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It is with great pleasure that we announce the 2017 BOOST Conference Keynote Speaker, Former Senator Barbara Boxer!


Barbara Boxer BOOST Conference photo - eblast resize


BOOST Collaborative and Afterschool Alliance invite you to join us in honoring Senator Barbara Boxer at this year's BOOST Conference in Palm Springs, CA. Jodi Grant, Executive Director, Afterschool Alliance, will be presenting Boxer with an OSTI (Out of-School Time Innovations) Award on Wednesday, April 19th followed by a keynote address, audience Q & A, and book signing.

Schedule: April 19, 2017

  • 12:30pm-1:30pm - OSTI Award, Keynote, Audience Q & A
  • 1:30pm-2:30pm - Meet the Authors, Meet & Greet, Book Signing

Be sure to purchase your keynote book today! Log in to your online account to add or call us at 619-23-BOOST (619-232-6678)


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Introducing: Barbara Boxer

A forceful advocate for families, children, consumers, the environment and her State of California, Barbara Boxer became a United States Senator in January 1993 after 10 years of service in the House of Representatives and six years on the Marin County Board of Supervisors. In January 2017, she stepped down after four terms in the Senate.

A champion of quality public education, Senator Boxer wrote landmark legislation establishing the first-ever federal funding for afterschool programs. Her law now covers 1.6 million children. She continues to work to expand afterschool programs nationwide as chair of the Senate Afterschool Caucus.

A strong supporter of the 1994 crime bill, she has worked to fund anti-gang programs, pass the Violence Against Women Law (VAWA), and the Community Policy "COPS" Program. Her bill to prevent the criminal use of personal information obtained through motor vehicle records was signed into law and upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Read more about Barbara Boxer

BOOST Conference April 18-21, 2017, Palm Springs, CA
The deadline to register for the BOOST Conference is March 24, 2017. Register here.

Published in Breakfast Club

Planning a new program or improvements to an existing program usually involves setting objectives, planning activities, and other critical tasks. In the excitement of planning something new, it can seem like a buzzkill to ask, "What could go wrong?"

team meetingSeveral months ago, I started asking this question consistently with staff teams in my division of the Ann Arbor Public Schools. We discussed it when we were planning a kick-off meeting for a district-wide initiative, when we were considering a major program change on a tight time frame, and when we were decided whether or not to cancel programs because of a forecasted snow storm. (Yes, I'm writing this in Michigan!)

I've found that staff teams benefit enormously from adding this question to the planning process. Sometimes staff have concerns but don't know exactly how or when to share them. Other times, "nay-say-ers" derail planning by peppering the conversation with all the detailed problems that could arise. Using a neutral discussion framework that's built into the planning process provides assurance to all staff that their concerns will be heard -- of course, it also helps prevent or minimize future problems.

I like using the Potential Problem Analysis (PPA) framework that's available from the non-profit TregoEd. (I work in a school district and have been trained in all four of TregoEd's collaborative decision-making tools.)

Broadly, a PPA helps you prepare for problems that could impact your program's success. It's helpful when you're implementing a new program, planning for a significant event, or making program changes.

Conducting a PPA is simple. All you need is a facilitator, your planning team, and some chart paper for recording responses.

1. First, ask the team "What could go wrong with our plans?" Ask the team to keep their answers succinct -- it's not necessary to go into every detail or repeat answers.

2. List people's answers on the chart paper, leaving space between each answer. The facilitator should let staff generate as many as they want, but don't allow the discussion to get too far out there (i.e. it's unlikely that aliens will land and disrupt the program).

3. Go back to the top of the list. For each potential problem, ask: "How could we prevent this from happening?" The answers often turn into specific action steps.

4. Return to the top of the list. Ask: "If this [potential problem] happens, what will we do to minimize the negative impact?"

5. If you end up with numerous potential problems, the team can prioritize 3-4 that are most important to prevent. Others can be worked on as time/opportunity permits.

6. For each potential problem on the short list, ask "What action steps will occur, Who will do them, and by When?"

rubic cube

I've used this process many times, sometimes as a full-blown process like what is outlined above, and sometimes just talking through the essential questions. The key thing is for the team to know ahead of time that you're going to have this conversation. This assures everyone (naysayers, too!) that there will be time to consider and plan for potential problems.

Using this simple question has improved program and event quality and decreased stress for staff at my organization. Hint: you can use it when making life decisions as well. Happy problem preventing!


For breakfast, I had an egg, turkey bacon, and cheese sandwich on an English muffin.

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

With the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, life can become overwhelming. As youth workers we want the young people we work with to embrace the positive messages of the holiday season, be it gratitude and thankfulness to knowing that they are loved and cherished. While we go the extra mile at work to ensure our youth enjoy their holiday season, we may also be stressing about our personal schedules and responsibilities around the holidays. How will I find time to purchase all those presents, not to mention wrap them, attend the overabundance of holiday parties, prepare a turkey, bake the cookies, and still enjoy what the holidays are meant to be?

Enter, the Power of Positive Thought!

The power of remaining positive, whatever the situation, can never be underestimated. The true test of an individual to remain positive is when challenges become difficult. Remaining positive keeps one's mind in the right state of balance and often opens resolutions to the problems at hand.

dec 6 blog pic

Embracing the Power of Positive Thought is a mindset that can be found at any moment, and turned into a habit. Here are some ways to embrace the Power of Positive Thought:

Shift Your Thoughts

Be conscious of your thoughts. The moment you realize you are diving into frustration, distress, or low self-esteem – shift your thoughts, think about something completely unrelated. This breaks the pattern of negativity. We have the ability to control our thoughts and think for ourselves.

Find the Lesson

No matter how unfortunate a situation may appear, recognize the beautiful lessons waiting to be discovered. You may have made a mistake, but now you can accept it and continue, knowing that you will make a different decision in the future. Understand that every problem is a learning opportunity in disguise.

