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The story of the year in afterschool STEM learning just might have come out this week in Washington, DC. At the National Press Club, people from all corners of the afterschool STEM world gathered to learn about STEM Ready America, a new report on afterschool STEM that effectively defines the national paradigm for activities in the field. Program leaders and policy thinkers, corporate and non-profit executives and funders, STEM educators and researchers from all levels discussed, reviewed, and enthused about the rich combination of research, examples from the field, and recommendations for action.

stem afterschool

Funded by the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, STEM Ready America is a project of STEM Next, a national leader in studying and promoting informal and out-of-school STEM learning housed at the University of California, San Diego. Researchers at Harvard University and Texas Tech University collaborated on the work, which involved over 1,600 participating students and 160 programs in 11 states.

Findings from STEM Ready America might mean exciting things for the learning and life prospects of students going through afterschool STEM programs.

  • 72 percent of students reported an increase in their perseverance and critical thinking skills.
  • 73 percent reported an increase in their personal belief that they can succeed at science.
  • 78 percent reported a positive change in their interest in science.
  • 80 percent reported a positive gain in their science career knowledge.

The report features articles taking three general angles of approach to afterschool STEM learning: the evidence for what happens, how to create a constructive environment, and examples of effective programs.

stem afterschool1

The section about evidence documents the benefits and accomplishments of afterschool and summer STEM programs. Articles look at how and what kind of research is conducted, what the results say about effects of afterschool STEM programs, and implications for policy and funding decisions. Highlights include a discussion of how Next Generation Science Standards relate to out-of-school STEM curricula and learning and how informal STEM education positively influences students' opinions and achievement in their formal STEM classwork.

Different states and localities take different paths to afterschool STEM success. Surveying work in Oregon, Indiana, Nebraska, and New York, articles in the section on afterschool STEM learning environments highlight effective, large-scale approaches. Cross-sector partnerships are key, for example, in Oregon and Indiana, while Nebraska has focused more on community-based efforts. And "STEM ecosystems" have grown from California roots to a national phenomenon, demonstrating how important it is to ground programs in local needs and resources.

Exemplary programs show how adaptable and effective afterschool STEM programs can be. In descriptive, narrative, and analytical terms, these pieces showcase the variety of successful approaches educators have taken. From technology to girls in STEM to minorities and low-income groups to career guidance to STEM and the arts, these programs demonstrate the rich bounty of programming that is possible to deploy within afterschool STEM efforts.


As the report makes clear, STEM learning is a natural fit for out-of-school programs. Kids can get out of class and into real-world settings, whether natural or designed, where up-close encounters with STEM activities make them see the relevance of what they're learning. With lower stakes attached, kids can try far-out, unfamiliar tasks without fearing dire consequences for failure. And exercising their brains (and bodies) in summer STEM programs reduces the learning loss that can take place between school years.

These are all things people have seen and studied in local settings, but STEM Ready America amasses the evidence – quantitative and qualitative – to support these arguments in any afterschool context.

Take a look for yourself. You're sure to find something that speaks directly to your long-held hopes or actual efforts in informal STEM learning.

For breakfast today, I finished my daughter's bowl of multi-grain Cheerios and banana with peanut butter, then moved on to a bagel with cream cheese and the usual two cups of coffee.

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

Asia Society and BOOST Collaborative are partnering to create a series of blogs on global learning in out-of-school time. This blog entry was originally published on EdWeek's Global Learning Blog. This piece is written by Linda Rosenblum, Education Program Manager and Servicewide Teacher Ranger Teacher Coordinator, National Park Service.

National Park Service (NPS) parks and historic sites provide unique opportunities for students to study history, science, civics, culture, and global issues by providing access to primary historical resources, scientific data, subject matter experts and professionals, and community connections to local cultural heritage. As the National Park Service celebrates its 100th birthday, increased attention has been focused on expanding its presence in the education community. Most people are familiar with the larger national parks that protect breathtaking natural areas like the Grand Canyon National Park, Yellowstone National Park, or Everglades National Park, but much of the public is unaware that fully two-thirds of the areas managed by the National Park Service are not natural resource parks but instead are cultural or historical preservation sites. The National Park Service is comprised of 413 protected areas that include national parks, national memorials, national monuments, national battlefields and cemeteries, national historic sites and historical parks, national recreation areas, scenic and wild rivers, natural and historical trails, national seashores and lakeshores, and national preserves. The variety of protected areas is broad and reflects the diverse range of resources that the National Park Service preserves and protects for the enjoyment of future generations.

