Kernels of Practice: Growing Bite-Sized Elements into Effective Programming

By Brittany Smith,
Every Hour Counts Program Intern and Graduate Student pursuing a Masters of Public Health at Columbia University

Take a deep breath and feel your belly grow bigger. Slowly exhale and feel your belly get smaller. Try this again. Do you feel any better?

Belly breathing, a technique designed to help kids develop their emotion regulation skills, is easily taught in a short period of time. It’s also effective for children encompassing a wide range of ages, abilities, and backgrounds. Kids can use belly breathing to calm themselves down when frustrated with a tricky math problem, a complex sculpture project, or difficult social interaction. In this instance, belly breathing is an example of a kernel, a bite-sized version of “active ingredients” found in larger, more complex programs already shown to be effective.

Kernels center on one specific behavior that kids can utilize in a variety of settings. A report from Stephanie Jones and her team at the EASEL Lab at Harvard Graduate School of Education, commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, focuses on kernels and their useful applications in developing social and emotional learning (SEL) skills. Entitled Kernels of Practice for SEL: Low-Cost, Low-Burden Strategies, it serves as part of a larger initiative by the Harvard Graduate School of Education to understand how schools can use SEL building blocks to develop curriculum. In this particular report, data are driven from 25 SEL programs and analyzed using content analysis. Programs were qualitatively coded, vetted to eliminate non-kernel strategies, and then organized by focus.

SEL programming is key for helping kids develop their empathy, self-regulation, motivation, and more. It can even buffer the effects of exposure to stress and trauma, resulting in stronger social-emotional skills. But, all too often, barriers such as few resources, limited integration, and challenges with sustainability can impede providers’ attempts to incorporate SEL into programs.

Kernels serve as solutions to such obstacles. Because they are low-cost, easily taught, and focus on one specific behavior at a time, they can be used in a variety of settings and within diverse populations. In addition, unlike more traditional programs that situate activities in a discrete time block, the report notes that kernels are “easy-to-use and applicable across school contexts (e.g., hallways, recess, etc.) as well as in home, afterschool, and early learning settings.” What’s more, they are “easy to adapt based on individual, cultural, and other contextual needs, making them well suited for use in a broad range of contexts and populations.”

Wallace Foundation

The authors offer this image of a seed to better illustrate how kernels work. The germ part of the seed, or core of the kernel, is the specific technique used for one particular behavior. It can be tailored to each program’s particular needs and planted in different kinds of soil. Providers can utilize a variety of kernels to form a garden of specific tools that kids can easily access to calm themselves down, motivate themselves to be more engaged, or express admiration for their peers.

For educators looking to use kernels for their programs, the EASEL Lab is working on developing guides detailing different kernels and how to implement them. The authors plan to provide guides based on setting (school, home, and out-of-school time programs), ages of the students, and related SEL focus.

Instructors will also have information on how to scaffold this learning over time, providing new, developmentally appropriate insight on kernels that kids have already mastered.

Concerned about the difficulties of incorporating SEL into your programs? Don’t be. Take a deep breath in, feel your belly expand, and remember that you can always use kernels to help your students develop the same critical skills that they would find in more complex programs.

Congress: Reject Trump Administration’s FY ’18 Education Budget



Image: Students at Highbridge Green School in the Bronx, part of the ExpandED Schools network, participate in an expanded learning program operated by WHEDco., a community partner

The people who put together the president’s budget know the cost of everything but the value of nothing. —William A. Galston, who helped start AmeriCorps
as the policy advisor to President Clinton

President Trump submitted his FY ’18 budget to Congress, proposing massive funding cuts that included the elimination of 22 programs within the Department of Education. Once again, the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program is among those targeted for elimination along with several other programs that provide critical support to after-school programs and personnel. These cuts would be absolutely devastating to students and families throughout the country who rely on 21st CCLC for high-quality before- and after-school programs and other community supports.

