Engaging the High School Teenager: Reflections from After School Matters

Guest post by Julia Flores, After School Matters. This is the fourth and final post in our series on the Third Annual Institute for Building Expanded-Learning Systems. Read part 1: overview here, part 2: Reflections from Denver here, and part 3:  Closing the Exposure Gap here.

At the Every Hour Counts Institute for Building Expanded-Learning Systems in August, After School Matters convened a panel of teens to give the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a teen in an after-school program and give advice on how to best engage high school students. Is there anyone better to speak to promising practices than the teens themselves?


After School Matters teen panel shares their insights.

Teens were asked the following: what can instructors do now to improve engagement? They mentioned the importance of building community early in the program session. The series of games and icebreakers helped them get to know and feel more comfortable with each other. Teens also mentioned providing teens the opportunity to choose the direction in which the learning goes. Teen choice is very important to them and it helps ensure that there is relevance in the content.

The teens mentioned several reasons why they remained engaged throughout the summer. The first thing that was mentioned was the reputation of the program. Several of the teen panelists had been recruited to the program by their friends. The second thing mentioned was the fact that the instructor was not only funny and engaging, but showed genuine interest in their lives. To quote a teen: “Our instructor…he’s not family, but pretty close to it.”


What stood out to me was the sheer confidence the teens possessed in speaking to a room full of adults in the OST space. They spoke clearly about their skill development and the correlation between that and the growth of their confidence. One teen even mentioned that the skills she learned in public speaking helped her tremendously in school. Those same skills enabled her to teach other students in her class to hone their public speaking skills. Ultimately, what teens learned in their After School Matters program helped them in school. The confidence they built in their OST program helped them in life. That is the ultimate goal of teaching anything.

That panel discussion is one of those defining moments in one’s career. It reaffirms what I’ve known all along: after school really matters. We, as OST providers, have a unique opportunity to change the lives of the youth that seek out our programs. We can create the space for teens to grow and explore various possible careers. We just have to empower teens to find their voice and make them partners in instruction.

Julia Flores is the Director of Instruction at After School Matters.


Closing the Third Gap: Exposure

Guest post by Danielle Kim. This is the third post in a series on our Third Annual Institute for Building Expanded-Learning Systems. Read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Since the publication of the seminal 1966 Coleman report, the education field has coalesced around the goal of narrowing the achievement gap. Decades later, powered by research showing connections between out-of-school factors and youth outcomes, we have expanded our efforts to address the second gap: a pervasive disparity in learning time and experiences, also called the opportunity gap.

However, research and practice show that learning experiences are not created equal, and that the rigor and relevance of these opportunities matter.

At the Third Annual System-Building Institute hosted in Chicago last month by Every Hour Counts, 29 communities from across the country gathered together to share ideas for strengthening and scaling our systems-building work. During the first day of Institute, I was struck by an astute comment from one colleague: “exposure is equity.”

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From Idea to Action: Reflections from Denver Afterschool Alliance

Guest post by Katherine Plog Martinez and Maxine Quintana. This is the second post in a series on our Third Annual Institute for Building Expanded-Learning Systems. Read part 1 here.

We’ve all been to the conferences where you meet back up with your group between sessions and the ask of “How were the sessions?” are met with – “Meh.” “Well, I guess I have one new idea.” “I’m hoping the next one’s better.” In other words – a bust.

If you think about a conference like that and then imagine the polar opposite you would have the Every Hour Counts System-Building Institute.

Between each session, the Denver team couldn’t stop sharing our ideas, aligning our learning, and beginning to think about how we can adjust and grow as a result of what we learned. We excitedly discussed data dashboards. We wondered about youth employment and its connections to after-school programming (both for students, and in building our work force of youth development professionals). We talked through ideas for programming and ideas for supporting programs. We talked deeply about equity and how to model it in all we do.


Participants discussing reflections during a breakout session.