NPS 2These special places offer a unique opportunity for educators to engage their students in place-based learning activities. Place-based learning is defined as an approach to education that focuses on the students' surrounding environment and community and often takes the form of engaging in immersive, project-based activities that address real-world issues. According to Janice L. Woodhouse and Clifford E. Knapp, place-based learning prepares students to "live and work to sustain the cultural and ecological integrity of the places they inhabit." They further argue that place-based learning prepares students to actively participate in civic society and the democratic process by providing knowledge of and experiences in real-life environmental and cultural issues. Educators can involve their students in problem solving and community engagement using National Park Service sites.

Teach Cultural Preservation

Cultural preservation can include many different aspects of maintaining and preserving both tangible and intangible human culture. Intangible culture includes religion, language, music, dance, literature, and other non-tangible characteristics of a group. Tangible culture includes the natural and created environments like architecture, art, cultural landscapes, and significant natural areas. The National Park Service and other preservation management organizations work to preserve and protect these treasures through land and resource management policies and procedures. Cultural preservation is one way to teach young people global competencies like critical thinking skills and cultural literacy through engagement in real-life problems and creation of solution strategies.

Teaching cultural preservation could include studying local architecture or historic neighborhoods and talking with local government officials and historical societies to learn about what is being done to protect these resources. Students could work with a nearby National Park Service site in a service learning project maintaining natural or historical resources in the park or their community. Teachers could invite a preservation professional from a local historical society, their state historic preservation office (SHPO), a local city planning office, or the National Park Service to speak to their class about how they help to preserve the cultural heritage of their neighborhood, town, or a nearby historic site and what the community can do to help.

Recently, a group of middle and high school students gathered in New Mexico to participate in a youth summit.  Over the course of four days, the students visited historic sites and museums and met with professionals in the fields of preservation, cultural resource interpretation, and heritage tourism. The students studied the importance of historical and cultural preservation and the challenges met by preservation professionals and local leaders who protect these special places. The youth then formed teams and brainstormed ideas to propose solutions to these challenges. Some proposals addressed ways to decrease vandalism at historical or cultural heritage sites. Other teams offered solutions on how to increase youth awareness and engagement in cultural resource stewardship. Still others offered suggestions on how local leadership could better connect with youth. One student described the experience this way, "We get to apply what we learned in real life and actually help people who are in government and help people make decisions. It kind of empowers youth to learn more about their culture and make an impact in their communities."

Promote Environmental Stewardship

Many schools look to the National Park Service to take their students outdoors to learn firsthand about environmental issues. Parks like Great Smoky Mountains National Park offer field trips where middle school and high school students can monitor changes in the natural environment at the park and connect those changes to global issues like climate change. Other opportunities exist for students to engage in service learning projects either through their schools or youth organizations like
Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts. Educators can connect these on-site activities to their classroom learning units in earth science, weather, geology, biology, or through interdisciplinary approaches combining scientific data gathered at a park with a math project analyzing that data. Several national parks like North Cascades National Park, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site and Petroglyph National Monument are working with Bureau of Indian Education schools developing on-site citizen science programs where students do actual scientific data collection and analysis with National Park Service professionals. Students learn about climate change, erosion, wildlife management, and other natural resource management issues while implementing critical thinking and analysis skills in the program.


Engage in Historical Research

Many educators and students work with parks and historic sites in the development of National History Day projects by studying museum objects, buildings, photographs, maps, landscapes, and other historical resources preserved at National Park Service sites. Youth can choose topics related to the subject matter interpreted and preserved at the site or select a project based on the history of the National Park Service itself.  For example, the historian and education specialist at Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka, Kansas often help students find information and connect with surviving children of plaintiffs from the 1954 Supreme Court decision that ended racial segregation in the nation's public schools. Students are able to conduct interviews with the plaintiff's children to learn firsthand how the case and its aftermath affected the students who were represented by the NAACP lawyers.