Attitude of Gratitude

You cannot be both angry and grateful at the same time! Start counting the blessings and miracles in your life, start looking for them and you shall find more. You think that you don't have anything to be grateful for? You are alive and breathing! Realize how fortunate you are and all of the abundance in your life. 

Positive Affirmations & Visualization

Practice seeing yourself in a positive and confident light. Try it whenever you have a few minutes. Self-affirmations (list of positive statements about yourself and your self-image) are another simple and powerful tool to train your subconscious to see yourself in a positive light. This is important, as many of us can be extremely hard on ourselves!

Inventory of Memories

Keep an inventory of memories that can immediately make you smile. Recall occasions where you felt happy, appreciative and cheerful...when you were at peace with the world. Whenever you are in a negative frame of mind, reminisce on those happy moments to bring a balanced perspective to your situation. You realize that what appears negative today will change tomorrow. Nothing stays the same.

Whether you are positive or negative, the situation does not change. So, we might as well be positive, right? As with any habit, the habit of embracing the power of positive thought in all situations takes practice and a commitment to take control. Start small, paying attention to your emotions, and you have to start by wanting to change. Keep going at it, and you will gradually become a positive energy source for the others around you!
Source: Think Simple Now



For breakfast, I had creme brulee coffee with almond vanilla oatmeal! 

Published in Breakfast Club

It is the eve of November 8th, Election Day, a critical and contentious moment in our nation's history. I am currently sitting on a bus sandwiched between three teenage boys, all three who are much bigger than me, and who after several hours of driving are starting to produce a scent I like to call "teen spirit". We are enroute back to Cleveland from a two-day college tour, amongst which one of our stops was the University of Cincinnati, in the city known for its' historical influence of the passage of the Underground Railroad.

It seems after 2 years of growing anger and tension in our countries great divide, today should be a day of reflection and a celebration of those giant's on whose shoulders we stand. So we spent the morning visiting the Underground Railroad Freedom Center in the heart of Cincinnati and spent the morning with Ms. Faith who provided us with an experience we would not soon forget. As a white woman, I stood in J.W. Anderson's Slave Pen amongst 30 young African American youth, and I watched Ms. Faith drop heavy metal shackles on the floor of the pen, describing in details the different markings of the pen and how men, as young as 17, were shackled to the beams and left hanging until they were ready to be moved up the river. As I listened to her words, I was overcome with emotion, realizing that the only difference between the young people in the room today and those who suffered such atrocities was a factor of time. I was also keenly aware that freedom is a fragile thing and is not a universal truth, which is why it is so important that we fight harder to ensure that all young people today are educated to understand the history of those who came before them, in order to ensure that we don't allow history to repeat itself, as it often does, and that we continue to fight for the equality of freedom of all our people. Ironically, the Freedom Center demonstrated this truth, through its' new exhibit, "Invisible", which walked us through slavery that still exists today around the world and throughout our own country. Again, history repeats itself, and we often turn away.

fragility of freedom

I never fully understood the sanctity of the democratic process until I saw it at risk this past year. In all my years of education, I only understood that I had a right to vote and I should practice that right. Yes, of course I knew the three branches, the president, the fables, and all the big scandals. However, I didn't really understand the foundational principles in which our country was founded, how far we have strayed from those founding principles, how incredibly divided and divisive we have become, and how dangerous that division is to the long-term survival of our democracy (regardless of which side of the fence you sit). I am not specifically speaking of this election alone. After all, this isn't the first divisive election we have faced. Abraham Lincoln's presidential run may have still rivaled today's. Rather, I am speaking about the larger picture of our democracy. I am not sure where we begin to break the cycle that is occurring, but as I sat in JW Anderson's Slave Pen today, I couldn't help but feel a level of anxiety for those kids and what is at stake for each of them as they move forward with their education and future paths. In a society so heavily influenced by half-truths and misinformation, how do we fight to develop strong global leaders, with firm principles, and a clear understanding of what makes our country free.

fragility of freedom 2

Of course I might also argue that most of the kids we serve have never truly been free. In a society of haves and have-nots, we have successfully managed to keep those living in poverty, and most specifically minorities in poverty, in a system that doesn't allow for upward movement. The whole mantra "hard work leads to achievement" only works if you have the right resources in play, most of which these young people are not afforded. In case you don't believe me, research it. There are overwhelming bodies of research that show that young minorities in poverty, can't simply work hard and pull themselves out of poverty. So again, these young people aren't free today and as we continue to divide our nation, they seem to further be oppressed by the systems in play. However, this is for another blog... just some food for thought.

fragility of freedom 3

So again, as I sit on this bus, driving back up to "Believeland" I grow continually anxious not only for the results of tonight's election, but more so for the future direction of our country and what it means for our children and generations to come. Our freedom and democracy has endured and expanded through a civil war, the abolition of slavery, multiple wars, terrorism, the civil rights movement, forty-four presidents, new and changing amendments, etc. Yet, this doesn't make it invinsible. As Superman once said, "with Liberty comes Responsibility." Can we reshape the direction we are heading? Can we find middle ground? How do we explain the contentiousness with our children? How do we use knowledge as a source of power, rather than ignorance as a source of control? How do we teach the next generation differently? I don't have answers, only questions. Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, "America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves."


For breakfast, I had Almond Cacao Oatmeal. I've included the recipe below:
1 tbsp cacao powder
½ C gluten free oats
¼ C unsweetened coconut
1 tbsp almond butter
1 packet of stevia

Published in Breakfast Club

Civics 3Today is Election Day and while we have read, watched, discussed and likely studied candidates, policies, and perspectives, our civic education shouldn't slow down after this important date. As educators, we have the opportunity to creatively teach and engage young people in civic education. Heather Loewecke, Senior Program Manager, Afterschool and Youth Leadership Initiatives at Asia Society has written a timely piece, Civics Education is the Foundation for Global Citizenship, that we highly encourage you to read and take hold of the resources provided within the article.

