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As a father of two girls ages 7 and 10, married to an amazing educator of over 20 years, I have a 360-degree perspective of the teaching and learning experience. As a matter of fact, my 4th grade daughter is my wife's student. It's a complete family affair. Most people I share that with have an initial reaction of concern. The most common questions are, "How is that working out for your daughter? Isn't that weird for her? Does she feel challenged?" All these have merit. What this arrangement has created for our family is that we tend to continue the teaching and learning timeline at home.

Mother daughter Teaching1

This doesn't necessarily mean that the constructs of the school day are extended into our dining table or living room. It becomes more about expanding the subject matter, questions, activities, content, or curriculum, taking them in a variety of directions. Whether it's using origami to communicate lessons in geometry and structure integrity, talking about how biomimicry (the study of emulating nature's time-tested patterns and strategies) helps us become better designers, or appreciating the history behind the lyrics in Lin Manuel-Miranda's Hamilton, all of it has served as an immersive voyage into context, relevance, and meaning for our kids. The result of this approach has typically ended in them taking back what we expanded on as a family to enrich their learning during the regular school day.

My kids are lucky. As parents, we are also fortunate that our lives allow us to expand on the academic careers of our children. As a teacher, my wife knows she has a champion that ensures that the hard work she puts into the classroom is not gone to waste. In many ways, my family IS the village that we so often talk about in education.

Many kids are not this lucky. Many parents are not this fortunate. Many teachers do not have someone further inspiring what they started.

In 2002, I was offered the opportunity to help start what would be a series of afterschool programs in the City of Los Angeles. Alongside an amazing group of change-makers, we launched the After-School All-Stars program in East and South Central Los Angeles. These neighborhoods sit in unincorporated areas of the city, meaning that they are under-resourced, under-represented, and had definitely fallen behind in a "No Child Left Behind" era. These neighborhoods had suffered years, and one dare say a generation, of low expectations and high rates of poverty and crime. Looking back, it was easy to see the skepticism school principals had when we first arrived on the scene. These particular schools had seen their share of "help" coming in, and just as quickly head out. Teachers and school leaders had very few champions they could lean on. Students had grown accustomed to adults promising more and delivering less. Kids here had few other adults in their lives, as their parents were busy helping their families survive in the literal sense! Parents in these communities felt the helplessness of not having the ability to talk about what their children were experiencing during school. Kids weren't that lucky. Parents were not that fortunate. Teachers had no champions.

A colleague of mine made a keen observation early in the lifecycle of our programs quoting that "two objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time". Basic law of physics. This same law existed on the blacktops of these two schools. Our job was to drive out the negative culture that was so prominent by being steadfast and committed to making a difference on these campuses. In doing so, we had the opportunity of changing the feel of the community. Think about that for a moment. For a program to enter neighborhoods such as these and set sights on transforming their aspirations and expectations was a tall order indeed, but it happened.

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It started with engaging youth and their attitudes about what it means to learn. Standardized tests do not account for this. It continued with staff walking into an empty and run down school auditorium with the belief that they could fill the space with students and their families (something the school day had seldom seen). You had to be at this event for it to be "demonstrable". It was in moments that included a staff member having the vision of taking a handful of beat up acoustic guitars and grow the idea to become a nationally recognized rock music program. As programs grew from 3, 7, 10, 21, 34, and eventually 54 school sites, programs that our current White House administration claims as having no impact have resulted in students and school day leaders giving direct credit to programs like After-School All-Stars for their high school success, college entry AND graduation, with youth appreciating how we set them up for a lifetime of prosperity and giving back.

The stories are too many to keep up with. A young lady without a voice finding it in the All-Stars of Rock music program, building up her courage and vision all the way to a Yale Education. It was evident in a young man's memory of the program being the first place where he had a desk to do homework (home only offered the floor). That young man is now sitting at a school desk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Another is the story of a young lady who thought our site leader's idea of her picking up basketball was a joke. There's nothing funny about her full athletic scholarship to Cal Berkley where she was one of the stars of the Pac 12 division of schools, playing basketball for the Cal Bears. She can look at the basketball she now dribbles for the Atlanta Dream and laugh at the irony of it all. You can see it in a young man out of South Florida who's on a mission to become a police officer, finish college, get into law school, and then the White House. Looking back, he shares, "After-School All-Stars helped me deal with my anger. I started writing poetry and played football. So through afterschool, I was actually working with my anger constructively. I was a lot happier." Part of his White House journey has begun with him meeting the former First Lady Michelle Obama during a summer experience with After-School All-Stars.