Other NPS Resources

The National Park Service is often considered the world's largest informal education organization.  In addition to 413 natural, cultural, and historical sites preserved and protected by the NPS, there are many program and technical offices throughout the country that do work in cultural and natural resource preservation and education. There are many other resources provided for educators through the National Park Service:

Free Admission: Every Kid in a Park is a White House initiative designed to encourage every fourth grader in the United States to visit a federal land or water management area to participate in educational and recreational activities. The program offers a one-year, free pass into federal land and water management areas to fourth graders and their families. Educators can also register for their class to participate in the program. Many parks and historic sites provide hands-on education programs for fourth graders participating in Every Kid in a Park. Lesson plans on getting to know federal lands and waters, environmental stewardship, citizen science, and Native American cultures have been developed to help educators acquaint their students with Every Kid in a Park and the participating federal land and water management agencies.
Lesson Plans: The National Park Service also provides an online portal where lesson plans, field trips, distance learning programs, and other educational materials and resources can be found.  Searches can be conducted by keyword, subject, grade level, or Common Core standards. Over 250 featured lesson plans and materials are available from the main search page, but by clicking on "view archived lesson plans here" from the center of your search results page, you will have access to an additional 1,100 items from our archived content.
Professional Development: Opportunities for professional development in place-based learning are available at many NPS sites. Some parks, like Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, offer short-term workshops where educators can learn about the park's educational resources and programs and how to integrate historical and natural resources into learning activities and field trips. The NPS also offers a longer-term (4-6 weeks in the summer) professional development opportunity called the Teacher Ranger Teacher program. Participating educators spend their summers at NPS sites learning about the NPS educational resources and themes while taking an online course with University of Colorado, Denver in experiential learning. The NPS provides educators with new insights about the use of primary historical and scientific resources for use in their classrooms and programs so that they can bring their students back to the parks to conduct their own on-site learning experiences.

NPS sites provide many place-based learning opportunities where students and educators can engage in real-life problem solving activities, scientific data gathering and analysis, cultural heritage awareness, historic and environmental preservation, civic engagement, service learning, and global literacy. It is through these learning opportunities that youth can develop an understanding and appreciation for our environmental and cultural heritage and history and become the stewards of our global heritage in the future.

Photos courtesy of the National Park Service.

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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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

Looking back over the two decades that I've had the privilege of being part of the grand experiment of developing expanded learning opportunities for millions of America's most vulnerable children, I believe we're in the process of co-creating a future that can and will make a bigger difference than any of us could have imagined. The rate of change is accelerating. The breadth and depth of knowledge is greater than ever. And the willingness to move to the next level is increasingly evident. The time is right to build on what's working and go confidently in the direction of our dreams!

Learning is more real, relevant and student-driven

By adopting project-based learning approaches, programs are providing an increasing number of students with opportunities to apply what they're being taught during the school day in real-life settings. This is making it more likely than ever that they will strengthen their communication, collaboration and problem solving skills; be able to express themselves more creatively; and enable them to acquire new knowledge on their own. Preliminary results show that children and young people are becoming more confident in their abilities, more eager to find solutions to increasingly complex problems and more excited about transferring what they learn to their everyday lives.

building pbl

I recently spent an afternoon with students in a science project at The Center for Expanded Learning Program in Sacramento where students were engaged in an aeronautics challenge. This wasn't a one-off activity. Over time, they developed plans, calculated the cost of purchasing materials, constructed prototypes, tested them, reflected on what worked and what didn't and worked together to make improvements. Not surprisingly, they were eager, motivated, excited and acquiring skills that can last a lifetime. 

Students are much more actively engaged and collaborative

We all know that active learning is hands-on and minds-on, and much more. It's not about doing just any thing, it's about doing the right things for the right reasons. Programs that are increasingly realizing that learning-by-doing builds the capacity of children and young people to succeed in school and in life. They also know when students learn to work well together everyone benefits. Small group collaborative learning helps kids develop their sociol-emotional skills, build and maintain positive relationships and become more caring, compassionate and empathetic. These aren't so-called soft-skills – they are essential 21st Century skills. And it matters. Sharing ideas, learning from each other and respecting each other's contributions are qualities that count.

writing books

Taking this approach is making a difference in ProYouth's Expanded Learning Program in California's Central Valley and many other programs where children co-author professionally illustrated WRiTE Brain Books and become published authors. These kids understand the importance of working together to achieve common goals and set instant gratification aside for the satisfaction of completing projects than matter to them and their peers.