Here are a few stats that emerge from this piece:

• Despite the mission to promote a thriving democracy, American public schools are inadequately preparing students for participation in civic life. Only 24 percent of high school seniors scored proficient or higher on the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam.

• Only about 20 percent of young adults aged 18-29 voted in the 2014 elections, the lowest turnout for that demographic ever recorded for a federal election.

• A 2016 Annenberg Public Policy poll reflected that American adults know very little about the US government, with the majority of respondents unable to answer basic questions.

In response to these staggering statistics, Heather shares the benefits of civic education, what's being done in education settings, and additional resources. Visit Asia Society's Center for Global Education website to read this piece.

In addition to this article, Asia Society has also created a companion unit plan overview sheet for afterschool workers. Be sure to visit their site to access this valuable resource. Let us know what your program is doing to engage youth in civic education!


Published in Breakfast Club

Game jams are like a game about making a game. Participants meet in out-of-school spaces to create a game in either one day or over a weekend. Often, game jams center on a theme. For example, in spring 2016, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) organized a climate-themed game jams about water. The topic of water was part of a White House call to action regarding building a sustainable water future. I helped facilitate the climate jam held in New York City. Students met at BrainPOP's headquarters on a Saturday afternoon. While there, they created games using free design tools, like Scratch, from the MIT Media Lab. To learn more, visit Climate Game Jam.

Last year I began to volunteer with the Moveable Game Jam initiative, a series of student game jams that—as the name implies—move about different locations in the New York City area. The first Moveable Game Jam I attended was held on a Saturday afternoon at the Quest to Learn, a school in New York City co-founded by the Institute of Play. And this year we are teaming up with the nonprofit Games for Change, which will run the Moveable Game Jams as part of its Student Challenge program!

How to Host a Game Jam

In a game jam event, begin in a common space with all participants present. Start with a brief, whole-group warm-up. We often use one of the 3 activities in the Moveable Game Jam guide: 1) Hacking tic-tac-toe; 2) Using a part of your body as a game component; and 3) Using everyday objects—like cups and rubber bands—as playful objects. The idea is to get everyone familiar with the parts of a game's system: goal, rules, components, core mechanics—or actions of play, and the space games are played. In tic-tac-toe the goal is 3 X's or O's in a row; the rules include the game being turn-based, with one letter per space; the components are paper and pencil; the core mechanics are drawing X's and O's and blocking other moves; and the space is the grid. After this discussion we then ask students to add a rule or drop a rule to the tic-tac-toe, or to make it a 3-player game. The idea of the warm-up is to get everyone familiar with game-based literacy. A colleague of mine likened it to teaching the rule-of-thirds or lighting to a photography student. You wouldn't just give someone a camera and expect him or her to take perfect wedding photos!

Climate Game Jam pic

The main part of the game jam takes place in smaller groups. We create a menu of 3-4 activities, running a couple of hours each. Students self-select where to go, and then rotate at some point. You should have at least one facilitator per room, and each game design tool should be different. For example, try the free digital game application like Gamestar Mechanic, or the interactive fiction authoring tool Twine or inkleWriter. Also have an analog—or tabletop board game station. Or try a fully nondigital game station, like modding (changing the rules) of musical chairs.

At the conclusion of a game jam, every team should share-out their games. This helps focus students on a goal to complete a prototype in the allotted time. At Moveable Game Jams we find that students who arrive in the morning as strangers leave as friends! It is a fun day for all: students, facilitators, and educators. After all, play is what occurs within the structure of a game. For more on the Moveable Game Jam activities you can run in your out-of-school program, check out our Moveable Game Jam Guide.


For breakfast, I had french toast and turkey bacon, with coffee. Lots of coffee!

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

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.

The JELO serves as an important resource for the expanded learning field as well as makes the connection between research and practice for afterschool program providers and increases public awareness of the expansive work taking place in afterschool programs. This blog features one of the articles in the current issue titled, "Filling in the Gaps: How Developmental Theory Supports Social Emotional Learning in Afterschool Programs" authored by Andrea Canzano, Kenneth A. Anthony II, Ed.D., Elise Scott, M.S. All are with the Connecticut AfterSchool Network.


This paper examines studies, census reports, and afterschool data to shed light on how afterschool programs can help close the opportunity, achievement, and learning gap found in traditional education. The theories of Bronfenbrenner and Gardner can inform programming during out-of-school time, improving the ability of programs to craft curriculum that can close the education gap through social emotional development. Census and afterschool data show that minority and/or impoverished children are most in need of social emotional and academic support, but are given the least access to high quality afterschool programs. Research shows that, while brain-building often stops with early childhood interventions, it is essential for school-age children as well. The paper closes with recommendations for SAFE (sequenced, active, focused, explicit) programming and best practices for implementation.

Keywords: social emotional learning, afterschool, promising practices, program implementation

Filling in the Gaps:
How Developmental Theory Supports Social Emotional Learning in Afterschool Programs

Many of the institutionalized inequalities of the education system hinder the ability to reach learners of every race, socioeconomic standing, and family background equally. Formal public education systems are primarily locally funded, abide by strict curriculum guidelines and standardized assessments, and attempt to decrease the opportunity, achievement, and learning gaps for minorities (U.S. Department of Education, 2014). Afterschool programs have a similar structure, however are unrestricted by curriculum guidelines, standardized accountability, and, for the most part, state and federal mandates. They have the ability to support academic success and social emotional competence through individualization to students' needs and background.

School curricula are developed with the hope of achieving student success, yet become impeded by challenges within the traditional classroom and the bureaucracy of education. In Smith and Kovac's (2011) survey, teachers saw preparing students for standardized tests as "reducing the quality of instruction they are able to provide students" (p. 210). Quality instruction cultivates success by connecting students' social emotional and academic skills. Afterschool programs can facilitate real-life application of academic content through collaboration with teachers and families (Afterschool Alliance, 2011). This article explores ways Afterschool programs can promote and encourage social emotional learning for students who are failing academically or behaviorally within the public education system.

