Being that this is my first blog as a BOOST Breakfast Club Blogger, I am excited to share my passion for afterschool programs. When I began in the year 2000, there were more questions than answers. It was the age of discovery and exploration. It was before the After School Education and Safety (ASES) programs existed and 21st Century Community Learning Centers (CCLC) programs were the only thing we knew. I was hired as a part-time Site Coordinator for an after school program and part-time Campus Supervisor. I wasn't too sure that it was good for me to operate in both roles.
As the Campus Supervisor I had to watch for dress code violations and behavior issues while monitoring the halls and lunch breaks. How does campus security recruit students to voluntarily attend a program after school? Another factor is that is was not just any program but more specifically a middle school program where students are empowered to have the autonomy to determine whether they stay or whether they go. I can't lie, it was tough.
I found that it started with relationships. Students would come talk to me at lunch and I would ask how their day was and what they liked to do. It was the most basic form of finding the pulse to determine student interests. I had no idea that middle school students would be my favorite age group. I loved the fact that they were developmentally able to determine their own thoughts and opinions and make decisions about what was cool and more often than not, determine the complete opposite. I loved that they understood sarcasm and could speak their mind.
When I started, I was only 21 years old. Although I didn't have much training and preparation when I was hired, I learned a lot from a variety of on-the-job experiences. Lesson number one: Don't try to be their best friend. They already have friends so they don't need another one. They need you. They need someone that is a both a leader and a caring adult. Lesson number two: Never allow students to play a game with you where you are tied to a bench. This is never a good idea in any circumstance and will be very hard to explain to your supervisor later on. While it wasn't me, this is a true story. Lesson number three: Never give up. An afterschool job may not be the most high paying job but will be the most priceless position you will ever hold. Why? You will never truly realize the impact you have made on a young person's life. The legacy that you create in helping a student build skills to be successful will help them for years to come.
For breakfast I had a protein shake.
For the last 29 days, leaders in the out-of-school time field have responded to the question Simon Sinek asks leaders: Do you know your Why? The purpose, cause, or belief that inspires you to do what you do. Below is a summary of the blogs in our 30 Blogs in 30 Days Series with responses to that question.
Our challenge doesn't stop here though! Day 30 belongs to YOU! Think about your why and share it on social media using #TellUsYourWhy and #BOOSTConference. Then, join us at the BOOST Conference and hear Keynote Speaker Simon Sinek and be inspired to continue living and leading with intention, passion, and purpose.
Day 1: For the Young, Scared Staff Member in All of Us
"As I have transitioned positions throughout the years the one common thread in the work that I do is making sure staff have the resources, training, and tools to do their best work." - Elizabeth Parker Phillips, Child Development Inc
Day 2: Serving From Behind the Scenes
"It is self-evident that a safe and supervised child is better off than one who is not, and we, as a society, have a collective responsibility to ensure that every child is afforded this basic right." - Steve Amick, THINK Together
Day 3: Understanding Education as a Pathway to Freedom
"I am deeply inspired by those educators who came before me, who saw education, not as a chapter in a book, but rather as a journey through life." - Annemarie Grassi, Open Doors Academy
Day 5: Finding Purpose through Core Values
"I find that in after school, a big part of what we do is to provide opportunities for youth and staff to find their voice and provide them with the platform to be able to share their amazing stories with the world." - Bruno Marchesi, Healthy Behaviors Initiative
Day 6: When I Grow Up, I Want to Be "Them"
"My goal is to take relevant information from the research and turn it into tools that help people create and sustain effective afterschool and expanded learning programs." - Jaime Singer, American Institutes for Research
Day 7: Darwin
"With great programs, committed people and a clear purpose, all kinds of Darwins have the opportunity to succeed." - Katie Brackenridge, Partnership for Children and Youth
Day 9: Pleasurable and Meaningful Work
"Perhaps the biggest thing I love is when sometimes...they come back." - Mike Ashcraft, Children's Choice Child Care Services
Day 10: Purpose
"I believe that we do the work we do, that we have the passions we have, because we hope we have had an impact on at least one other human being." - Tara Donahue, McREL International