Students are becoming healthy, fit and ready to learn

One of the biggest changes is the shift from programs offering independent, intermittent activities to adopting comprehensive approaches that actually change students' attitudes and behavior. Thanks largely to the Center for Collaborative Solutions' Healthy Behaviors Initiative, which I've had the privilege of co-leading since 2004, hundreds of programs are increasing students' physical activity levels, improving their eating habits and strengthening their food security (having enough healthy food to eat every day).

fit for kids

They're doing this because they know that changing lives can also save lives. One in every two children living in poverty in America is likely to acquire Type 2 diabetes. They know, as I discussed in a recent Huffington Post interview, that one in five students are too hungry to learn during the school day. A World Fit for Kids! in Los Angeles is ensuring that kids really are healthy, fit and ready to learn. Let's follow their lead!

Moving to the next level – together!

I believe that programs throughout the United States are poised to make an even greater difference in the lives of children and young people. I know from 26 years of experience in working with hundreds of leadership teams, site staff, and their partners and communities that the time is right to take advantage of an unprecedented opportunity to fulfill our dream and co-create the future! Let's get started!


For breakfast I had yogurt, blueberries, granola and coffee.

Published in Breakfast Club

I had the great opportunity, at this past BOOST Conference, to attend the BOOST Master Class Scannable Technology by EdTech expert, Monica Burns. Monica actually blogged about her class ahead of time (see BOOST Master Class: Program Transformation: Rethinking Scannables: Deeper Learning with QR Codes & Augmented Reality) which really spiked my interest before attending. You see, as a kid, I loved that scene in Star Wars where R2D2 projects a holographic image of Princess Leia asking Obi-Wan for help. Who could have imagined that the technology for that scene was just right around the corner! We still have a ways to go before we have an exact replica of the Princess Leia hologram, but Monica showed those of us who attended how amazing our world is right now. Even better, she linked her tech knowledge to solid educational methodology. In this post, I want to share some items I learned in her class and then go a little further.

We've all seen these barcode-like images plastered everywhere. I've even used them in training to link people to resources, but Monica took it to a different level in her class. When we walked in, she had created various learning stations along the room using QR Tags. We downloaded a QR Tag Reader and went around the room in pairs participating in the exercise. Some activities were linked to YouTube Videos, others to a Google Form, and others to documents that had us act out scenarios or discuss various items. She actually had to pull us back in because we were having too much fun...learning!

QR Tags are just hyperlinks expressed in visual format, but if used in an effective manner these little tags can open up a whole new world of learning for students simply because they are a different medium. The master class opened up my mind to new possibilities. When I got home, I found this board on Pinterest that gave me a ton of ideas to share with my programs. Maybe you can share some of your ideas in the comments at the end of this post!

qr coding

2) Augmented Reality (AR)
Remember Google Glass? This was an amazing initiative by Google to create glasses that were basically "ubiquitous computing" using augmented reality with other platforms. Unfortunately, Google Glass was halted in January 2015 for the general market but the ideas that it generated are fueling a new market of innovation including the use of AR in education.

Of course, one of the best uses of AR is in a gaming platform. Check out TaleBlazer by the MIT Game Lab. Not only is it an educational game using AR, but it is also a game designing program using a block code like SCRATCH. Worried about video games because they may not be very active? Well, check out the variety of Augmented Reality Sports Apps that allows the kids in your program to get up and be active. Introduce your students to the world of elements in an amazing fashion by using Elements 4D, or explore the human body system with Anatomy 4D. Touch the stars in an amazing AR Stargazing App called Star Walk or have your students color printouts that come to life in Quiver. There is even a special AR Magazine for education called BrainSpace. With AR, you can literally do almost anything and your students will love it.

augmented reality

3) Virtual Reality (VR)
QR Tags and Augment Reality are cool, but a technology that is over-the-top amazing is Virtual Reality. You've probably heard a lot about Oculus Rift or the Samsung Gear VR, but what have you heard about Google Cardboard? When I first saw a Google Cardboard Headset, I thought, "You must be kidding." It reminded me of those old Hasbro Viewfinders. Surely, Google was not serious! I am now eating my words as I have fallen in love with Google Cardboard and believe it is a serious tool that every afterschool program should have.