Environmental Contexts

Children's social emotional development is affected by economic conditions, beliefs, and educational family structures. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2015), 68.2% of single mothers, 81.2% of single fathers, and 59.1% two-parent households are in the workforce. Low-income children are limited by their comparative lack of access to resources and experiences (Bandura, 2001). In addition, high stress levels can affect brain development in regions associated with language and reading (Noble et al., 2015). The United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights found that "the United States has a great distance to go to meet our goal of providing opportunities for every student to succeed" (U.S. Department of Education, 2014, para. 4). Because of their ability to understand the environments in which their students develop, afterschool programs can help support success for all students.

Bronfenbrenner's Biological Model of Human Development examines the environmental contexts in which children live (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006). Bronfenbrenner focuses on the events a child experiences, or Proximal Processes. The characteristics of the developing Person, the Context of the environment, and the historical Time are all factors in the Proximal Process. Within these processes are systems of influence. The smallest systems have direct contact with the child and the largest systems consist of societal norms that indirectly shape the environment. Afterschool programs are found in the two smallest systems that hold direct influence over the child, the microsystem and mesosystem (Bronfenbrenner, 1994).

Each microsystem consists of people and places that are frequent in the developing child's life (e.g., home, grandma's house, school, afterschool, etc.). Through their microsystems, the child develops tools they will use "to accomplish the tasks and goals that give meaning, direction, and satisfaction to their lives" (Bandura, 2001, p. 4).

Influencers in each microsystem provide basic necessities and maintain consistent structure. In environments which do not provide these prerequisites, social emotional development is focused on avoiding dysfunction rather than advancing competence. Students are likely to develop traits that best fulfill the behavioral expectations to which they are exposed (Thompson, 2014). For students from an unstable home microsystem, social expectations in structured environments such as school or afterschool may cause challenging behavior. These environments have expectations that are often unfamiliar or uncomfortable.

For this reason, learning about the social norms and behavioral expectations in each child's home environment microsystem is our first recommendation. This is one step that can help reduce the achievement gap.

Afterschool Context

If an afterschool program's behavioral expectation varies drastically from those in other environments, afterschool program educators must understand how to work within both systems to further students' social emotional competence. Durlak and Weissberg (2007) proved that when afterschool programs implemented sequenced, active, focused, and explicit (SAFE) curriculum, it enhanced students' social emotional development. This helped close the gap in supports, resources, and interactions that low-income children experience.

For example, Paul and Sally have similar socioeconomic status, family structure, and live in a similar neighborhood but have different experiences growing up (see Table 1). At age 3 Sally experiences a major social change at home, and has challenging behaviors due to the bilateral nature of social and emotional development (Lerner, Bowers, Geldhof, Gestsdóttir, & DeSouza, 2012). From ages 5-15, Sally adapts as she receives guidance around these behaviors, and develops greater social emotional competence, with stronger relationships and improved communication. As Paul develops, he only learns the limited communication skills he's accustomed to at home, causing him complications in other environments where communication is open. During the final and greatest variance between their environments, Sally's family becomes financially unstable, limiting their necessities such as the food budget. Sally's academic success and communication skills began to suffer. Her home and afterschool program microsystems may be able to hypothesize that hunger or stress is the cause of the undesirable behaviors and academic trouble, and collaborate to find a solution.

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Bronfenbrenner and Morris (2006) assert that when dealing with a destabilized home environment there is "greater impact in reducing dysfunction rather than in enhancing [a child's] knowledge about and skill in dealing with the external environment" (p. 803). Understanding this position can help afterschool professionals move towards constructive behavior management techniques instead of disciplining behaviors. Over time, the child and their environment (the proximal processes) change, and behavior management and social emotional development goals at home and in the afterschool program need to adapt together to support the child.

These philosophies can apply to students who are in severely disadvantaged situations, where preventing dysfunction is the goal. Disadvantaged situations may include challenges in one or all of the following elements: family structure, socioeconomic standing, neighborhood, parent or guardian education level, instability, and lack of necessities. In these situations, afterschool programs can "improve the quality of the environment" by being a part of the solution, and in turn "increase the developmental power of promising processes" (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 2006, p. 808). If the family context is unable to intervene, the child's other microsystems (such as an afterschool program) have the responsibility of intervening.

Children often look to peers for guidance. Within the afterschool program, a student's peer group is a central component of the microsystem. Peer groups encourage developmentally generative or developmentally disruptive characteristics dependent on their dispositions. Peers can set in motion proximal processes that strengthen or hinder outcomes. In afterschool programs, advancing students' social emotional development through building developmentally generative characteristics within peer groups is essential.

The contexts of family, school, afterschool, and peer groups have the opportunity to work together towards encouraging positive outcomes, understanding each student's needs, and making resources accessible. A student's brain-building, through the use of enriching experiences, is extremely prevalent in early childhood interventions (Shonkoff, Boyce, & McEwen, 2009; Lenroot & Giedd, 2006).

By age 5, the brain has reached 90% of its adult size, but is continuously undergoing transformation. Between ages 4 to 18, the part of the brain controlling emotions, memory, and language changes dramatically. The area that regulates communication across parts of the brain and links brain function to behaviors and feelings continues to change and mature at a rapid rate beyond the age of 40. This means that brain-building must continue through school-age and beyond (Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006; Lenroot & Giedd, 2006; Nagy, Westerberg, & Klingberg, 2004; Paus et al., 2001). Figure 1 illustrates numerous ways that afterschool programs stimulate continued brain development in school-age youth. Afterschool programs have the potential to facilitate development in nearly every area of the brain through their unique blending of academic, social-emotional, physical, and 21st century learning experiences (Shernoff, 2010; Beets, Beighle, Erwin, & Huberty, 2009; Silva, 2008; Blakemore & Choudhury, 2006; Zeif, Louver, & Maynard, 2006; Posner & Vandell, 1999) ( see Figure 1).