Day 11: Can't Isn't a Word
"Those I support by working at BOOST are creating unique priceless moments every single day, all over the country, and that is why I love what I do." - Stephanie Barker, BOOST Collaborative
Day 12: Different is OK
"Everywhere I go I talk about the potential of out-of-school settings to create places of belonging, not just for students with special needs, but for all kids who need the reassurance that being different is OK." - Jane Sharp, Sharp Ideas
Day 13: Breakfasting On Opportunity
"I choose to 'push back'...not by complaining, but, by shining a bright light on programs, people, and policies that work." - Brad Lupien, arc
Day 14: The Gift Shop of Why
"She was the runway upon which others took flight." - Erika Petrelli, The Leadership Program
Day 15: Beautifully and Wonderfully Made
"I do what I do because of what I wish I knew at their age." - Julia Crawford, BuildaBridge International
Day 16: Kickball
"Kickball is a reminder of why I do what I do and to never stop believing that miracle workers come dressed in staff shirts and running shoes ready to play kickball." - Diego Arancibia, ASAPConnect
Day 17: Why I Blog
"The truth is, I blog because I find a profound sanctuary in this strange online space." - Erin Thomas, Friendship Centre
Day 18: Curly's Law
"After giving this a lot of thought for myself, I came to the conclusion that the single most important thing I do as a leader is to be a bearer of hope." - Dr. Tony Baron, Center for Executive Excellence
Day 19: It's Personal!
"I want to change the life of a child so that they that they never feel alone, understand their personal power and can apply their potential into real life circumstances." - Julia Gabor, WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS
Day 20: More Than Me
"It became apparent that in order to create change and inspire others you must surround yourself with like-minded people." - Andrea Seals Wilson, BOOST Collaborative
Day 21: Defining Moments
"Our time and dedication is not just spent making sure that we are being present in the moment with our students but also in creating relationships that impact the future life of a child, a family, and a community." - Kristin Stayer, BOOST Collaborative
Day 22: Youth Are Assets
"My 'why' became seeing young people as assets and not as a set of problems." - Heather Loewecke, Asia Society
Day 23: It's My Calling
"Behind every behavior, challenge or struggle, in every child is a beautiful light, an incredible human being." - Shawnee Thornton Hardy, Yoga by Shawnee and Asanas for Autism and Special Needs
Day 25: It Takes a Village
"But I do what I do so we can build this village to support OUR kids to be confident, strong and successful. The whole child, the whole day!" - Megan Green, The Center for the Collaborative Classroom
Day 26: Dare Mighty Things
"I also love mentoring others, encouraging their growth to take their own bold and meaningful steps." - Leslie Lowes, Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Day 27: Our Kids Belong to All of Us
"It takes a village to raise a child, and I choose to be an actively-participating member of my village." - Megan Davis, Techbridge
Day 28: Because, Me, We
"I believe in the interconnectedness of everyone and everything." - Justin McGlamery, University of Saint Joseph
Day 29: Hope Dealers: A Mission for Inspiration and Change
"I am grateful on a daily basis to be able to do work I am passionate about and to do it in collaboration with other "hope dealers" that inspire me and keep the dream alive." - Tia Quinn, BOOST Collaborative
I got hooked on after school programs in 1992 while working as an art teacher in Hartford, CT. The old, rundown brick-faced school sat in the middle of an urban jungle. The hallways were dingy, there was no grass, only a cement parking lot that was used for "recess," and many of the bathroom stalls were missing doors. It lacked promise to say the least.
My immediate thoughts when I started this job were of sadness. Where was the equity in all of this? Despite previously working with children, this was my first experience working in an urban school setting and my heart was open and ready for a new challenge. I saw some good teachers and I also witnessed teachers that seemed to lack the dynamism necessary to give these children an opportunity to really see what they were capable of. Most of my students lived a life I had no idea existed outside of the movies. I wanted to help in any way possible and I jumped right in. I was ready to make a difference. I thought I would change the world.
After a semester, I was promoted to Program Director overseeing enrichment programming and staff much older than myself. A community garden was built and the students planted seeds and learned where their food came from. Classes in computer technology, music, cooking, basketball, art, and dance rounded out the afternoons. Progress was made slowly. Students were thriving. But it still didn't feel like it was enough.
