Lights On Afterschool: Have fun, show off, and support systems building

Guest post by Jennifer Rinehart

The annual Lights On Afterschool celebration is coming up on October 17th. Each year, 1 million Americans celebrate Lights On Afterschool to shine a light on the after-school programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, and help working families. One of the reasons that Lights On Afterschool has grown into a national celebration involving nearly 10,000 communities is because local programs have embraced it as a way to meet some of their big-picture needs, including:

After-school systems can think of Lights On Afterschool in the same way. The annual event can help meet your existing systems-building goals.

Continue reading


Investing in Youth as Agents of Change

Guest post by Wokie Weah

Xue Yang wants to transform his community by providing young people with opportunities to learn more about business and make local connections. Rachel Huss, a substitute teacher in Minneapolis Public Schools, plans to create a curriculum that incorporates Theater of the Oppressed in ESL/ELL classrooms and as a tool to combat gang violence. Edwin Gonzalez sees urban farming as a tool to educate and organize youth around food justice.

Change Fellows taking part in team-building activities at the start of the fellowship. Photo courtesy of Youthprise.

Change Fellows take part in team-building activities at the start of the fellowship. Photo courtesy of Youthprise.

These are just a few of the big ideas from the first class of Youthprise “Change Fellows”—think Shark Tank with a social innovation twist. Launched this past summer, the Change Fellows program was designed by the Youthprise Innovator Collective. This group of eight worked to redefine philanthropy as a collaborative process in which young people, driven by their love for others, lead the allocation and redistribution of resources—whether time, talent, or funding—toward the just and authentic enrichment of their peers.

Acting on recommendations from the Collective, Youthprise invested in 10 fellows between the ages of 16 and 25 who are stirring up currents of change in their communities. We know that some of the most interesting innovations happen on the margins of fields by new players, and are betting that the Change Fellows will foster the kind of collaboration, dialogue and ideas that could stir up system-wide change.
Continue reading

Back to School, Into Wonderland

Here in New York, it’s back to school for the city’s 1.1 million students. We saw them on our morning commutes today for the first time since June, heading to school on foot, bike, bus, and train, new backpacks in tow and nervous smiles on their faces.

We thought back to what the first day of school was like for us, growing up in other cities around the country. Here are some of the CBASS staff and partners’ favorite memories. Add yours in the comments below.

I grew up in Florida, where seasons were marked only as “wet” or “dry,” and “hot” or “hotter,” so I didn’t have the crisp fall air to signal a change. My favorite memories of going back to school coincided with everything that signaled a fresh start: going to the drugstore with my mom to pick out a snappy new Trapper Keeper, selecting clean notebooks (one for each class), ink-filled pens and sharp pencils, and, of course, new clothes. Most of all, I remember the butterflies in my stomach with excitement for all the surprises that a new year of friendships and learning would bring.   –Jessica Donner, CBASS

On my first day of 6th grade P.E. (remember P.E.?), I met a girl who played basketball aggressively and wasn’t afraid to disagree with others—and loudly. I, shy and eager to please everyone I met, didn’t like her much. The next year, we were in the same math class and got assigned to work together. Despite my aversion to group work, we got along well and even chose to be running partners in that year’s P.E. class. Today, she’s one of my oldest and dearest friends. It goes to show first impressions aren’t the only ones that count.   –Nina Agrawal, CBASS

As a half-day, afternoon kindergarten student, I missed the rush of kids into the building on the first day of school. When I arrived, the door—which appeared to be from Alice in Wonderland—was too big for me to open. After a few minutes of pulling as hard as I could (thinking that maybe school was just not for me), someone came to my rescue.  It looked up from there—the staff at Rice Square School in Worcester were kind, attentive, and personally interested in our success.   –Chris Smith, Boston Afterschool and Beyond

On the first day of the 4th grade at Isla Vista Elementary, the first thing our teacher, Ms. Schuyler did, was teach each of the students how to give her a shoulder massage, and throughout the year we took turns rubbing her shoulders while she graded papers. It was brilliant! She was a fantastic, warm, caring teacher with the best laugh and bright red hair piled on top of her head. A memorable year.   –Jennifer Peck, Partnership for Children and Youth

When thinking of my daughter’s childhood, both she and I most remember buying school supplies and getting new books at the beginning of the year.   –Suzette Harvey, Prime Time Palm Beach County

On my first day of the 6th grade, I tried out for the girls’ basketball team. I had no interest in basketball, but I was worried my best friend would drop me as her BFF if I didn’t go with her. The try-outs felt monumentally difficult. But over the course of those three days, my experience epitomized why we encourage girls to play sports: I learned how to pick myself up from failure, and how to receive both constructive feedback and praise with grace. I came to recognize the coach as a mentor, and the entire experience built my confidence. At the end, I made the team. (It still holds the school’s all-time best win-loss record for a season).   –Lauren Bierbaum, Partnership for Youth Development

Why School?