As programs like ours continue, so do the stories. More and more of our alumni are coming back with narratives influenced by our program's ability to expand their learning. Fast-forward to the NOW, we are standing at the cross roads of a revolution in what it means to prepare a young person for the future. More and more businesses are asking our educational institutions to expand the definition of what it means to learn. Scour the web and you will find a collection of credible research and articles asking questions such as, "We're Graduating More Students Than Ever, but Are They Prepared for Life After High School?" (Slate.com/ Laura Moser – April 2016).

Google cites intangibles when considering future employees. They call it "Googleyness" and it includes attributes like enjoying fun (who doesn't), a certain dose of intellectual humility (it's hard to learn if you can't admit that you might be wrong), a strong measure of conscientiousness (we want owners, not employees), comfort with ambiguity (we don't know how our business will evolve, and navigating Google internally requires dealing with a lot of ambiguity), and evidence that you've taken some courageous or interesting paths in your life.

Learning is more than a test score

Enrichment programs that include coding, video game design, makerspace, and entrepreneurship all have elements of ambiguity and a high need for collaboration and problem solving strategies. All this requires an expansion of the teaching and learning norms that we're familiar with. The new economy is pushing for new ways to facilitate the success of our students. Innovation does not look at test scores, homework completion, and compliance. The future calls our young people to take risks in their learning, to go after things that others think as impossible or unlikely, and to think oneself as the solution to today's and tomorrow's challenges. It requires expanding the definition of success. This calls for a village of adults that youth can count on, champions that teachers can lean on, and people that serve as an extension of a parent's concern for the academic and social wellbeing of their children.

As a leader of a national non-profit committed to expanding the opportunities of youth across the country through afterschool programs, it is imperative that the current administration do the following:

  • Take the data that says afterschool programs have no "demonstrable impact" and share that with the hundreds of corporations, foundations, state and city governments, and individual donors who can account for the longstanding effectiveness of such programs.
  • Sit with constituents from rural and urban communities alike that ushered in the new administration and ask them about how afterschool programs have helped their young people succeed.
  • Talk to school principals about the influence and support their afterschool programs have offered in their schools' quest for student achievement.
  • Finally, sit down with students to appreciate the opportunities, experiences, and personal successes they have had because of afterschool.

kids cheering

I look back at After-School All-Stars and think about how lucky students have been in having the opportunity to expand their academic experiences. I think back at how fortunate parents have been to know they can provide for their families without worry for the safety and development of their children. I think of school teachers that look at afterschool practitioners as having their back, trusting that the learning continues after the school bell rings.

We all know it take a village. Does our leadership really believe that taking away the village is the answer? If so, then village needs to stand up and say, "not on my watch!"

For breakfast I had an omelette, fresh fruit, and an iced coffee!

Published in Breakfast Club

This month the Alliance for a Healthier Generation is celebrating America's Healthiest Schools. Schools recognized by the Alliance have met stringent guidelines for serving healthier meals and snacks, getting all children active and empowering school leaders to become healthy role models.

Schools are essential partners for out-of-school time organizations. According to the Afterschool Alliance, 73% of parents report that their child's afterschool program is located in a public school building. It does not matter if you are a school leader, community stakeholder or youth development professional, we must all work together to create a support network to help children triumph over the tough challenges they face.

Let's start with a reality check. Here are three statistics:
• 16.2 million children live in households that lack the means to get regular nutritious food.
• 4,787 young people ages 10 to 24 were victims of homicide in 2012.
• 1.3 million homeless children were enrolled in public schools during the 2013-2014 school year.

These issues go beyond the children directly impacted and ripple through our communities and neighborhoods. To overcome these challenges, we as afterschool, out-of-school time and expanded learning professionals must find innovative ways to partner with teachers, schools and school districts.