Often times there were students left at school beyond 6pm and no one came to pick them up. Did the parents forget? Were they running late? Was there something more important? Often times students were so tired at school that it was hard for them to concentrate because something happened the night before in their home or because of unruly gang activity in their apartment complex that kept them awake. There were students struggling to complete their homework because they didn't speak English well. There were kids that were hungry or showed up in dirty clothes and unbathed. During the brutal months of a typical New England winter, many students didn't have hats, or scarves, or a jacket warm enough to protect their being. It broke my heart and opened it wider than ever, all at the same time.
One night one of my students was picked up by the police for stealing food to feed him and his 6-month old baby sister because his mom was a heroin addict and prostitute and never came home the night before. On a human level I know I would have done the same thing he did to survive and I knew this kid was resilient. I quickly learned that wasn't fair to try to instill my values (Do Not Steal) on him. Like many of my students in the program, they were growing up too fast and dealing with incomprehensible obstacles yet I was determined to provide any support they needed despite my limited capacity.
I definitely wasn't trained on any level to do this work but I knew I could somehow, some way, make a difference. I wanted to change everything, fix it, make it better, and mostly change the way the world was. I wanted to give these beautiful children the opportunity to engage and thrive. A chance. Fairness. Equity. Respect. Love. Opportunity. I did what I thought was right. I loved them and I told them I loved them. I hugged every single child every day. I bought warm jackets and mittens, I asked everyone I knew for donations of any kind. I had my talented musician friends come in and teach classes. I gave extra snacks out whenever possible. I gave kids safe rides home even though it was against the "rules" and I gave the boy who couldn't sit still at his desk a leadership position in the program. We painted every garbage can in every classroom with brilliant colors and designs. Flowers grew in the garden. We had Double Dutch tournaments in the parking lot. We had effective partnerships with community agencies to tutor our students. We learned and we had fun.
As time went on and I moved across the country to California, I continued to do the work I knew and loved the most and got a job in an after school program. I fell in love all over again with my work, my students, the families, and the community I now belonged to. But I still didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. It was a job - an important job that I loved, but still a job. I wondered what the next step would be in my life.
It wasn't until my early 30's that I attended my first professional learning conference. It was at this event that I realized there were other people like me, people that were doing amazing work, people that were truly living the cause. I was lit up with inspiration, ideas, vulnerability, humility, and possibilities. I was moved. I realized I was a part of something much bigger than my program and myself. I was part of a movement. This event changed the trajectory of my life.
Hmmmm, get people out of their schools, their workplace, and bring them to an inspiring place where they can learn, network, share, grow, and get tools and resources to go back and implement. Empower them. Make a bigger difference. It is not a new concept but it was a revelation for me at the time and one that changed my story from a job to a career.
The world needs good people - we all know this. What if we gave caring adults all the tools and training they needed, equipped them with the means of resources and experiences to inspire youth, inspire learning, and inspire change. What if this was a supported belief by every educator at every level? What if we believed in them and supported them so that they too could do whatever it takes? I have had many jobs where there are so many nonsensical rules around supporting the success of children. It really doesn't have to be so difficult. When it comes to the well being of our children and youth, I have always felt a sense of urgency. Maybe it's because no one encouraged me to discover my potential growing up and maybe it is because I have worked with thousands of children and youth that still haven't tapped into their potential.
Although my roles have shifted over the past 23 years - site supervisor, counselor, teacher, program director, regional lead, and CEO, my WHY remains the same and is connected to the core and heart of hope and possibilities for ALL children and youth. I am grateful on a daily basis to be able to do work I am passionate about and to do it in collaboration with other "hope dealers" that inspire me and keep the dream alive.
ALL kids deserve to be around caring adults that will inspire them to explore their learning style and discover their future. Out-of-school time programs are more than a safe place to go. They are a place to give kids HOPE. As change agents, we have the unique opportunity to inspire children and youth to allow them investigate who they are, discover all of life's possibilities, to build friendships, to learn in an experiential way, to dream and set goals. We are the bridge that expands the horizon of meaningful possibilities, opening doors of exploration, and fulfilling the dreams of their future. Our future.
I was on a mission in 1992 when I started my love affair with after school and I am still on a mission now. It starts with me, with you, with us. It starts now. Give hope.
