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.

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More Summer Learning on the Way

Guest post by Tiffany Gueye

What happens when two national nonprofits team up to expand learning time? The Power Scholars Academy™ is created, and a pathway to scale summer learning opportunities emerges.

This June, BELL (Building Educated Leaders for Life) and YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) are working together to deliver BELL’s summer learning model through eight YMCA associations and their partner schools in Montgomery, AL; Denver, CO; Hartford, CT; Washington, DC; Clearwater and Orlando, FL; St. Paul, MN; and San Antonio, TX.

Students in a BELL program rehearse a dance performance. Photo courtesy of TASC.

Students in a BELL program at P.S. 15 in Queens, NY, rehearse a dance performance. Photo (c) John Abbott Photography.

Here’s how it works: BELL is training Power Scholars Academy leadership teams in each community. We are providing academic curriculum, supporting program operations through technical assistance, overseeing quality assurance, and evaluating outcomes. YMCAs are enrolling students, recruiting, hiring and training staff, managing program operations, delivering enrichment activities, and facilitating school partnerships. Partner schools are providing use of classrooms and other facilities, as well as transportation, breakfast and lunch for scholars, supporting teacher recruitment, identifying enrollment criteria for students, and providing additional in-kind support. BELL and the Y are each raising philanthropic support from donors such as The Wallace Foundation so that the Power Scholars Academy can be delivered free-of-cost to families, and to enable BELL and the Y to thoughtfully plan and prepare for program expansion.

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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.
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Build Your Fiscal Fitness: Insights from the Experts

Planning, planning, planning. It’s good advice in a lot of situations, but it’s especially important if you’re managing a non-profit organization on a limited budget.

Now, no one said it’s easy. But a new set of online tools from The Wallace Foundation and Fiscal Management Associates (FMA) does make it easier.

On Wednesday, CBASS and FMA hosted a webinar to introduce after-school organizations and their staff to these new tools, freely accessible via the site StrongNonprofits.org. “Build Your Fiscal Fitness: An Introduction to Strong Nonprofits” explored the concept of strategic financial management and offered participants tools and strategies to implement it.

The first thing out-of-school time (OST) organizations need to know about financial management is why it’s important. In 2007, The Wallace Foundation commissioned research on the management capacity of after-school organizations and, subsequently, a demonstration project in Chicago. From that work, said Wallace communications officer Nina Sonenberg, “It became clear that strengthening financial management is key to supporting afterschool program quality…If you can’t pay your electric bill and your lights go out, your program suffers.” It’s not a connection people make immediately or often, but understanding it is at the crux of your organization’s long-term health.

The second thing is to know what financial management is. Many of us think it means accounting, or being in compliance with funders, or making sure there is cash in the bank. While it is all of those things, financial management encompasses a much broader strategic function, allowing organizations to focus on effectively utilizing resources to achieve their mission. Hilda Polanco, founder and managing director of FMA, highlighted three essential practices:
1) Developing accurate, realistic budgets;
2) Monitoring the financial status of individual programs; and
3) Projecting and managing cash flow needs.

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