Figure 1 JELO

Figure 1. How Afterschool Impacts Brain Development. Reprinted from Brain-Building in Afterschool by E. Scott, 2016, Hartford, CT: Connecticut After School Network. Retrieved from ‎Copyright 2016 by the Connecticut After School Network. Reprinted with permission.

Afterschool programs which have an understanding of the unique contexts that influence each child work to close gaps in the ability of the home and other microsystems to advance development. Programs can identify what is missing for a child to have the social emotional skills to be successful in all contexts. Equipped with an awareness of the gaps, programs can help children develop skills in areas that are lacking.

Reaching all Learners through SAFE Curriculum

Reaching all learners is an overwhelming task. Yet the need is high. According to Baker (2014), the average Caucasian student at age 13 reads at the same level as an African-American student at 17. In addition, 61% of African-Americans and 50% of Latinos living in low-income situations would enroll their students in structured and focused afterschool programs if they were available (Afterschool Alliance, 2009). Each student has a unique social emotional skill set and individual learning style. The Campaign for Educational Equity emphasized that increasing access to high-quality afterschool programs is essential to achieving educational equity (Afterschool Alliance, 2013).

Vandell, Reisner, and Pierce (2007) demonstrated the potential of afterschool programs to increase academic scores through application of personal skills and talents. Programs can partner with traditional education to build complimentary learning. Afterschool activities can encourage 21st Century Skills such as problem solving, teamwork, and critical thinking (Hart, 2008). Though these skills may be addressed in the traditional classroom, a meta-analysis conducted by Durlak, Weissberg, and Pachan (2010) illustrated that when students participate in the skills being taught, such as by the Active element of SAFE curriculum, acquisition of knowledge occurs in a more effective and efficient manner.

The ability to continually reach and encourage academic growth in afterschool programs requires an understanding of progression in academic knowledge, environmental influences, and learning styles. Understanding these characteristics enables afterschool programs to create engaging activities while promoting academic growth. It is essential that learning builds on the background knowledge students receive from the school curriculum, social emotional capabilities, and school philosophies. Once there is an understanding of a student's social emotional development, thoughtfully structured curriculum is a key to their success. Afterschool programs which integrate Sequenced, Active, Focused, and Explicit (SAFE) curriculum have shown positive social emotional development gains (Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010). This includes structuring behavioral expectations similar to the school district students attend, collaboration with teachers to expand on curriculum, and developing partnerships that facilitate joint training between school and afterschool program personnel in current teaching techniques. For this reason thoughtful implementation of SAFE curriculum is a tool to be utilized when introducing social emotional curriculum within afterschool programs.

Considering Student Ability and Interest in SAFE Curriculum

Student interest and talents should drive the afterschool program curriculum, and be based on SAFE components. When incorporating explicit activities, students must comprehend the skills they are practicing in order to make improvement (Durlak, Weissberg, & Pachan, 2010). In afterschool, it is important for staff to avoid the mistake of providing students with simplistic activities.

Gardner's Seven Multiple Intelligences provide afterschool programs the tools to implement SAFE activities. Current criticisms of Gardner's Multiple Intelligences include lack of empirical support and flaws in some of the research supporting the theory (McConnell, 2015). However Armstrong (2009) asserted that the Multiple Intelligence model is conducive to the needs of after school professionals when developing complex instruction which encourages confidence and trust in oneself and others.

The process of participating in activities not only teaches students how to complete the task (e.g, build with Legos) but also teaches social strategies (e.g., building with Legos with a partner). Gardner and Hatch (1989) assert that individuals have multiple ways of showing intelligence. The intelligences are Logical-Mathematical, Linguistic, Spatial, Musical, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Interpersonal, and Intrapersonal. Afterschool program staff can gather information on students' learning styles from teachers, guardians, and their own observations.

These intelligences are listed individually, however Gardner found that they rarely act independently (Brualdi, 1996; Gardner & Hatch, 1989). This is something for afterschool programs to consider. Due to the large number of students a program can serve daily, it would be nearly impossible to consider each student's environmental history, social emotional zone of development, and individual interests when creating activities. However, Gardner states that to have a functional society all seven intelligences must be present. For education, this means that focusing solely on Language Arts and Math skills is actually a hindrance to intelligences outside of logic and verbal (Gardner & Hatch, 1989; Brualdi, 1996). Afterschool programs can encourage student interest and talents by focusing on activities that reinforce traditional education skills and foster success through many or all intelligences. Reflecting on a student's abilities (intelligences) and their contribution to an activity can prevent a student with low self-efficacy from having a negative experience and reacting with challenging behaviors. Figures 2 and 3 feature example activities which illustrate this. 

 Figure 2 JELO    Figure 2. Activity with Skill-Level Adjustments, Broken Square Example


Figure 3 JELO
                                             Figure 3. Activity with Skill-Level Adjustments, Copy Cat Example                                                                      

Case Studies

The New Hampshire Extended Learning Opportunities (ELO) targets at risk students and promotes success through student interest. One teacher learned that potential high school dropouts enjoyed rap, but struggled with traditional English classes. The teacher worked collaboratively with students to develop curriculum which challenges them to display confidence in their own abilities, and reflect on the experience. Through following interest, the curriculum incorporated musical intelligence and specific developmental needs allowing the students to experience academic success and the highest level of cognition. These students were able to develop individualized learning portfolios, reaching a knowledge level of metacognition and cognitive level of creation (Heer, 2012) versus failing English.

This model demonstrates what partnerships between school and community providers can accomplish. By understanding student needs in adverse developmental situations this teacher was able to show success while applying the highest level of thinking skills. In the hierarchy of cognitive processes, many high order skills require social emotional abilities, such as working in inter- and intrapersonal settings, reflection, direct purpose, confidence, and the ability to respond constructively to environmental influences. Using multiple intelligences and social emotional abilities can encourage positive experiences for students. Incorporating daily strategies that build on students' interests and needs is a good starting point for afterschool programs to implement social emotional curriculum (as shown in Appendix A).