Guest post by Ellie Mitchell

One evening this summer, following a visit to Baltimore’s Digital Harbor Foundation, a little book with a provocative title showed up in my e-reader. Why School? had captured the attention of Digital Harbor’s Executive Director Andrew Coy and his entire staff, and he had promised to lend it to me.

The book was a quick read on the short plane ride from Baltimore to Boston, where I was meeting with CBASS colleagues and visiting Boston’s award-winning summer program, and my brain has been buzzing with the question posed by the title ever since.

In Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information Are Everywhere, author Will Richardson makes a compelling case that technology and the information age should fundamentally change how we think about teaching and learning. As a parent and advocate for youth-development centered out-of-school time programming, I, like many others, have been frustrated with the education reform conversations I hear all around me—and perhaps even more concerned with the implementation process. While well-intentioned education advocates passionately debate a myriad of changes, including new standards and teacher/student assessments, we often miss the point that at the center of education should be the basic questions: how do students learn best, and what strategies support their success?

The work of the Providence After School Alliance, where high school students are receiving school credit for participation in after-school activities focused on video game development and app development, debate, and environmental science, is a perfect example of the type of new approaches for which Richardson is advocating. At the rec-center turned tech-center run by the Digital Harbor Foundation, high school students are building websites for actual clients and learning enough about cyber-security to gain clearances to work at the National Security Agency. These innovators show that students can lead their learning; that the content and skills they acquire are relevant to young people’s lives and future careers; and that assessment should be based on demonstration of knowledge through action.

Richardson argues that schools can and will continue to play an essential role in communities only if there is a revolution in our thinking about how, where and when learning takes place. After-school and summer programs are leading the way, collaborating with open-minded school partners. Why School provides the perfect opening for changing the conversation and thinking in a new way.

Ellie Mitchell is the Director of the Maryland Out of School Time Network, an initiative of Baltimore’s Safe and Sound Campaign.

Congress’ Chance to Help Students Get 21st Century Skills

Guest post by Jennifer Peck

At the local level, it has become increasingly clear that as states, districts, and schools are raising standards and increasing their focus on graduating students that are prepared for college and careers, there is a need to build capacity within the education system. Many districts and schools have already begun to address this need by partnering with effective community-based partners, and investing in expanded learning opportunities; programs that keep students engaged and excited about learning while improving academic achievement. While local efforts to improve education have been effective, systemic change has been difficult because of feederal inaction. That, however, may be changing.

Congress is now moving forward on reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Representative Kline, Chairman of the House Education and Workforce Committee, introduced the Student Success Act (H.R. 5) and it was brought to the House floor on July 18th. The bill passed with 221 votes, with all Democrats and 12 Republicans voting against the bill. While we are supportive of the strong partnership language that requires local education agencies to partner with community-based organizations, business or nongovernmental entities under the Local Academic Flexibility Grant, we are disheartened that the bill eliminates the 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) program that would provide direct funding for much needed and expanded learning programs. Senior Democratic member, Representative George Miller, offered a substitute amendment that strengthens the 21st CCLC program by including provisions that require school-community partnerships and allow grant renewals for the programs that are innovative and demonstrating results. Unfortunately, this amendment failed by a vote of 193-233. Continue reading

Building Better Afterschool: Dispatch from Madison

Yesterday, BetterTogethercoverimageThe Wallace Foundation released Better Together: Building Local Systems to Improve Afterschool (A Conference Report). This report shares lessons from national experts and teams from 57 cities who came together in February 2013 to share lessons on expanding access to high-quality afterschool programs, especially in low-income areas, through coordinated citywide systems. Watch a video of the conference’s opening session.

In the following post, the Honorable Paul Soglin, Mayor of Madison, WI, reflects on how participation in the Better Together conference impacted his city’s efforts to build an out-of-school time system.

Guest post by Paul Soglin

In 2012 the city of Madison, The Madison Metropolitan School district and our non-profit partners started exploring Out-of-School Time (OST) systems. At the end of the year, an invitation arrived to attend The Wallace Foundation’s conference, Better Together: Building Local Systems to Improve Afterschool. The timing could not have been more opportune.