To provide you with tangible tips, I've consulted with seven organizations. Each provides a unique perspective on why school-community collaborations are essential and how to craft successful partnerships.

My first question is for Carlos Santini, National Vice-President of Programs for After-School All-Stars and fellow Breakfast Club blogger. Carlos previously served as the Associate Director for After-School All-Stars Los Angeles.

After-School All-Stars is a school-based program. What has been most successful in starting school-based collaborations?

Carlos: Get to know your school principal. And, it's important to have empathy and really understand where they're coming from. Encourage staff to be proactive in reaching out to school administrators or faculty. Start the conversation and create a narrative based on good news rather than a challenge. When students in your afterschool program tell you that a teacher as made a positive impact on them, share that with the teacher. Start by asking your local principal, "is there anything you've been wanting to do with your students or school community that you've not been able to do, perhaps an event, field-trip or activity?" Make careful notes of their responses and begin planning how your program can make this happen. Once you help a school check something off their bucket list, your credibility and desirability skyrockets.

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My second question is for Sean Gustafson. Over the past three years at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Sean has had the opportunity to work on Let's Move! Active Schools and is currently a Healthy Schools Program Manager in New York City.

As someone who works closely with school leaders, why do you think schools and communities need to work together?

Sean: It can be as simple and school and afterschool staff working together to provide consistent and healthy role modeling. It's essential for all partners to provide cohesive messaging. When it comes to serving healthy meals, afterschool providers and schools can use the new Smart Food Planner to find nutritious foods.

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My third question is for Peggy Agron, National Director of Healthy Schools for Kaiser Permanente.

What's the goal of Thriving Schools and why intentional partnerships important when time and resources are limited?

Peggy: The goal of Thriving Schools is to improve the health of students, staff and teachers in K-12 schools in communities that Kaiser Permanente serves. It is an effort to increase healthy eating and physical activity, social and emotional wellness and school employee wellness primarily through a focus on policy, systems and environmental changes.

We cannot expect children to reach their full potential if their basic needs are not met and if they have been exposed to multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). Research has shown the negative, long-term impact of trauma experienced during critical periods on brain development, learning ability, social relations and future physical and psychological health. Partnerships between afterschool programs and schools provide essential support to all adult-allies to manage their own stress and equip them with essential tools, knowledge and resources to help children get access to essential services within the community.

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My fourth question is for Marcia Dvorak, Project Director of the Kansas Enrichment Network, one of the statewide afterschool networks. State afterschool networks are dedicated to raising awareness of the importance of afterschool and to building capacity of existing programs.

One of the greatest challenges for afterschool providers is adequate funding. In your experience, how have school and community partnerships strengthened funding opportunities? What other community partnerships are necessary to develop a strong infrastructure for quality afterschool?

Marcia: Grants require continued submissions of proposals, a great deal of staff time, and come with a constant concern that funding will be short-term or even cause mission-drift. A community approach affords leaders to focus on local needs, and when the community provides support, sustainability is strengthened. Partnerships capitalize on each other's strengths and create a holistic approach. Collaboration among providers can allow staff to learn from each other. Classroom educators provide pedagogical strategies while afterschool staff incorporate their expertise in positive youth development.

Afterschool is also a perfect opportunity to work on soft (essential) skills, strengthen 21st Century skills and exposes youth to career options. Collaborative partnerships connect businesses to academic skills and afterschool programming. Business employees can speak to youth to build career awareness, serve as mentors, or even provide internships and job-shadowing. These methods help disengaged students, spark interest in careers for all youth and offer opportunities for the community to develop its future workforce.

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My fifth question is for Clarissa Hayes, Child Nutrition Policy Analyst at Food Research and Action Center.

According to your recent report Hunger Doesn't Take a Vacation, in July 2015, 15.8 children received summer nutrition on a typical weekday for every 100 low income students who received lunch in the 2014-2015 school year. Do you think schools and summer and out-of-school programs need to partner to change this statistic?

Clarissa: Yes! Schools are the perfect partner to engage in addressing food insecurity during the summer. Because they already have existing infrastructure and expertise in operating the child nutrition programs during the school year, schools are a great source to tap for providing nutritious meals during the summer. Out-of-school programs can reach out to their school district to see whether they can sponsor the meals component of their program, which means the school would take responsibility for purchasing meals, delivering meals to programs and the paperwork.