For breakfast I had a potent cup of James Coffee with almond milk and a slice of cantaloupe.
I believe in the interconnectedness of everyone and everything. I believe we are all inextricably woven into the fabric of the humanity and of the universe and because of that, I feel a deep responsibility to do what I feel is right. Our children are humanity's greatest resource and unfortunately it often seems that as a society, we have forgotten or choose to neglect that. I feel that ALL children deserve and should have a right and equal access to quality education suitable for each child's unique learning needs. Unfortunately, the public education systems, by and large, are failing to meet the needs of many of our learners, which has turned my head to out of school time educational opportunities, within which, so much of the really rich, dynamic learning is occurring; both in terms of curriculum and academic achievement, and equally as important, social and emotional learning as well.
I believe that if we empower our youth to unlock their potential that we are empowering ourselves to be able to live richer lives, both for and with our children, enabling that positive ripple effect to spread and catch on. Our world and our country are hurting, and our children are the ones who will inherit the messes that have been made. I believe in them. I believe in their ability to impact and effect positive change, and they need our help to develop them to their greatest potential to give them the tools with which to make that change happen. Interesting, fun, meaningful and engaging learning opportunities are what work to open their eyes to the issues, their hearts to the problems, and their minds to the solutions. That is why I do what I do. Ubuntu!
For my breakfast I enjoyed my delicious, aromatic, fair-trade coffee, black, in my awesome BOOST Breakfast Club mug, and a multi-grain English muffin with peanut butter and blackberry-pomegranate jam, along with an interesting, albeit challenging to digest, discussion about education reform with my 9 year-old activist daughter. Here is a link to an original song of hers that we were privileged to perform to a packed auditorium last month. It's called "The Inside" and it pairs nicely with every breakfast!
I have not yet worked full-time for a for-profit company. I'm steadily climbing to the mid-point in my professional career, and so far, it's been a path from museums to schools to non-profits. I sometimes wonder why and how I got started on my work road, though as the child of two public school teachers, perhaps it's not much of a stretch that I'm a professional out-of-school time youth instructor.
Sometimes I wonder if I would be satisfied working in the corporate world, and if I would even comprehend my role in a company's profits and shareholders and the bottom line.
One thing I know: I see the bottom line when it comes to thinking about the kids we serve in our OST programs. I "get" who my customers are, and I love the challenge of stretching my grant dollars for maximum impact. I truly believe that youth enrichment opportunities are in fact truly enriching our youth, bolstering their minds, bodies, souls, and hopefully down the road, their wallets..
I read this blog today, about the widening gap in opportunities between the haves and have nots, and how it impacts the youth we see in our schools, and of course in OST programs. The resounding message in this article for me is that our society's kids belong to us all. They are all OUR kids. And we have a responsibility to engage and support and champion our kids whether they are biologically related to us or not at all.
My why is that it takes a village to raise a child, and I choose to be an actively-participating member of my village. That means I choose to work and volunteer in the not-for-profit world. And I have no regrets. And I have lots of kids.
For breakfast, I had a toasted everything bagel with butter.
Megan Davis is a Program Manager at Techbridge, a program that inspires girls in science and engineering. Megan works on a national collaboration with Girl Scouts of the USA and on the professional development team, to empower troop leaders to bring hands-on engineering design challenges to their scouts. "To whom much is given, much is expected" is the guiding principle of Megan's (very blessed) life.
In the afterschool world, program leaders and staff nurture the whole child, providing them a safe space to learn, grow, and connect to others. In the afterschool space, we see many kids making daily acts of bravery – some extending themselves simply by showing up, participating, or trying something new. Through youth development, kids are encouraged to dare greatly to be themselves, come into themselves, and develop their passions.
In the world of space exploration, we also "dare mighty things" as we send robots – and one day, humans – to venture further out into the solar system and beyond. Here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where I work, for example, we have landed rovers on the planet Mars – several inside a pyramid of airbags, and one using a "sky crane" - a hovering rocket that lowers the rover gently to the ground. It takes a healthy dose of wonder and creativity to dream up those ideas, put them into reality, and actually pull it off.
Our missions are similar, really, NASA and afterschool.