The City of Madison’s joint committee with the school district and Dane County was interested in piloting a version of an OST system. Around the same time, I met with a host of neighborhood center directors and articulated a vision in which all children and youth were within walking distance of OST activities. The center directors agreed to take a lead role in developing a system that would adequately serve youth throughout Madison.

There was already momentum in our community to provide system-wide programming that focused on improving attendance, lengthening the school day, involving more parents, and combating hunger and trauma. While all of the partners were experienced and committed to serving youth outside of the school setting, the development of a comprehensive system was challenging.
Continue reading

New Orleans to Participate in National Initiative to Engage Disconnected Youth

Guest post by Lauren Bierbaum

Recently, the Aspen Institute announced a series of grants to bring 6.7 million young Americans back to education and the workforce. The Institute’s Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (OYIF), whose name refers to the millions of young people between the ages of 16 to 24 who are neither enrolled in school nor participating in the labor market, is making an initial commitment of $6 million to 21 founding partners. These partners are in turn charged with harnessing the power of cross-sector collaboration to improve educational and employment outcomes for vulnerable young adults.

In the New Orleans region, which we serve, over 14,000 young people are disconnected from school and work. Though we have made great strides in reforming our schools, young people in our community who feel unsafe or unsuccessful in traditional educational settings still suffer from horribly inadequate safety nets. We have a growing economy, but lack the necessary infrastructure to develop young New Orleanians into a sustainable local workforce. We are a dynamic, culturally rich city, but still have not created equitable opportunity for all our youth.

Continue reading

Digital Badges and the 21st Century Resume

Guest post by Michael Braithwaite

Communications skills, team work, design, chess champ, social media mastery, and competitive bocce ball: It might sound like a strange list of job qualifications, but as companies increasingly seek out employees who can accomplish a wide range of tasks across a growing number of technologies, all the while being a team player, they’re looking for skills and experiences that paint a more holistic picture of an applicant. Gone are the days of employees working solo on repetitive, finite tasks. Today’s workplace is constantly changing, built on rapidly evolving technology and often spanning multiple countries. It requires good communicators, fast and creative thinkers, and flexibility.

That’s where digital badges come in. A bit like supercharged merit badges, digital badges are emerging as a new angle on credentialing, redefining how learning is recognized in a digital age that requires a broad range of skills, passion, and diversity of experience.

Hub alum Bryan Norato during a White House Google+ Hangout.

Hub alum Bryan Norato during a White House Google+ Hangout.

Or at least, that’s what the White House thinks. Last Thursday, the Office of Science Technology Policy hosted a “We the Geeks” Google+ Hangout that was broadcast nationally and discussed the current use of digital badges and their potential to redefine not only the professional landscape, but the educational one as well.

Bryan Norato, University of Rhode Island freshman and alumni of the Hub—a credit-bearing after-school system for high school youth in Providence—helped shed some light on the subject of digital badges in a conversation with Erin Knight, Senior Director of Learning & Badges at the Mozilla Foundation; Connie Yowell, Director of Education for U.S. Programs at the MacArthur Foundation; and Richard Culatta, Acting Director of the Office of Educational Technology at the Department of Education.

Continue reading

Summer Learning Day—A Celebration and a Challenge

Guest post by Bob Seidel

This Friday, June 21, is Summer Learning Day.  It’s a day to celebrate summer learning successes—and to challenge all of us to make high-quality summer learning opportunities a reality for all who need them.

Why is this so important?  If we don’t exercise our brains for an entire summer, we lose much of what we’ve learned.  Research shows that, without stimulating summer activities, students tend to lose about two months of grade-level equivalency in math.  Low-income students also tend to lose more than two months in reading achievement.  The cumulative effects of summer learning loss mean that as much as two-thirds of the ninth-grade achievement gap in reading is attributable to differences in summer learning opportunities in the elementary years.

Summertime is also important for young people’s health and nutrition.  Without access to organized programs providing opportunities for exercise, young people’s tendency toward obesity becomes aggravated.  And among those who receive federally-subsidized meals during the school year, only one in seven receives those meals during the summer.

The good news is that there are effective solutions out there.  Research shows that high-quality summer learning programs not only stem summer learning loss, they help students make positive gains. A recently published report from California’s Partnership for Children and Youth, Summer Matters:  How Summer Learning Strengthens Students’ Success, showed that during a six-week program in the summer of 2012, students improved their vocabulary by nearly 1.5 grade levels [pdf, 2.9 MB].

Continue reading