OST in Public Housing: Big Challenges, with Bigger Rewards

Expanded learning providers and coordinators are used to forging partnerships in their communities, but many have not considered the possibility of partnering with a local housing authority. As part of the growing trend to create self-sufficiency in public housing communities, developers are increasingly involved in the business of providing afterschool and summer options for children of residents, and with budget cuts, they are increasingly reliant on partnerships with outside organizations to fund and operate these programs.

Photo courtesy of Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica.

Parachute games at Mar Vista Gardens. Photo courtesy of Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica.

One such partnership exists between the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica and the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles (HACLA) at the Mar Vista Gardens public housing complex. The partnership was highlighted in a recent webinar from the Afterschool Alliance as an example of successful collaboration: before the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica opened a site in Mar Vista Gardens, only about 100 students from that community participated in its afterschool or summer programs. One year after bringing services into Mar Vista, though, over 600 Mar Vista youth (almost 100 percent) were regular participants in these programs.

Low median incomes, high crime rates, and relative geographic isolation are among the barriers students living in public housing face to accessing quality after-school programs. By bringing expanded learning opportunities into these communities, providers can serve many students in their target populations whom they previously could not reach. Proximity to home also makes it easier for parents to be engaged in the program. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica found that the parents of students attending programs at the Mar Vista Gardens site were among the most involved compared to parents of students at other sites.

Making such a partnership successful, however, requires a good deal of research and planning at the outset. According to representatives from both HACLA and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica, if residents had not supported the creation of an afterschool program in their community, trusted the individuals responsible for the program, and felt included by those in charge of planning and implementation, the proposed OST program would not have been able to thrive. Achieving community consensus on the project, in turn, required full commitment to shared goals by the housing authority and OST provider alike.

There are a number of factors unique to public housing communities that might affect the ability to build consensus, including informal structures of leadership and communication among the residents (including gang affiliation) and informal or unspoken rules regarding the use of recreational spaces. Cognizant of these potential hurdles, HACLA was committed to getting community input throughout the planning process. Both HACLA and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica emphasized the importance of engaging residents at every step of the way—including selecting the organization that would ultimately fund and run the program, designing and scheduling activities, and recruiting staff members. In addition, Boys and Girls Clubs of Santa Monica attributed the success of its program in large part to the recruitment of an executive director who was confident and experienced at communicating with similar groups, including gang leaders, in other communities.

To learn more about the potential benefits and roadblocks associated with housing authority partnerships, view the recorded webinar and read the companion article on Afterschool Alliance’s blog, Afterschool Snack.

Has your organization partnered with a housing authority? Share your experience in the comments.


The City-State Connection: Reflections from the Midwest Afterschool Science Academy

Guest post by Jeff Buehler

Across informal science education, community leaders are advancing efforts at local, regional, and state levels. Organizations are developing partnerships, disseminating curricula, scaling professional development, and measuring quality in ways that are making differences in youth programs; the youth development field as a whole appears to have taken the next step in meeting the needs of youth; and professionals have shown impressive commitment to convening and employing intentional strategies for sharing exemplary practices.

City and state STEM leaders discuss strategies to advance informal STEM education system-wide.

City and state STEM leaders discuss strategies to advance informal STEM education system-wide.

The most recent example of such practice-sharing was seen at the fifth Midwest Afterschool Science Academy (MASA), held in Kansas City, MO, from April 7 to 11. Over the years, MASA events have been built on the vision of Midwestern, informal science-education stakeholders coming together to share ideas and resources while connecting to and learning from national experts. This year, MASA played host to a confluence of multiple national initiatives with the common goal of developing systems to support accessible, equitable STEM learning experiences for all youth.

Leaders from Every Hour Counts cities, Statewide Afterschool Networks, and National Girls Collaborative Project collaboratives came together to learn from one other’s experiences and to determine strategies for coordinating future efforts. Altogether, over 100 leaders explored promising strategies for the establishment of policies and allocation of resources supporting youth development professionals’ efforts to provide more, and more high-quality, STEM learning opportunities.

Traditionally, city leaders have interacted with other cities, and state leaders with other states. Information has been shared primarily through formal presentations and publications. While those approaches hold value, the process of actively working together across multiple levels has resulted in a new dynamic that recognizes that local and regional efforts always take place within state contexts, and statewide successes are rooted in effective local and regional efforts—we cannot have one without the other. Together, we can achieve the cohesive field of informal science education that our youth and communities deserve.

Jeff Buehler is Director of Project LIFTOFF, a Midwestern initiative to elevate science learning after school through the development of statewide systems for informal science education.

Helping Kids Grow Up Healthy: More than Diet and Exercise

National Public Health Week is coming to a close, but summer is on its way and with it come heightened risks to kids’ health (especially for kids from low-income families); during the summer, lack of activity combined with limited access to nutritious foods leaves many students at an increased risk for unhealthy weight gain.

Licensed under creative commons (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends that kids get 60 minutes of vigorous to moderate-intensity physical activity per day in order to stay healthy, but it is estimated that fewer than half of US youth meet this recommendation. TASC’s study of students in their NYC ExpandED programs revealed this estimate to be perhaps too optimistic, finding that fewer than 20% of their students reached the 9,100 daily steps considered necessary to constitute an hour of vigorous activity.

Expanded learning and summer programs can and are increasingly called upon to help students reach benchmarks of healthy living by incorporating better nutrition and more physical activity into their days. But there are other factors in play: a recent study showed that social and emotional variables such as perceived social class, depressive symptoms, and low self-esteem—all of which disproportionately affect low-income youth—contribute to higher risks of obesity in children.

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Teaching Social-Emotional Learning Elusive, But New Tools Can Help

Guest post by Katie Brohawn, Director of Research, ExpandED Schools by TASC

Social-emotional learning. Non-cognitive skills. Habits of mind. Grit. Persistence. Perseverance.

kids at computer

Licensed under Creative Commons from APO CC BY-NC 3.0 AU.

Anyone in the education sector today undoubtedly hears these words on a regular basis, and by now, has likely added them to his or her own vocabulary. As conversation about these skills comes to the forefront of the education landscape, many have begun to wonder if they can truly offer a solution to narrowing the achievement gap—or if they are simply the latest trend, an alternative to higher-stakes accountability metrics like test scores.

Research by Angela Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania seems to confirm the idea that certain social-emotional skills, such as grit and self-control, are stronger predictors of success than intelligence. That raises the question (as noted in a recent NPR report), “Can we teach these skills?”

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