You can purchase a Google Cardboard headset from a variety of online dealers from $2 to a whopping $30. You can also download instructions on how to make your own. You put it together and then using your Android or iPhone you can do amazing things. Take a virtual field trip to almost anywhere, play a games that teaches Geometry while you destroy a supercomputer enemy, paint a masterpiece in 3D, or ride your own rollercoaster. There is an even an option to create your own virtual reality moments, games, or experiences. For various options for your Google Cardboard, check out UNIMERSIV, Discovery VR, or simply google around for Google Cardboard apps. More are appearing everyday.

google cardboard

We live in amazing times. Technology is growing at a pace that outstrips our ability to master it. While many fear technology, it is a fact of life and the youth we work with today will be surrounded with it. In the afterschool industry we have a great opportunity to use technology to create positive changes in youth. Let's see how far you can go with your program and thank goodness we have the BOOST Conference where we can learn more!

I started writing this post during my breakfast which was a bowl of strawberries with a little Splenda and a glass of orange juice (Spring Diet!).

Image credit: Flickr, Fun Educational Apps, YouTube

Published in Breakfast Club

summer mattersIf you are an educator responsible for providing a high quality summer program for children and youth in your community, you are probably busy right now with planning for summer and making sure you finish the school year strong. It is easy to fall into the routine of this busy time. Take just a moment to consider some of the proactive things you can do to take your summer program to the next level.

1. Brainstorm ideas for your unique program culture
High quality summer learning programs feel more like camp than school. If your program is school based consider decorating and re-branding classrooms and other learning spaces. With the right theme, you can transform a classroom into a cabin or a cafeteria into a mess hall. Or go with a space theme and turn the office into mission control. The opportunities are endless.

2. Sharpen your plan for professional development
Begin with the end in mind. What are your goals for the training? How will you achieve them? Consider what other support is available for summer program staff. Who will provide coaching? Focus on continuous improvement. Review the feedback you received on the training you provided last year. Are there changes you can make?

summer pic3. Find creative ways to give youth a voice
Public Profit developed a great resource, Creative Ways to Solicit Youth Input, that has many non-traditional ways to solicit input from youth, including interviews, collages, and song and dance routines.

4. Plan an event for National Summer Learning Day
Summer Learning Day is July 14, 2016! Summer Learning Day is an annual national advocacy day led by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) to elevate the importance of keeping kids learning, safe and healthy every summer.

5. Engage a local leader as your Summer Matters Champion
Have your superintendent or other local leaders sign on publicly to say that summer matters in your community. You can also host a site visit with local stakeholders such as superintendents, school board members, and community members to highlight your summer program.
What are you doing differently to get ready for summer this year? Tell us in the comments below.

Published in Breakfast Club

How might we encourage our students to become global leaders? How might we create agency, or a mindset of action, in 21st century kids?

Our students are passive. They are used to "sitting and getting" information. Even as we talk about preparing students for the 21st century, the pressures of college acceptance and testing make it difficult to change students' (and parents') mindsets. How might we create a bias towards action in our students so that they understand their own power and ability to change their world? The answer is simple: start small, make it relevant and local, and use Design Thinking to manage the process.

I see it everyday in my own classroom. Ask students to get up and move and they groan, 'Do we have to?' or 'I'm so tired.' And in truth, most of them are exhausted by jumping through the seemingly endless hoops required of them for acceptance to "that" college. Creating a generation of 'doers' is possible if you start small and get them hooked by changing something local.

Look around you for inspiration. What do students complain about? What affects their lives?  Starting small, scaffolding skills and building creative confidence is imperative. It would be paralyzing for a 14 year old to be asked to solve a real world problem right off the bat, but by starting 'local' and using Design Thinking as process, anything is possible.

design thinking 1

Start Here
Start with a simple design challenge that anyone can do. Redesign the gift giving experience is an easy one that students can relate to. Experiencing the design cycle is the only way to learn it. The outcome can be anything, but the important thing is that students truly follow the process without jumping to solutions. Using Design Thinking allows students to become comfortable with the "not-knowing" and iterative parts of the creative process.