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From Idea to Action: Third Annual Institute for Building Expanded-Learning Systems

“This is not a mystery. It’s what we want for our own kids: activities where kids discover themselves and the world around them.” Rahm Emanuel, Mayor, City of Chicago

In August, Every Hour Counts hosted, “From Idea to Action: An Institute for Building Expanded-Learning Systems,” a two-day event that brought together teams of leaders from 19 communities around the country to discuss the essential elements of expanded-learning systems. Mayor Rahm Emanuel, steadfast supporter of after-school and of our host city partner, After School Matters, set the tone for the event with his belief that after-school can transform lives: “Our obligation does not end at 3:30 pm on June 10. For our kids to live up to their potential, we need to live up to our obligation.”


City of Chicago Panel (from right to left): Moderator Mary Ellen Caron, CEO of After School Matters; Mayor Rahm Emanuel; Robbie Robinson, Managing Director of BDT& Company, After School Matters Board of Directors Vice Chair; and Gillian Darlow, CEO, Polk Bros. Foundation

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To dream the impossible dream

Guest post by Wokie Weah. This post originally appeared on the Youthprise blog on July 8, 2016.

Nancy Wong Photography, LLC

Like most Minnesotans, I woke up yesterday to the horrific news of Philando Castile’s death. My first thought was for his family. I marveled at the poise of his fiancé Diamond Reynolds, his four-year-old stepdaughter, mother, and uncle. As a mother myself, I was filled with all of the complex emotions that come up for the mothers of African American males. We live in constant fear for the safety of our sons. According to Bureau of Justice Statistics, 13% of black drivers are stopped by police while only 10% of white or Hispanic drivers are stopped, meaning that African Americans are 31% more likely to be pulled over.

Systems recreate systems. Violence perpetuates violence. The time is ripe to reimagine a way to end systematic racism.

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Policy Update: What We Know So Far About Federal Funding for Expanded-Learning in 2017

The federal budget and appropriations process can be quite a roller coaster, and this year is no exception. In the early phases of the annual appropriations process, the expanded-learning field faces the possibility of significantly reduced federal funding in fiscal year 2017 (FY17) as Congress balances competing needs and limited funds.

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Announcing the Every Hour Counts National Learning Community!

Every Hour Counts put out a call for applications for a new initiative: a peer learning community composed of expanded-learning systems-builders ready to take their system to the next level. Today we are excited to announce the Every Hour Counts National Learning Community has launched with 13 cities and counties from around the country.

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What factors spark STEM engagement?

Guest post by Marielle Lovecchio. This post is part of the Every Hour Counts STEM Connections series.

Last month, our Nashville-based trio made the trek to New York City with a specific aim in mind: to figure out how ExpandED Schools creates opportunities for students to engage in high-quality science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) learning after school, specifically through partnerships with formal (school day) and community (out-of-school) educators. We had all seen our share of one-off STEM activities, such as the infamous slime project, and were interested to see how collaboration between educators could lead to deeper STEM engagement. We wanted to learn how to help our students in Nashville’s expanded learning system, the Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA), reimagine their idea of what’s possible through the application of STEM.

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Bringing STEM Education from Niche to Necessary: the Every Hour Counts FUSE 3.0 Institute

This post originally appeared on STEM Next, a national leader in increasing opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics learning for youth across communities both in and out of school.

Editor’s Note: In 2010, ExpandED Schools and Every Hour Counts launched the Frontiers in Urban Science Education project with support from the Noyce Foundation. The project aims to scale access to high-quality STEM learning for kids in out-of-school time programs, building off lessons piloted in New York City by ExpandED Schools. In 2014, the FUSE project published a resource guide of strategies to advance informal science education in after-school, and is now leading six organizations from across the country in connecting out-of-school and in-school STEM learning with the Next Generation Science Standards.

“What variable do you think students were testing during the Rockin’ Rockets Design Challenge?” Jasmine Maldonado, Science Coach Supervisor from the New York Hall of Science, asked FUSE 3.0 Winter Institute participants before testing the rockets in the video above. The question sparked a buzz of conversation around the room as participants explored how the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) can be applied to expanded learning.

The presentation allowed us to step into students’ shoes to experience learning rooted in NGSS firsthand. We used our observation, critical thinking, communication, and teamwork skills to analyze the design variables students tested in the rocket challenge. We quickly realized that we were flexing the same social-emotional skills (SEL) to answer Maldonado’s question that students must use to be successful in the Challenge. The exercise highlighted a key FUSE theme: there are many ways to integrate both content acquisition and youth development in high-quality STEM learning.

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