An excellent example of this is the California Afterschool Outcome Measures Project (CAOMP), which tracks data based on student input, school staff academic and behavioral data, as well as afterschool professionals' interaction quality and availability of level appropriate activities. CAOMP's focus within social emotional growth surveys afterschool professionals' and classroom teachers' observations of student social behavior, intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and work habits. CAOMP incorporates student surveys initiating self-reflection of students' social emotional development regarding interactions with afterschool professionals, interactions with peers, and interest and engagement in activities. Due to programs participating in persistent data collection such as CAOMP, there is evidence that social emotional curriculum supports closing achievement gaps (Vandell, 2013).

A recent case study by Humans of New York story cited a teacher at the Mott Hall Bridges Academy who used to run an afterschool program for 5-12 year olds. One activity he created was a group building challenge (using manila folders, tape, and straws). The first attempt at implementation was unsuccessful. The next day, however, he bought yellow hard hats, and found "they transformed the kids. The hats made them feel like builders. . . . Other kids saw them through the window and asked to join, until all the hats were gone" (Stanton, 2015, para. 1). This one simple act encouraged social emotional gains, high levels of cognitive functioning, and academic skills.

Ramapo for Children is an organization which offers programs for youth who have academic, social, or emotional special needs. Their mission, to "help young people learn to align their behaviors with their aspirations," mirrors the intention of the building challenge (Ramapo for Children, About Us, n.d., para. 2). The children's social emotional toolbox develops through a four-tiered pyramid: (a) relationships and role models, (b) implementation of clear expectations, (c) structures and routines, adapting to individual needs, and (c) responding, reflecting, and repairing. Similar to SAFE programs, this pyramid is sequenced, responds actively to the needs of individuals, focuses on data driven practices and provides explicit structure for participants. The success of their toolbox is exemplified through their partnerships with Urban Assembly, which is "dedicated to empowering underserved youth by providing them with the academic and life skills necessary for postsecondary success" (The Urban Assembly, Our Mission, n.d., para. 1).

The parallel missions allowed Ramapo and Urban Assembly to provide teachers and students with trainings to develop social and emotional needs demonstrated through their partnership with the New Technology School located in a Harlem, NY public housing project. Jeff Chetriko, principal of New Tech in Harlem, stated the trainings, "gave students an opportunity to see a world outside of Harlem and helped prove to them that they are worth something," creating a school atmosphere that students and staff were proud of due to the new ability to talk about issues versus the previous norm of resorting to violence (Ramapo for Children, Our Impact, n.d., para. 6). The school previously was unsafe, unwelcoming, and ultimately counterproductive in providing students with quality education; however, there was a 33% reduction in suspensions and 40% reduction in behavioral incidents after the installation of a social emotional curriculum (Ramapo for Children, Our Impact, n.d., para. 3).

Conclusion: Filling in the Gaps with SAFE Afterschool

Youth in adverse environments are more likely to be unsupervised in the hours after school then youth in more advantageous environments (Afterschool Alliance, 2014). Likewise, parents reported that programs in their area often did not include challenging and enriching environments (Afterschool Alliance, 2014). This seems to suggest that students most in need of social emotional development are the least likely to receive the necessary support. Understanding students' social emotional processes, personal interest, and abilities in these communities can help develop SAFE afterschool programs and begin to close the opportunity, learning, and achievement gaps. There is need for SAFE and purposefully designed activities in afterschool programs where the factors of low socioeconomic standing, unstable environments, and low educational funding are pervasive. The ability to function productively, understand and thrive in institutionalized social systems, and achieve social emotional competence is required to succeed in today's societal structure (Bandura, 2001).

SAFE afterschool programs have been found to improve students' self-efficacy and academic performance, while decreasing developmentally disruptive characteristics. Durlak and Weissberg (2007) conducted a meta-analysis of 69 different programs which served children ages 5-18 across the country. Programs which continuously used SAFE structure and simultaneously aligned with the school day improved students standardized test scores, improved social behaviors, and reduced problem behaviors compared to programs without consistent social emotional curriculum (Bennett, 2015; Durlak & Weissberg, 2013; Vandell, Reisner, & Pierce, 2007) (see Figure 4). Afterschool programs which connect social emotionally centered curriculum and student interest can utilize the toolboxes provided through the example of Ramapo for Children and the California Afterschool Outcome Measures Project.

Success develops from a student's ability to use cognitive and social emotional skills collectively (Farnham, Fernando, Perigo, Brosman, & Tough, 2015). Developing these competencies is the first step to help students succeed in traditional education. Afterschool programs are in a position to make change and impact the closing of the opportunity, learning, and achievement gaps in education.

Figure 4 JELO

Figure 4. Average percentile gains on selected outcomes for participants in SAFE vs. other afterschool programs. Reprinted from Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer (p. 196), by T. K. Peterson (Ed.), 2013, Washington, DC: Collaborative Communications Group. Copyright 2013 by Collaborative Communications Group. Reprinted with permission.

Recommendations for Practitioners

Afterschool programs and educators, particularly those who serve children from low-income or at-risk families, are encouraged to consider the following steps. First, consider the contexts or microsystems that each child in your program has been exposed to. Are any unmet needs impacting the child's behavior or performance? What skills has the child developed as a result? What skills are missing or need to be developed more fully?

Second, keeping this insight in mind, consider how your afterschool program can be a support. Can you help families find or access resources to address unmet needs? How can your behavior management strategies encourage a positive behavior that builds a social emotional skill (like communication or self-regulation) rather than just halting an unwanted behavior? How can you build up self-esteem in areas where it may be lacking?