In developing afterschool programs to share NASA's exploration of space, I'm passionate about the crossroads of our work that emphasizes self-efficacy and empowerment; that nurtures wonder, engagement, curiosity, and exploration; that encourages growth to make positive contribution and a personal connection to something; and that honors each person's experience and contributions. When leaders and kids have fun with programs in STEM & space exploration, it helps them to get outside what they might see everyday, expands their growth opportunities and their realm of possibilities, and grows their skills of observation and awareness of the world around them. Aren't all these wonderful skills for life, as well as space exploration?
Ever since I can remember, I've had a love for the sky and the wonder it inspires, both day and night. I also love mentoring others, encouraging their growth to take their own bold and meaningful steps. It feels inspirational to me, gives me meaning – it feels like a mighty thing.
Today, our boss provided us a Persian New Year's breakfast, where I enjoyed yogurt, rose petal jam, pita bread, and cucumbers.
I do what I do because I was given an opportunity 18 years ago to join the Center for the Collaborative Classroom (formally known as the Developmental Studies Center). I left the classroom to join a team at CCC to work on a National Science Foundation funded project to help kids talk to a significant adult in their life about mathematics. This project started with a school to home component that we developed with ease, something our team of teachers was comfortable with. The next part of the project was to develop a program to be used during out-of-school time. At that time, even though I had been a classroom teacher, I was not very familiar with what was going on after school. To learn about the after school world we traveled across the country and visited many after school programs.
I walked into the first program, not knowing what to expect. I was blown away by what I saw and heard. Each one that we went to I learned more and more about out-of-school time. I was really touched by the fact that the leaders looked like the kids, that kids were so comfortable being there, that it was truly a child-centered environment, that parents felt comfortable being there, it really felt like a club, with kid members and I could go on about the things that make out-of-school time magical. Then as the project continued, I had the opportunity to work with the leaders. I used to say I felt like the Kool-Aid guy running through the dessert with a big pitcher of Kool-Aid. All of the leaders were so committed, excited to learn a new way and really had the kids best interest in mind. None of this has changed.
And here is why I do what I do. It is not only because after school is so important for the reasons I just mentioned - that is one reason. But what keeps me going is that, even though I was a classroom teacher and worked with the same kids that went to the after school program, I didn't know the leaders, poke my head in to see how it was going, or talk to them about how we could work together to support each child. How crazy is this? These are the same kids at 3:15 pm as they are at 8:00 am! Shouldn't we all be working together to support them and be the "village" they need to be successful? But I do what I do so we can build this village to support OUR kids to be confident, strong and successful. The whole child, the whole day!
I never turned back and what is going on during out-of-school time is only getting better and I feel so lucky to be a part of it!
For breakfast, I had a bowl of Barbara's Shredded Spoonfuls with some diced apples that my kids didn't eat with their breakfast.
I have spent a lot of time of thinking about this blog and what exactly my "why" would be. What does my "why" look like? What do I think of when I think about my "why"? Why is my "why" what it is?
I know what I am passionate about, and I also know that sometimes it is difficult to make a realistic living off of passion. Difficult, but not impossible. I know that I believe in education, equal rights, and media literacy, and I know that I believe in empowering ourselves to be the very best we can be and to do the very best we can do, however difficult that may be in the face of a challenge.
I know that life can throw us curveballs, and that sometimes we don't always end up where we had hoped. Of course, life happens. In any case, I believe in kindness, compassion, and sticking up for what is right, and when I really think about it, those traits are the motivating trinity behind my "why".
I was once asked what my ideal job would be. It was an unexpected question, and I did not have an answer prepared. But, doing my best, I answered openly and honestly. I responded that I did not know what an ideal job would look like—certainly I could not claim to have had one in the past—but I do know what is important to me in a job. It is important to me to work with a team that respects all its members, regardless of role or responsibility. It is important to me to be humble and open, but to also know when to step up and advocate for what is right and fair. It is important to me to be compassionate in all the work that I do and to maintain a clear perspective. Lastly, but certainly never least, I believe that there can never be a quota for kindness. It simply cannot be capped, as its power to transform is immeasurable.