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My sixth question is for one of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's implementation partners working to advance the National AfterSchool Association Standards for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity, Allison Colman Program Manager for the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA).

NRPA recently reported that the top outside partner of recreation agencies are local school districts (54%). How have you seen local recreation agencies collaborate with school districts to strengthen afterschool and community programs?

Allison: Traditionally, park and recreation agencies often work with schools through shared-use agreements, allowing out-of-school providers to utilize school campuses and services during the summer months or for afterschool programs.  Less traditional models of successful shared-use are emerging every day, providing mutual benefits for both schools and recreation agencies. A great example comes from the Maryland National Capital Park and Planning Commission who entered a partnership with Prince George's County Public Schools to provide swimming lessons at five elementary schools, increasing physical activity and teaching children basic swim skills they will use for life.

My seventh and final question is for Sarah Sliwa, Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Obesity Prevention Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

What should afterschool staff know about the work of the CDC School Health branch? What opportunity do you see for afterschool providers to partner with ongoing school wellness efforts?

CDC works to increase children's opportunities to be physically active and consume foods and beverages like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, and water throughout the school day. Many children stay on school grounds after the school day ends. Learning doesn't stop with the last bell, and neither does the need for healthful foods, active play, and other options for physical activity. We are partnering with two national organizations, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Boys and Girls Club of America, to develop resources, professional development, and trainings for out of school time (OST) providers, with a focus on school-sited programs. One of the goals of this partnership is to collaborate with existing networks, like the HOST (Healthy Out of School Time) Coalition, to support and increase the adoption of the evidence-based Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) Standards. We are excited about this work and the role we may be able to play in helping fill some information gaps about children enrolled in school-sited OST programs.

Community-school collaborations are an important piece of supporting children's well-being. CDC and ASCD's Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child framework illustrates how schools and the connections between schools, families, and the community are essential to supporting children's academic achievement and physical, social, and emotional development. OST programs can support health behaviors through their programming, staff role-modeling, policies and practices, and connection to parents.
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How do you currently collaborate with teachers, principals and school districts? Maybe you're just getting to know each other. Perhaps you're informally sharing space or exploring joint-fundraising. Maybe you've already established a shared used agreement or work together to serve snacks and meals.

No matter where you are in the process, stay focused on the goal – helping our children live long healthy lives. Resilience and success is only possible if we work together.

For an extended version of this article, visit the Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Healthy Out-of-School Time blog to read more interview questions with a special focus on training tips and success stories.

A special thanks to everyone who collaborated on this article. All photos provided by After-School AllStars.

 

For breakfast I had a giant iced coffee and a banana. 

Published in Breakfast Club

The Partnership for Children & Youth (PCY) has recently released Finding Common Ground: Connecting Social-Emotional Learning During and Beyond the School Day. This brief provides language and strategies to support alignment between K-12 and expanded learning programs, by cross-walking key priorities and initiatives in California that impact social-emotional learning (SEL).

common ground study

In PCY's work with school districts and expanded learning providers over the last year, we have seen that many districts already have learning and behavioral goals that provide a strong foundation to focus their SEL efforts and that expanded learning providers are natural allies in this work. But too often the opportunities to better coordinate efforts are missed because these educators use different language and operate within separate initiatives. This brief finds common ground amid these initiatives and provides San Francisco Unified School District as a case study to illustrate how to operationalize this alignment. Read the full brief here.

This work is based on Student Success Comes Full Circle, a previous publication by Expanded Learning 360º/365, outlining a shared understanding of what and how expanded learning programs contribute to SEL. Expanded Learning 360º/365 is a collaborative statewide initiative to improve SEL in expanded learning programs. Click here to learn more about the Partnership for Children & Youth's social-emotional learning projects.

For those interested in assessing SEL practices, PCY is also releasing a more technical document - Measuring Quality: Assessment Tools to Evaluate Your Social-Emotional Practices – that crosswalks commonly used quality assessment tools with practices that support SEL outcomes.

We hope you find these documents useful to advance your work and facilitate conversations around alignment. 