Find a Local Challenge
Once students have practiced, look for a local challenge. My students have proposed new design solutions for our school library, cafeteria, as well as our local public library's young adult and children's rooms, and made furniture for our Learning Commons. Ask your students to be on the lookout for "bad" design or opportunities for improvement. This helps shift students' mindset from consumers to a bias towards action.

design thinking 3

Dig Deeper
Once you have identified a local challenge, dive into the design process. The first step: research and empathy. This can be difficult for students who are used to finding the "right" answer fairly quickly. Ask them to hold off looking for solutions while they explore others' perspectives and all aspects of the problem.  I create a design 'parking lot' where students can put solutions they've thought of, this way it's easier to let go of them and embrace the process. With each challenge, we map the stakeholders and then require students to interview someone from each group.

What skill do global citizens need more than empathy? And what better way to learn it than by unpacking a complex problem and looking at it from different perspectives? Empathy needs to be part of our children's decision-making process and Design Thinking is an effective way to teach it.

As children struggle with real life problems, even ones that are in their own schools and communities, they learn to put themselves in others' shoes and consider the issue from other vantage points. Following the design process allows students to consider multiple solutions as they brainstorm. They gain insight from making rough prototypes, testing them and reiterating based on feedback. And when, finally, they propose solutions and real people listen, they learn that their ideas and solutions are valued. They begin to see the world as a place where they can affect change.

We need to foster a mindset of action and nurture students who are ready and equipped to take on the tough, complex problems of the world. So even though students begin by solving small, local problems, they develop a mindset of doing. Design Thinking gives them a process and allows them to practice vitally important skills for life.

design thinking 4

Here are further ideas and resources for global scale Design Thinking projects:

  • Extreme By Design: An interactive experience designed for 4th through 12th grade students, to be completed after watching the Extreme By Design documentary. Learning Episode 1 ("Being an Innovator") will help students think and act like innovators using the design thinking approach.
  • "A Design Challenge to Students: Solve a Real-World Problem!" Blog Article: Provides a couple of design challenge ideas to use with elementary and high school students.
  • The Ethics Institute at Kent Place School: This innovative program will bring teams of educators and students from schools across the metro-New York area to the Kent Place School campus to develop new approaches and solutions to complex real-world issues within their respective school communities using methods adapted from the Ethical Decision-Making Model and Design Thinking.
  • "Empathy on the Edge": An essay on exploring how design empathy thinking works.
  • "Design Thinking, Making, and Learning from the Heart": A blog highlighting the process of design thinking to redesign high school social studies curriculum.


For breakfast I had an English Breakfast Tea in a big mug with milk and sugar, a few slices of cheese, and an apple.  

Image credit: Lisa Yokana, Emily Block, and Fallon Plunkett

Published in Breakfast Club

Asia Society and BOOST Collaborative are partnering to create a series of blogs on global learning in out-of-school time. This blog entry was orginally published on EdWeek's Global Learning Blog. Documentaries and film can bring the world to students in very real ways. Cleary Vaughan-Lee, Education Director for Global Oneness Project, tells us how and shares resources and strategies.

Why do we need stories? Stories are universal and create connections across time, place, and cultures. Now more than ever, we need stories to help us understand and connect to our fast-changing world. Impactful stories—a book, a film, or an oral story passed down from generations—have the power to bring us closer to something much greater than ourselves.

Films, according to director Beeban Kidron in her 2012 TED talk, are the 20th century's most influential art form. Why? They tell universal stories across national boundaries and languages. Film helps us expand our world, introducing us to values, struggles, innovations, and beliefs beyond our daily experience.

Today, the short form documentary has filled an important role in education. Teacher and educational journalist Mark Phillips explains in his Edutopia blog "Film as a Great Motivator" that "this generation of students is film and video oriented; we should use this, not bewail it." We need to meet students where they are, and the continuously growing digital landscape is an important opportunity for educators.