No, I do not know what an ideal job may look like, and I may not know exactly how to define my "why," but I do know what is important to me, and undoubtedly, why it is important to me. And right now, that is what motivates me most.
For breakfast, I had a bowl of yogurt, with blackberries, granola, chia seeds, and coconut.
You know how people say we each have a calling, something we were put on this earth to do? I started my career working with children with autism and special needs, not knowing that it would transform into something that literally ignites me to the core of my being. I owe where I am in my life to one little boy whom I met years ago named Austin. At the time I was a pre-school assistant in Boston. I always loved being around children so it was no surprise to others that I chose to study education. Austin was a unique boy who had a fascination with vacuum cleaners, had difficulty with speech and communication and had many challenges getting along socially with others. For some reason, we gravitated towards each other. I appreciated his quirkiness and underneath all of his challenges I saw an incredibly bright, capable and beautiful human being.
Austin had difficulty focusing, sharing, following directions and following the class routine. I saw the struggle he was having in class and the frustration and concern of his mom, a single mother doing her best to understand and support her young son.
I pondered ways to help Austin be more successful in the classroom and wondered what could be the reason he struggled so much. That's when I learned about autism. I became fascinated with this topic and began to realize that many of the characteristics of autism were characteristics that Austin displayed. I researched ways to support Austin in the classroom and he and I worked together to bridge the gap between he and his peers. I'll never forget the bond we had together and to this day he has a special place in my heart.
Years later, having pursued a career in special education, I stumbled across yoga. Yoga began as a way for me to heal myself from physical injuries and to reduce the stress and anxiety I was experiencing in my life. As I delved deeper into my yoga practice and I noticed the healing benefits that came from it, I made the decision to become a yoga teacher, with a passion for facilitating healing and well-being in others. It was only natural that I began to incorporate yoga into my classroom routine with my students. I was amazed by the positive response from the students and saw a difference in their levels of anxiety, focus, concentration and self-regulation when they practiced breathing strategies and physical poses.
I was so passionate about the benefits of yoga for children with autism and special needs that I decided to write a book. Here I am today, with a published book, doing what I love. I feel incredibly blessed and grateful for the ability to fuse my two passions together and share them with the world. Behind every behavior, challenge or struggle, in every child is a beautiful light, an incredible human being. My why is... helping them shine their lights brightly for all to see, because...it's my calling, simple and beautiful as that.
Thank you for being the beautiful, radiant, quirky, bright and unique boy you were back then. Because of you I found my calling. I hope you are happy and shining your light in the world.
Much Love, Shawnee
For breakfast, I had organic yogurt with unsweetened coconut flakes and sliced bananas.
I started off as a high school English teacher in an East Harlem school with Title 1 funding. My plan was to become a principal and I knew classroom experience was imperative to being an effective school leader. Teacher training helped me understand how to write lessons plans, use different forms of assessment, and reflect on how my own education may influence the way I "showed up" as a teacher. It didn't prepare me to deal with all the social and personal factors that influenced a young person's ability to show up each day, ready and open to learn.
What kept waking me up at night were the worries I had for my students:
It seemed that all my concerns were about my students' personal lives and well-being; their academic progress was almost always secondary. My "why" became seeing young people as assets and not as a set of problems. No learning can occur if our basic emotional, physical, and social needs aren't addressed. A series of personal and professional events led me to the afterschool field where I realized that I could align my work with my values. Out-of-school time programs emphasize the development of young peoples' characters and social-emotional skillsets; provide a variety of structures and opportunities for youth to learn about their interests and abilities and explore options for their futures; and offer family and social supports to promote the healthy development of youth and communities. I work with community educators to develop their skills so that they are more equipped to empower youth to become agents in their own learning and development than I was.
For breakfast I had hazelnut coffee and a banana.
Heather Loewecke was an English teacher at an alternative high school in New York City before running several afterschool programs. Then, she managed capacity building projects and coached educators in a range of topics such as conflict resolution, professional development planning, lesson planning, social-emotional learning, and behavior management. Heather was also a member of the Children's Studies faculty at Brooklyn College and taught an interdisciplinary undergraduate course called Perspectives on Childhood. She joined Asia Society in 2013. Heather received a BA in theater from UCSD and a MA in education from Teachers College, Columbia University.