Published in Breakfast Club

I have been working with after school programs across the country since 1998 and there are some things that I have learned that make doing academic enrichment activities more successful with kids after school. To meet the goals of this is after school not more school and kids should be engaged and having fun, here are some helpful tips. They are in no order because I could never decide which was the most important, but I think number 9 is key...stop talking. What would you add?

1. Meet with your school(s) to find out what areas to focus on, where kids need more time, and how you can work together to align with what they are focusing on.
2. Explore existing interests. Poll your children to learn what they are interested in and consider ways to use academic enrichment to focus on these areas. For example, if children show an interest in animals consider children's literature or reference materials about animals that will pique their interest and facilitate conversations. Ask open-ended questions that require students to discuss the text. You will find that children can learn about what they are interested in while building comprehension and vocabulary.
problem solving series future powerpoint template 1110 title13. Allow leaders some choice in what areas of academic enrichment they facilitate so they bring their own interest into afterschool. For example, some leaders might not feel comfortable doing a read aloud, but might be artistic or musical.
4. Make it playful. Choose activities are that are fun, engaging, and hands-on. Afterschool should not feel like more school.
5. Timing is everything. Think about your schedule. If children have choice make sure that the offerings are equal. For example, don't offer basketball and literacy at the same time.
6. Give lead-time to leaders. Give your staff time to think about and prep for what they are going to do with children. Staff benefit greatly from support. Taking time to prepare will help to ensure success.
7. Involve parents and the community. If there is an opportunity to take a field trip or have a visitor come in to talk about a related topic children will be more engaged and more likely to own their learning.
8. Mix it up! Encourage children to work together with multiple age levels. For example, have one age group of kids learn about a topic and give them time to teach another age group in partners or groups.
9. Facilitate more. Talk less. Give kids lots of time to talk to each other about what they are learning. Work on being a "guide on the side" and let the children do the majority of talking and thinking.
10. Put a fresh spin on your existing routine. Look at what you are already doing and think about ways to involve academic enrichment. For example, can the kids play a role in snack by dividing it and/or planning how to serve it?
11. Allow for a learning curve. Embrace that you don't have to know everything. If you don't know the answer to a question work together to figure out how to learn about it.
12. Share what excites you. Show your own excitement about what you are sharing with the kids and chances are they will join you!

I had Trader Joe's Corn Flakes with a sliced banana breakfast.

Published in Breakfast Club

In 2008, forty-six percent of public elementary school reported that a fee-based stand-alone program was physically located on campus (National Center for Education Statistics, February 2009). Whether or not that figure holds true in 2014 is not yet known, but count yourself – and your students – lucky if you have a program available to your students on your campus. A continually growing body of research proves that high quality afterschool programs have the ability to change children's lives by engaging them in learning, improving their grades and test scores, and keeping them safe, healthy, and on track for continued success.

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But afterschool programs, especially those located on a school campus, cannot do it alone. They must have the support of the school staff to truly sustain high quality. If you are on a campus fortunate enough to provide afterschool services, here's what you can do to help:

• If you are an administrator, first and foremost, communicate. Set monthly or bi-weekly meetings with afterschool administration to discuss the focus of afterschool program activities, needs, and wishes. Help program staff understand broad campus goals for student achievement. These meetings also help afterschool staff understand their role in the bigger picture of quality education on campus. Other roles of an administrator who supports afterschool are detailed in this article.
• Invite the afterschool team to present at family information nights, open houses, and other school-community events. Provide time for them to explain their goals and activities, as well as the benefits of afterschool programs.
• Share resources with afterschool programs. Whether it is a library, gym, cafeteria, science or computer lab, students benefit from access to specialized spaces. Cordoning off a school and restricting afterschool students to a classroom and a restroom limits the effect of the program. If necessary, create a classroom (or space) agreement like the one found on this site.
• Invite afterschool program staff to attend staff development opportunities. Campus-based training is often low- to no-cost and aligns the afterschool team's pedagogical techniques with school day teaching.
• Know more about an administrator's role in creating a quality school with a quality afterschool component. Read the report found here for dozens of ways to support afterschool.
• If you are a teacher, help programs align to the school day by communicating directly with afterschool personnel. A homework checklist, like the one found here, helps afterschool program staff know what you expect from your students.
• Help programs provide time for students to read, study, learn, and practice. Work with program staff to develop schedules that balance their needs. This skill can be second-nature to teachers but very foreign to afterschool staff.
• Lend program resources. Do you have a great read aloud book? Are there board games on your shelf you never have classroom time to play? Most afterschool staff would be happy to borrow these items for use in the program.