How can teachers use short documentary films in a meaningful and compelling way for young people? The following strategies exemplify ways in which short documentaries can enhance classroom environments.

documentary blogBuild Social & Emotional Awareness
In his blog, Phillips writes that in order to grab and hold students' attention, educators need to reach them emotionally. Films are multi-sensory. A film has the potential to create an emotional connection to its subject matter and can provide a human experience. The impact of audio and visual components supports students' retention of information.

Documentaries are emotionally powerful vehicles that can transport students to other cultures and create an awareness of global issues from the inside out through feeling and empathy. When enhanced with written reflection, films help students develop social and emotional learning in ways not available from textbooks or lectures. Students can experience the world through real-life people as well as see and feel what it is like for a person living around the world. PBS LearningMedia has lesson plans that include reflection questions to help students process the feelings evoked from documentary films.

I recently talked to Jennifer Klein, a former high school English teacher for 19 years and now a National Faculty member for The Buck Institute. She believes in an authentic approach to global learning and has been using short documentary films in her international classrooms for years. "There is nothing more humanizing for students than short documentary films; they grab the heart, offer a window into the daily lives of real people, and allow students to see other cultures and places as populated by living, breathing human beings on a planet we need for our survival," Klein said.

Connect to Current Events
Students are exposed to a range of real-world problems in their daily lives, either through media or in their own backyards. Some of these issues include poverty, substance abuse, violence, consumerism, indigenous rights, immigration, modernization, and the effects of environmental changes. A short documentary can expose students to any number of global issues, reduce isolation, and allow students to connect to innovations and inspiration from sources beyond their immediate environment.

Film Club is a new teaching and discussion forum using short documentaries from the New York Times Learning Network. The platform complements classroom curricula and highlights issues that teenagers care about, such as technology and society, race and gender identity, and civil rights.

I met Mike Dunn, a history teacher turned college and career counselor at AIM Academy in Pennsylvania, this past June at the International Society for Technology in Education conference in Philadelphia. He said that students look at the past for relevancy and relationships. For example, students who may grapple with the idea of the French Revolution can relate to the more recent revolutionary actions in the Arab Spring and the Baltimore riots of 2015. He described that screening a short documentary film in a social studies class offers a vehicle for critical thinking and analysis of the historical events: "My goal is to encourage students to reflect on their own lives and scrutinize their actions/choices in meaningful ways. The combination of writing with film has resulted in more rich understanding for students and output options that encourage creative and critical communication." Take a look at Dunn's portfolio where he explores merging media in the social studies classroom.

Incorporate Reflective Writing Assignments
A short documentary story can increase students' literacy with connections to a source, to self, and to the world. Just as students use quotes from a book or text to prove an analytical thought, students use the film as a source to justify their reasoning.

After viewing and discussing a film, a writing prompt can provide a way to integrate knowledge from various points of view and apply newly learned ideas. An English or art teacher may use a short documentary to study character development or themes in writing such as identity, family values, or commitment. A science or history teacher may examine how the issues explored in a film relate to students' lives, such as the effects of environmental changes, immigration, the global economy, or consumer decision-making.

Global Oneness Project provides short documentary films that highlight global cultures and environmental issues, and related lesson plans contain reflective writing questions to accompany the stories. See the bottom of this page for a sample documentary.

By using film in a learning environment, educators can get the attention of young people and take them on a journey to experience the world. Global stories and issues become relevant to students' lives and can support truly meaningful classroom discussions and activities, allowing students to find their own voices, making them stronger global citizens in this fast changing world. Because short, global documentaries can transcend boundaries and cultures, they are powerful tools for integrating universal human values integral to global education.

Connect with Cleary, Global Oneness Project, and Asia Society on Twitter.

Image and video are courtesy of the author.

Published in Breakfast Club

This is the second installment of our two-part blog series focused on practical student recruitment strategies. You can read the first part blog here


#6: Think socially

Create opportunities for participants to bring their friends. It's not always about your students coming to their class everyday. Create events or opportunities for registered students to go through a little bit of your program's experience. It could be team building games at lunch, or a scavenger hunt after school, or a Bring-A-Friend Field Trip.

By the way, start naming things other than what they are. For example, call your field trips "vacations" or some of your dances "clubs," "grooves," "turn-up," etc.