Every Hour Counts urges Congress to reject the President’s FY ’18 budget proposal and support critical investments in our kids and families.

President Trump’s proposed budget cuts the Department of Education’s budget by $9.2 billion or 13 percent, claiming that many of the eliminated programs, including 21st CCLC, lack evidence of impact or duplicate of other federal programs such as Title I. At the same time, the budget also cuts Title I by $578 million to support a $1 billion school choice program which would strip the highest-need schools of valuable resources and make it harder for the students furthest behind to get the critical support they need. Additionally, the budget eliminates the AmeriCorps Program and the Title II, Part-A programs which help place volunteers in after-school programs throughout the country and provide professional development for in- and after-school personnel.

Unfortunately, this budget simply asks high-need schools to do more with less, an unacceptable trade-off that will hurt the neediest students.

Every Hour Counts rejects these claims and these cuts.

The 21st CCLC program is the only federal funding stream exclusively dedicated to supporting high-quality and evidence-based after-school programming for 1.6 million children and families in high-need communities across the country. These programs are supported by 20 years of evidence and have shown a positive impact on social and emotional skills, student achievement, school attendance and graduation rates of participating students.

After-school and summer learning programs made possible by 21st CCLC funding provide kids with so much more than a safe place to go while their parents are at work.

These programs expose students to new learning and enrichment opportunities and provide the academic and social support kids need to thrive in school and in life.

Senate Afterschool Caucus

Hill Briefing Panel, from left to right: Jackie Green, Cache Primary Principal, Cache Public Schools, Oklahoma; Jenny Wright Collins, M.Ed., Executive Director, University YMCA/Beacons Network, Minnesota; Stoney E. Hays, Chief Executive Officer, Boys & Girls Club of the Ozarks, Missouri; Sean Prospect, Executive Director, After-School All-Stars South Florida; Ashley, student with After-School All-Stars, Jennifer Peck, President and CEO, Partnership for Children and Youth.

In fact, providers from across the country travelled to Capitol Hill in April for a briefing organized by the Senate Afterschool Caucus, Afterschool Alliance, Every Hour Counts, and other national organizations to share the positive impact that 21st CCLC has had on their lives and communities. We heard from Stoney Hays, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of the Ozarks, Missouri, who  spoke not just from the heart about how the Boys and Girls Club changed his life by helping him graduate from high school and go on to be the first in his family to graduate from college, but also about how their impact is widespread. Members who participate in the Boys and Girls Club of the Ozarks have a 94% graduation rate. And for every $1 the Boys and Girls Club receives from 21 CCLC, the Club leverages $9 in local resources.

Ashley, a high school student who grew up in the After-School All Stars program in Orlando, brought the room to a resounding standing ovation when she spoke of how the program impacted her life:

They fed me every day during a time that I wasn’t sure there would be food at home. I now get to mentor students that are going through the same things that I went through as a kid. I want to thank Ms. Amy and all the other Ms. Amy’s of after-school programs throughout the country.

I’m just a regular American kid, a kid that easily could have been lost in the shuffle. These programs helped me find my purpose. I’m the proof that these programs work, I’m the proof that they matter and I’m the proof we need them now more than ever.

President Trump’s FY 2018 budget claims to reflect a new vision for education, and yet the cuts show a conspicuous blind spot for the critical role that after-school and expanded learning programs play when it comes to improving educational outcomes for communities everywhere.

Congress is about to begin to craft and deliberate their own funding priorities and proposals.

The time to act and make your voice heard is now!

Call or write to your Senators and Representatives directly to tell them how important expanded learning opportunities are to you and your community and share the impact of the proposed cuts on families, including jobs and opportunities for children, in your community.

Take this opportunity to invite your Senators and Representatives to visit your local after-school programs and share evidence on the positive impact these programs are making in your (and their) community. These visits can bring the local eye view directly to your elected representatives and help them understand just how critical these national programs are to the people that keep them in office.

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.

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