These are a few of hundreds of ideas for supporting quality programming on your campus. Remember to discuss needs and problem-solve so all parties – teachers, program staff, most importantly, students, benefit from this coordinated, focused effort. Most of all, be welcoming to afterschool program staff. Greet them in hallways and make them feel at home at school, just as you would a fellow teacher. After all, these afterschool folks nurture the seeds you planted during the school day.

Image credit: NIOST

Published in Breakfast Club

Put your hand in.

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

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

Is it in? Good. Keep reading.

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

Ready? One, two, three, GO TEAM!

That felt good, right?

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

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

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

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

time well spent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For breakfast, I had a strawberry/blueberry smoothie.

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

 

Published in Breakfast Club

This entry is written in collaboration between ElizaBeth Parker Phillips, Program Development Director for Child Development Inc, and Regan Bynder, Program Projects Manager for Child Development Inc.

Over the past few years there has been lots of chatter about Kindergarteners and Transitional Kindergarteners. The view of the first year of elementary school has changed drastically in the past 30 years let alone the inception. Back when Fredrick Froebel first started Kindergarten in 1837 it was seen as a way to nurture children like you would a garden, teachers providing a fertile ground based on play and practical skills so the young minds could grow and flourish. Since then Kindergarten has moved towards aligning itself with the school day (i.e. sitting at tables or desks and even taking bubble tests). What happened to the program where you learned how to tie your shoe or make friends?

This is where before and after school programs become important. We have the unique opportunity to bring back the basic elements of Kindergarten in the programs we offer our youngest participants. What is it that Kindergarteners need? How do we determine quality for this unique age group?

It has been our job over this past year to take a long hard look at what services we provide Kindergarteners in before and after school programs. How do before and after school programs best support their development while still meeting the needs of our school partners? Over the past year we have conducted many Appreciative Inquiry meetings, held focus groups, and worked towards developing best practices and resources to support the work.

We have found that quality Kindergarten before and after school programs include five basic elements, schedule, activities or curriculum, program space, staff, and partnerships. These elements can look different, based on the need of program and community, but are the underlining keys to providing Kindergarteners and their families the services they need.

  • Schedule: Is your Kindergarten program wrap around care for AM/PM Kindergarten? Do you provide care to full day Kindergarten children? Is your school/ district supporting TK implementation? These are just a few questions to ask yourself when assessing your daily schedule. Consider the space your where your program operates, is there more than one room for your program? If you have to mix age groups together are you mixing K – 1st grade or K – 5th grade? Are you able to rotate groups of children inside and outside to balance their daily experiences?
  • Activities: Once you have a structure for your program day, the schedule, think about the content for each component. Are you planning a balance of child initiated and adult led activities? Is there time for them to recreate as well as practice developing new skills? Is there a balance of active and quite time? Are you linking your curriculum to school day learning?
  • Program Space: Take a moment to think about the space program's physical space. Is there a place for Kindergarten children to relax, be active, engage in dramatic or fine art, build and make? Are materials easy to access? Does the space provide opportunities for sharing, collaboration, creativity? Does the space represent the children and families you serve?
  • Staff: Are your staff energetic, nurturing, curious? Do they enjoy exploring an endless stream of questions, thoughts and ideas? Are they open to not knowing the answer and willing to take a journey to find one?
  • Partnerships: How well do you know your neighborhood school? Are you on a first name basis with the principal and/or office staff? Do you have email addresses for the teachers who work with your children during the school day? Are you happy to support and attend school events? Are you seen as an integral part of the school community?

By focusing attention on Kindergarteners, before and after school programs can hope to provide a high quality service that meets the needs of the children, families, and our school partners. This focused attention should also help bolster program enrollment and build connections to families that will last throughout their child's elementary school experience. By creating experiences for Kindergarteners that are unique for them, meeting their developmental, social, and academic needs we can hopefully bring back some of the original benefits of Kindergarten.