Have classroom challenges between your classrooms. Create contests by where students join their program leader in growing the size of the class! Create incentives to where if someone brings their friend to program for five straight days, there's something in it for both of them. Remember that coming to program is about the win-win for students. Middle school students are not known for being altruistic. At least not in the beginning.

#7: Call it what it is...DATA!

Someone has to be committed to tracking the numbers. It's a cold-hearted breakdown and you have to be OK with it. This person, most likely you as the Program Manager or Site Coordinator, have to look how attendance is fluctuating and pinpoint some of the reasons why. For examples...

  • Basketball numbers went down because our usual coach is hurt right now and the kids don't like the current coach.
  • Our cooking program is not doing too well because there's only 6th graders in that class and our 7th and 8th graders won't touch it!
  • Our dance class is not pulling numbers because the group of students in that class are clique-ish and no one else wants to join. Maybe we have some "mean girls" in there that are keeping people out.

You get the point. Someone has to push for meaning. What's behind the data? These challenges require some thoughtful "Plan B's" if you will.

#8: Understand that there is a "tipping point"

You know the old adage, "If you want to have 50 people at your party, invite 200 of them!"

If you really want to see your numbers increase, you have to go for volume. I know we can start thinking about making a difference for one child at a time. You can still do that, but we know our pursuit is impact. You will have to reconcile in your mind that you will start making a difference for a small group of kids. Say about 20-30. It's how you work with that small cohort that makes all the difference. This group is your base. Your believers. You know have to take that political capital and grow that number of students that you are serving.

In my mind, there are two populations of students:

  • The group(s) that we are reaching out to
  • The kids we are actually serving

We can reach out to kids all year long, while maintaining a focus on serving those that are coming to program everyday. The greater the number you reach out to, the better your chances that you will increase the number of youth you serve throughout the school year! For this, culminating events, showcases, shows and performances are HUGE! These events build your brand, which then draws in more kids you're outreaching to, which ultimately may lead to them being served by you for the rest of the school year!

#9: Understand the family dynamic

Over the past few years, I have witnessed more and more siblings joining us either with their oldest brother/sister, or coming to the program shortly after the oldest moves on to high school. Talk to your students about their little brother or sister coming to program. I have often witnessed that older siblings coming back and frequenting the programs if their little brother, sister, niece, nephew or cousin are participating. Sometimes, these same students become staff that can reach out and connect with youth better than most. The responsibility of having a family member in the program elevates the level of ownership for our alums.

#10 : Adopt the mindset that recruitment is a year-round endeavor.

One of the most important components of school site leadership, it for site coordinator to not let off the recruitment "pedal". As you establish all the habits and strategies listed above, it is imperative that you and your team continue to push ahead and continue reaching out to the student body throughout the school year.

  • Pre-program recruitment in May and June. Visiting local feeder schools.
  • Communication and applications go home for the next school year prior to summer. Enroll kids for the next school year while you have them in June!
  • Summer outreach during summer bridge programs in July and August.
  • Outreach during the first week of school. Rush week! This means September and in some instances, October. Allow students to drop in and observe program as a guest.
  • Staff turnover in the early fall months keeps your head on a swivel. One or two staff members leaving in October could be a 20-40 student swing! Be ready for that.
  • Keeping numbers high in November and December through holiday events, showcases, family dinners, acts of giving back to the community, etc.
  • Getting students back into the swing of things in January. It's almost like starting the school year all over again!
  • Spring break and testing periods in March/April can reduce your numbers if you don't have a strategy for the testing season.
  • And you're back to May!

When you approach your student recruitment plan, follow this logic:

  • Recruitment at the classroom level – Program Leaders are your first line of defense
  • Recruitment at the site level – Site Coordinators need to lead courageously and creatively in establishing site events that draws in new students
  • Recruitment through referrals – Teachers know who you are, what you offer, and are able to refer their students
  • Recruitment through buy-in from school leadership – Your school principal has the ability to activate resources and services at our school to support your ongoing recruitment
  • Recruitment through offsite partners – The right program partner will boost your cred and give you a whole new crop of students that you may not have been able to serve before

student recruitment



For breakfast, I had a bacon, cheddar, and egg sandwich from Starbucks and an iced coffee.


Published in Breakfast Club
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