Third, build and implement a SAFE curriculum. Sequence your activities, so that each activity builds on the ideas and skills explored in the activities that came before. Start by thinking in week-long units, with new ideas appearing at the start of the week, and building knowledge and skills as the week progresses. Make your activities Active, so that students participate in fun, hands-on learning, practice new skills, and in activities which are related to their interests. Focus your activities, devoting specific, regularly scheduled time to developing the social emotional and academic skills your students need most. Be Explicit, defining what skills the students are learning and practicing. Tell students before the activity what they will be learning, and afterwards, check in to see if they learned what you were hoping and how they felt about the experience. For more specific ideas and a glossary of terms, explore Appendix A and Appendix B to jumpstart the process of integrating SAFE curriculum to promote social-emotional and academic success in the children you serve.


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. 



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Farnham, L., Fernando, G., Perigo, M., Brosman, C., & Tough, P. (2015). Rethinking how students succeed. Stanford Social Innovation Review Retrieved from

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Appendix A

Jumpstart Social Emotional Learning: Activities to Understand Your Students' Interests and Experiences and to Build Personalized Social Emotional Learning

Thumb Up, Thumb Flat, Thumb Down

  • When students arrive and throughout the program, have them show "Thumb Up" if they are having a good day, "Thumb Flat" if they are having an okay day, or "Thumb Down" if they are having a difficult day. Incorporate this into the staff's routine with the students, having staff show how their day is going with their thumbs as well. It is a simple tool to check in with the students and for students to check in with staff, leading to a safe, understanding atmosphere.

One Word Share

  • Upon arrival, have students and staff members individually choose one word that describes them right now. Go around in the large group or in small groups sharing the word. No discussion of the word anyone chose is allowed, which creates the safety to be honest. They can share an emotion they are having, an interest of theirs, or even something silly; the intent is to promote authenticity and build knowledge of each person over time, not simply in the moment of sharing.

Silent Cheers

  • Have each staff member and student go around and say something they enjoy (e.g., tacos, soccer, painting, math). If it is something that you like as well, silently wave your hands in the air as if you were cheering. This will help staff and students cultivate relationships based on common interests and learn what students are interested in, to support interest-based activity development.

Commonality Line

  • In an area that students and staff can stand and step forward, create two lines facing each other. Have one person say a statement that applies to them. (e.g., "I have two sisters," "I am 10 years old," escalating to personal statements, "I am in foster care," "I have two moms," etc.) Everyone that the statement applies to silently steps forward for a brief moment, looking around, and then returns to the original line. As the activity progresses, the hope is to learn more about the students and staff's home-life and encourage understanding that we have similar and different experiences but we are all still standing together.

Safe Box

  • Create a box in which students and staff can put writings or drawings anonymously. On a predetermined time randomly choose a writing or drawing from the box to share. The box should be safe and have no instructions other than you are not allowed to bring others down. You may vent about anything but cannot specifically mention names or reference specific people (e.g., "I am frustrated with the way Johnny bothers me during homework club" is not allowed, but "I am frustrated when people distract me during homework club" is fine). This activity is designed to build discussion and empathy, and should be implemented once a safe atmosphere has been created among the staff and students.

Appendix B

Glossary of key terms

Achievement Gap: refers to any significant and persistent disparity in academic performance or educational attainment between different groups of students, such as white students and minorities, for example, or students from higher-income and lower-income households.

Assistance Assumption: skills that students are able to accomplish with assistance from a more competent peer or adult (their instructional level).

Bloom's Taxonomy: a classification system used to define and distinguish different levels of human cognition (i.e., thinking, learning, and understanding).

Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence: the ability to use one's mental abilities to coordinate one's own bodily movements. This intelligence challenges the popular belief that mental and physical activity are unrelated.

Chronosystem: encompasses change or consistency over time not only in the characteristics of the person but also of the environment in which that person lives (e.g., changes over the life course in family structure, socioeconomic status, employment, place of residence, or the degree of chaos and ability in everyday life).

Cognitive Process Dimension: represents a continuum of increasing cognitive complexity — from lower order thinking skills to higher order thinking skills.

Complex Instruction: Cooperative learning is a form of classroom instruction that structures collaborative interactions among learners to achieve the teacher's learning goals. This includes assigning competencies, multiple abilities, heterogeneous grouping, and equalization of academic status.

Context: a series of nested systems that affect the developing person ranging from micro to macro.

Developmental Competence: demonstrated acquisition and further development of knowledge and skills — whether intellectual, physical, social emotional, or a combination of them.

Developmentally Disruptive: includes such characteristics as impulsiveness, explosiveness, distractibility, inability to defer gratification, or, in a more extreme form, ready resort to aggression and violence; in short, difficulties in maintaining control over emotions and behavior. At the opposite pole are such Person attributes as apathy, inattentiveness, unresponsiveness, lack of interest in the surroundings, feelings of insecurity, shyness, or a general tendency to avoid or withdraw from activity.

Developmental Dysfunction: refers to the recurrent manifestation of difficulties on the part of the developing person in maintaining control and integration of behavior across situations.

Developmentally Generative: involves such active orientations as curiosity, tendency to initiate and engage in activity alone or with others, responsiveness to initiatives by others, and readiness to defer immediate gratification to pursue long-term goals.

Exosystem: comprises the linkages and processes taking place between two or more settings, at least one of which does not contain the developing person, but in which events occur that indirectly influence processes within the immediate setting in which the developing person lives (e.g., for a child, the relation between home and the parent's workplace; for a parent, the relation between the school and the neighborhood group).

Generality Assumption: skills that students are able to accomplish without assistance (their independence level).

Intelligence (Gardner): the capacity to solve problems or to fashion products that are valued in one or more cultural setting.

Knowledge Dimension: classifies four types of knowledge that learners may be expected to acquire or contract —ranging from concrete to abstract.