ElizaBeth and Regan will be presenting a workshop on this topic at the 2014 BOOST Conference.

ElizaBeth- This morning I had peanut butter toast with grape jelly and a glass of chocolate milk.
Regan- This morning I had an English muffin, coffee, orange juice, a hardboiled egg and two pieces of sausage.

Published in Breakfast Club

Harvard GSE professor Richard Elmore's recent remarks at May's Aspen Institute may leave educators feeling a bit disturbed. And that's exactly what I love about it.

In his 8 minute speech, Elmore begins the conversation with the assertion that he does "not believe in the institutional structure of public schooling... anymore." Wait! What? This is coming from a man who has spent over 40 years in the upper echelons of government and academia, advocating for education policy and reshaping of the teaching profession in the United States. Currently, Elmore spends thousands of hours in schools researching and working with teachers and administrators to address instructional improvement. He is also currently serving as the Director of the Doctoral program in Educational Leadership at Harvard. In his remarks in Aspen, Elmore explains that he now views his work in schools as "palliative care for a dying institution."

When I first heard this, I was filled with simultaneous excitement and relief. I was excited that someone, so important in the industry, finally showed their cards and said something REAL. I was relieved, because it feels like the education industry is fighting so hard to justify one pedagogical approach over another, to define how real learning should be evaluated, and to figure out how to train and retain teacher. With one swoop, I felt like we could let go of all these struggles and look to something bigger.

Elmore goes on to break down how he sees the current and inevitable disconnect between learning and schooling. He also identifies current school environments to be incompatible with the way students cognitively develop, as informed by current neuroscience research. He mentions how important networked relationships will be for the new organization model for learning and he leaves us with two big questions:

How will we handle issues of access when learning is no longer associated with the classroom?

How can neuroscience become a part of the way we design learning environments?

Elmore is hinting at a huge existential crisis for the entire education industry.

And here's why I love it:

Over the years there have been many calls to action to reform public education in America. If you look at the history of public education over the last 50 years, the outcomes expected from the system and the breadth of services has changed dramatically. In the 1980's, A Nation at Risk was a call to arms for many that we were falling behind in terms of test scores and skills compared to the rest of the world. Education became about keeping the U.S. as a dominant world power. In the 1990's Outcome-Based-Models became popular and No Child Left Behind came to sweep us away with promises of improvement. More recently there have been chants, 'Down with the factory model,' and yet demands that we measure our teachers' performance with student test data. There are also promises from the technology industry that iPads, adaptive learning systems, and LMS (learning management systems) will change the game.

At times, these movements can seem exciting, like we have finally identified THE problem and can come up with some solutions. Hope is just around the corner. However, we have to ask ourselves – even though the metaphors and motivation for school improvement change – are our questions any different? Has the way we think about schools changed? Or are we still trying to fit all the answers into the same school house box? I want to assert that the questions we are asking ARE NOT the right questions. We are fitting new ideas into the same systems of thought. And it's exhausting.

So, for now I just want to say, AMEN brother Richard, and keep speaking your mind. Bring on the education industry's existential crisis. I'm with you!

Let's talk about what real learning looks like, and if we can even come up with a common definition. Let's talk about whether schools are the places where kids do their learning. Let's talk about whether or not they should be. Let's talk about what our country would look like if schools didn't exist. What would happen to our industry? What would happen to our practice? How would we do education differently?

It wouldn't hurt if more of us were shocked into giving our practice a sincerely hard look, to settle into a serious existential crisis. We need to break down the walls of what we originally knew as schooling and start fresh, free of pre-conceived notions.

Educators take notice. We need to start thinking differently about the way we support our kids to learn. We need to start thinking differently about what a 'school' is and what its purpose may be. We need to start thinking differently about our country's commitment to give every child free public education. We need to start thinking differently. Period.

We can begin asking ourselves the question, "What if education looked like..."?

As I muse over this question, I am eating museli with soy milk.

This entry is written by Christiana Quattrocchi.

