body. As a matter of fact, that should be driving the type of people you hire. There have been a number of times that I observe staff struggling with numbers and would then ask them, "Are you offering what your kids are looking for?" The first comeback is, "I would, but I don't know where or how to hire someone like that." Your classes must reflect student interests. This might sound blasphemous, but kids don't come to program because of our national initiatives (I'm looking around as I say that!). But, the reality is that our national priorities are the benefits of our program, not the features. I've seen students run up to staff asking for a certain type of class to be offered. The answer has often times been, "If you want that class, give me 10 more students and I promise I will find someone or someway to teach it!"
#3: Build it up and then break it down to its smallest element
When it comes to numbers, you CANNOT get around the issue of establishing a goal for whatever number you agree on. If it's 120 students per day, don't quit on that number. Don't back down and say that it's demoralizing because your team will never hit it. Set that target and then ask each individual program leader on your campus to contribute to that number. Here is an example:
The goal here is ownership. The site coordinator or program manager cannot be the only ones that feel the pressure of numbers. Your group of program leaders should talk every week about how they plan to add 1-2 students per week over an 8 to 10-week session. Sounds reasonable to me. Remember, do not quit on the big number. Keep building towards it. Have a campaign. Make t-shirts that show the number in a creative way.
#4: Be shameless and fearless
ABC! Always be closing with everyone. If you're a site coordinator, you're trying to ask teachers for referrals to your program. You are looking for additional activities that take place on campus that you could provide support with or piggy back on. Let people know you are on the campus and are willing and able to be the solution. The shy or reluctant leader does not do well in these situations. If you are insecure about the value of your program, get some help and get some perspective. I worked in the public relations industry for many years. As a junior account executive, I always felt that I was begging journalists to write about my clients, products, or services. My boss always used to say, "Journalists have 24 hours of news and stories they need to fill. They need you more than you need them." Think about that in regards to your program.
#5: Hire or train someone to design your marketing materials
I cannot overstate how critical this is! This was literally our bread and butter. You need eye catching design to draw in your students. If Nike needs to do that to stay ahead of the game, imagine you and me? There are so many resources online now that you can create eye-popping promotional materials in no time.
Look especially at the style of your class selection forms. This is the document that usually has all the classes that your kids can choose. That is the doorway into the program. If that doesn't excite you as a student. If the design does not entice kids to take a peek at your program, you are not going to have success with the rest!
Be sure to visit the blog on Friday for five more tips on student recruitment for out-of-school time and expanded learning programs.
By today's parenting standards, I did something incomprehensible – I did not take any pictures of my kids during an awesome outing on a beautiful Southern California day! I held it together for a full 1.5 hours and did not pull out my iPhone 6 to "capture the moment" so that my kids could say later on how great their dad was. Oh, who am I kidding, I wanted great pics so that all my friends on Facebook could gawk at the status update I would post later on.
The critical moment in this story came when, as my girls where throwing everything off to run into picture perfect waters, by LA standards at least, and as I was laying down towels and arranging our gear, my oldest daughter ran up to me and said, "Dad get in the water with us!"
That was the moment. It was a request for engagement. It was their way of telling me they wanted dad as part of the memory being created, and not just someone to document what took place. What was a dad to do? So history was made as I left the phone in the bag, and took my first steps toward the water and into the core memories of my children (you have to see Inside Out to understand that little bit of a psychology reference). My kids later told me it was one of the best days ever. I wonder if they would've felt the same way with me in the role as a photographer.
Needless to say, parents all over have fallen into this pattern of becoming historians of their children's lives. There's not a day that goes by where I don't see parents behind the camera or the phone, participating from a distance, removed from the messiness that is full participation. You can see the pride on their face when they capture that perfect smile, that perfect action shot or facial expression.
ENOUGH! It is time to put the tech down and become a protagonist in the memory of our children.
The same can be said in our work as leaders and practitioners in the after school space. As many of us have grown in responsibility within our respective organizations, we have drifted towards this behavior of "documenting" the work. We are far more concerned with photos, narratives, testimonies, and content that feeds into tweets or status updates, rather than diving into the messiness that is youth development.
Ask yourself, when was the last time you stepped onto a program site, walked into a classroom or onto a blacktop and got into it? I mean really engaging and interacting with your students, the content, the materials, the experience, being kinesthetic and inquisitive. After all, this attitude and mindset is what defines our space, does it not? I have heard it said, and have understood it full well, that after school is not a time or a place. It is some thing. It is an experience that is meant to be picked up and immersed into like a fresh batch of Play-Doh.
You remember that feeling, right? When you popped open the can and saw that pristine mold of clay? The smell that rose up from the container as soon as the lid came off. And who can forget the feeling of Play-Doh as it weaved and hugged your fingers as you mushed and squeezed that famous colorful clay. Wow!!! That right there ladies and gentlemen, is our space, our craft, and our calling.
What are you waiting for? Dive in and become part of the memories being created by your staff, your kids, and your community! By the way, I was not completely forthcoming when I made mention of me not taking a single pic, I took two pictures. Hey, one step at a time!
For breakfast today, well, I had a banana. Long story. I ended up having a bagel and lox at about 2:00 PM. One of those days!