Learning Gap: the difference between what a student has learned (i.e., the academic progress he or she has made) and what the student was expected to learn at a certain point in his or her education, such as a particular age or grade level. A learning gap can be relatively minor—the failure to acquire a specific skill or meet a particular learning standard, for example—or it can be significant and educationally consequential, as in the case of students who have missed large amounts of schooling.

Linguistic Intelligence: involves having a mastery of language. This intelligence includes the ability to effectively manipulate language to express oneself rhetorically or poetically. It also allows one to use language as a means to remember information.

Logical-Mathematical Intelligence: consists of the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically. This intelligence is most often associated with scientific and mathematical thinking.

Macrosystem: consists of the overarching pattern of micro-, meso-, and ecosystems characteristic of a given culture or subculture, with particular reference to the belief systems, bodies of knowledge, material resources, customs, life-styles, opportunity structures, hazards, and life course options that are embedded in each of these broader systems.

Mesosystem: comprises the linkages and processes taking place between two or more settings containing the developing person (e.g., the relations between home and school, school and workplace, etc.).
Microsystem: a pattern of activities, social roles, and interpersonal relations experienced by the developing person in a given face-to-face setting with particular physical, social, and symbolic features that invite, permit, or inhibit engagement in sustained, progressively more complex interaction with, and activity in, the immediate environment. Examples include such settings as family, school, peer group, and workplace.

Musical Intelligence: encompasses the capability to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms. (Auditory functions are required for a person to develop this intelligence in relation to pitch and tone, but not needed for the knowledge of rhythm.).

Opportunity Gap: refers to the ways in which race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, community wealth, familial situations, or other factors contribute to or perpetuate lower educational aspirations, achievement, and attainment for certain groups of students.

Person: describing the developing person distinguished most by three types of characteristics that are most influential in shaping the course of future development through the capacity to affect the direction and power of proximal processes through the life course: dispositions that set proximal processes in motion and sustain their operation, resources of ability, experience, knowledge, and skill, demand characteristics that invite or discourage reactions from social environment that can foster or disrupt the operation of proximal processes.

Personal Intelligences: includes interpersonal feelings and intentions of others--and intrapersonal intelligence--the ability to understand one's own feelings and motivations. These two intelligences are separate from each other. Nevertheless, because of their close association in most cultures, they are often linked together.

Potential Assumption: skills that are within a student's potential (their challenge level).

Proximal Process: particular forms of interaction between organism and environment that operate over time and are posited as the primary mechanisms producing human development.

Spatial Intelligence: gives one the ability to manipulate and create mental images in order to solve problems. This intelligence is not limited to visual domains--Gardner notes that spatial intelligence is also formed in blind children.

Time: broken into three successive levels: microtime refers to continuity versus discontinuity in ongoing episodes of proximal processes, mesotime is the periodicity of these episodes across broader time intervals, such as days and weeks, macrotime focuses on the changing expectations and events in larger society, both within and across generations, as they affect and are affected by processes and outcomes of human development over the life course.

Zone of Proximal Development: the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers.


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. During the next three weeks, we will be highlighting these articles on the blog. Stay tuned for the first of the three in the series tomorrow. In the meantime, here is an opportunity to submit a paper for upcoming journals:

JELO JournalJELO is a peer-reviewed, online, open access publication of the Central Valley Afterschool Foundation. The JELO connects research and promising practices throughout California and the nation, fostering a dialogue that engages both researchers and practitioners in the field. In 2017, The Journal of Expanded Learning Opportunities will publish two issues: a special issue in Spring and our regular issue in Fall. At this time, we welcome the submission of papers for both our Spring 2017 special issue and Fall 2017 regular issue.

Spring 2017 special issue: This special issue will focus specifically on articles addressing gender-focused initiatives and equity and diversity in the expanded learning field. Suggested topics include:

• Mentoring programs for women/girls of color
• Fostering school success and reducing suspensions and expulsions
• Meeting the needs of vulnerable and striving youth
• Increasing access to inclusive STEM education
• Sustaining reduced rates of teen pregnancy
• Expanding pathways to economic prosperity

Fall 2017 regular issue: JELO is also accepting submissions for all other original articles related to expanded learning for our Fall 2017 issue. Suggested topics are inspired by the Learning in Afterschool and Summer (LIAS) principles which include:

• Active, project-based learning
• Collaborative learning and programs
• Applied learning activities
• Learning that supports mastery
• Learning that expands horizons
• Instructional strategies that promote student learning

Please feel free to contact us regarding potential topics for either issue prior to submitting.

The journal solicits original papers in two categories:

Research-based: presentation of new research using data that includes an abstract, an introductory paragraph, a brief literature review, methods (quantitative and/or qualitative), results and implications. An example would be an academic or field study.
Practitioner-based: presentation of an essay or brief focused on a specific promising practice that includes an abstract, an introductory paragraph, a short literature review, description of the practice, results, and recommendations for implementation and sustainability. An example would be program evaluation/assessment or case study.

Submission guidelines:

• Submit electronically using the following link: Article Submission Form
• Please indicate in the "Article Abstract or Summary" text box of the Article Submission form if you will be submitting for Spring of 2017 or Fall of 2017.
• Use word or rich text format
• Follow American Psychological Association, or APA (6th Edition) formatting rules.
• Do not to exceed 3,500 words for practitioner articles and 5,000 words for research articles (not including references and tables)
• Include in the electronic submission attachment a cover page with: manuscript title, indication of whether your article is a research-based or practitioner-based submission, author(s), affiliation, address, phone, and email address
• Eliminate any author identifying references within the paper in order to ensure a blind review
Submit by August 31, 2016

Review Process:

Upon receiving your submission the chief editor or associate editors will send notice of receipt to the contact author. The editors will review the submissions for suitability for the journal and specific category. If not suitable the editors will provide guidance for the author. If suitable, the paper will be sent to the editorial review board for blind review. To view previous issues of the JELO, please visit our website. 

Questions/Comments contact Kim Boyer: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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