Published in Breakfast Club

This week we are highlighting a post from Education Week, a nonprofit organization with a mission to raise awareness and understanding of critical issues facing American schools. The blog entry is titled, "Early Learning Practices in Immigrant Families," and is written by Lesli A. Maxwell. Below is an excerpt from the post and we encourage you to follow the entire story here.

Immigrant Mexican mothers report stable home environments and strong mental health, but are less likely to read to their young children than American-born white mothers.

Meanwhile, immigrant Chinese mothers are more likely to read to their young children than American-born white mothers, but report more household conflict and weaker mental health.

These insights into how families function in immigrant households in the United States come from a new study that examines how migration history, cultural practices, and social class impact social-emotional development and early learning practices in homes with young children. The findings challenge some of the conventional thinking on the disadvantages for children born into immigrant families.

Published in Breakfast Club

"Honeeeeeeeeeeeey, I'm hoooooooooooome. What's the plan for dinner? Did you make it to the bank to take care of the girls' accounts? Where are the kids?"

Sound familiar? Well, it should. It's common daily conversation in many homes. In fact, this is the exact verbiage that came out of my mouth when I arrived home to my stay-at-home hubby yesterday. His answer: "There's no dinner plan, girl's are doing homework, and yes, I went to the bank but they won't accept the girls school ID's as identification so we're headed back tomorrow." To which, my mind contemplates some negotiation of dinner possibilities (Sushi?!?), some flexibility of the banking project timeline, and some verbal praise for homework getting started!

On the surface, this seems simple enough. It's just your normal partner banter, coordinating plans, kid activities and resources. BUT WAIT! It's more than that. It's collaboration. It's communication. It's 18+ years of marriage. It's ALIGNMENT!

If you've struggled to wrap your head around what it really means to align with your core day partners, you're not alone. When the nebulous notion of aligning with the core day surfaced, I was one of THE biggest resisters of the idea. (Shhhhh, let's keep this between us shall we?) However, I've succeeded in softening this resistance by defining alignment in the context of relationship building, making connections and achieving common visions for youth aka Married With Children!

So, here are some tips co-developed by our amazing CalSERVES staff. I hope they offer some guidance as you enter the new school year and work to build the necessary bridges with your core day partners for the best results for kids! (Rings and Vows optional.)

Alignment Means:

  • —Coordinating
  • Linking
  • —Augmenting
  • —Bridging
  • —Connecting
  • —Reinforcing

Alignment Doesn't Mean:

  • —Duplication
  • —Replacement
  • —More Core Day Activities

Why Align?

  • Relationship Building: creating a culture of shared trust, understanding, and respect.
  • Making Connections: sharing resources, strategies, perspectives and practices.
  • Achieving Common Vision: creating agreements and plans for working toward the goals of student access to learning opportunities, academic achievement and personal success.

Ideas for Aligning:

  1. Academic Advisor: Create a formal position in your program for a highly supportive core day teacher to work with you in developing relationships and accessing information about the core day.
  2. Staff Observations: If possible, have after school staff observe in core day classrooms to build relationships with teachers, increase understanding of what is being covered, and developing classroom management/instructional skills.
  3. Staff Development: Attend as many staff development opportunities put on by the school as possible. It will support skill development, create a common language and build good will.
  4. Essential Standards: Get a copy of the schools essential standards and integrate them into your activities where appropriate.
  5. Common Instructional Strategies: Find out what instructional strategies are being used school-wide and make a plan to train staff on how to utilize them.
  6. Curriculum Pacing Guides: Get a copy of curriculum pacing guides and talk with teachers to see if they are actually on pace!
  7. Grade Level Meetings: While timing can be challenging, attending grade-level meetings can serve to build priceless connections regarding student attendance, homework, behavior and overall achievement.
  8. Meet Regularly with the Principal: The principal can unlock many doors and will almost certainly support your goals to align with core day instruction.
  9. Regular Communication Strategies: Create strategies for regular two-way communication with teachers. You can solicit regular input on student progress and classroom focus.
  10. Make your Intentions Known: Let the principal and influential teachers know that you are interested in aligning strategies that that support student learning in both the core day and after school.

This morning I had oatmeal and apples covered in cinnamon with a couple slices of cheese while my stay-at-home hubby slept in.

Annette Z married

Published in Breakfast Club
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