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Over the last few years, I have become known as "the lady who loves hugs." When I visit any of our campuses, the kids come running ready for a hug, while others sit back and wait for me to approach them. Regardless if they run or wait, almost every single kid extends out their arms awaiting the embrace. For 13 years, I have wholeheartedly embraced the belief that we must hug our kids. I know that there are all sorts of arguments out there for why we should not show physical affection to our students and the risks we face in doing so, but after many years of consideration of the matter, I have come to determine that the benefits far outweigh the risk and therefore hug not only all of our scholars, but also their parents and their siblings, and for that matter, our entire staff! I have even coined little phrases, such as "hugs are free today, but tomorrow they will cost you a dollar," hence inviting even the shyest one for a free hug.

hug 1So why is it important to hug our young people? Well research shows that hugging reduces stress, helps us feel safe and supported, reduces anxiety, increases self-esteem, etc. However, in my experience, it also creates a culture of respect and regard, strengthens human connection, and creates an environment of trust and support. A few years back, Time Magazine did a story on "The Problem with 'No Hug' Policies." The article addressed how we have spent so much time over the last 30 plus years, focusing on "bad touch/good touch" and focused so heavily on the negative actions of a few, that we have failed to realize the consequences of creating environments where no touch is the only option.

So let's pair now the challenge of creating physical distance from those whom we work with paired with what they carry from their other environments. Working with high-risk populations youth are often exposed at very early ages to mistrust, and come to be very skeptical of anyone that comes forward trying to help them. Who can blame them? They have most often been disappointed or hurt by multiple people in their lives, including those in their homes, teachers, community members, and those who give them a sideway glance as they walk home from the library or nearby park. They are labeled as worthless, failures, or often worse. So when they walk into our doors, they are emotionally and psychologically worn from the weight of the labels they carry on their back, they are seeking someone to help reassure them, let them know they are valued, that they are cared for, and most importantly that they are safe. I urge you to think of a time when you were lost, in pain, or felt like the world had beaten you down, you may recall that the need for human touch was elevated, the need to be held and to be comforted is powerful. We need human contact, both in times of joy and times of sorrow. We need to feel supported and nurtured. Without it we find new ways of coping with this absence, many of which are unhealthy and often dangerous.

hug 2So still not comfortable hugging your kids... it is okay! There are plenty of other ways to create that safe and supportive environment, using alternative approaches. A few of my colleagues use a fist bump with the kids or the infamous side hug. Even a warm pat on the back demonstrates a connection. Others use verbal communication to remind the kids daily that they care about them and are important to them – please note this is not in the adult to child lecture format, but simply words of encouragement and affirmation. One of my colleagues has his own handshake he created and uses with the kids, sort of a secret handshake. I continue on with the hugs... at our family events, I stand at the front door and hug every person who comes through. I spend three hours walking around our field trips hugging every kid I see. I often have parents that seek me out at events, simply for a hug. Human contact changes the conversation; it opens a level of trust between two people, and creates civility in the conversation that follows. We all need to feel that connection, it is one of the first steps in reshaping the conversation of creating a healthy culture for our future generations.

As I drive through many of our neighborhoods and see kids hanging on the streets, I often wonder who loves that child, who hugs that child, who tells that child that they are amazing and will someday do something great. As a society we continue to sit back and watch our world deteriorate into senseless and repeated violence, anger, and hatred. I am not an emotional person. I am not amused by pictures of cute puppies, or cheesy inspirational poems about love, but I can't help but think, if we cared a little more, if we could recreate a culture where affection and human contact were at the center, maybe just maybe we wouldn't have to fight so hard to save so many lives.

For breakfast I eat the same thing every morning after my morning workout – 2 chocolate peanut butter protein shakes (that's right 2 of them!)... I lift in the morning and have to eat all the calories I burned within 45 minutes of my workout! For anyone who is interested, here is my recipe for each serving:

1 banana
2 scoops of EAS Lean Protein Powder Chocolate Fudge
1 C unsweetened almond milk
2 Tbsp of PB2
6 ice cubes

Published in Breakfast Club

For breakfast today I ate my kid's leftovers; half a piece of bacon, a cold egg and a well-chewed English muffin. The interesting part of the morning was less the food than the discussion. If you have ever tried to talk with two little kids at the same time you understand how conversations can spin rapidly to amazingly unique subjects. As my Jonah and Sydney left for camp, I reflected that the OST field often feels just like the conversation I just finished with them.

collaboration pic Dialogue in the OST field is fast, ever-changing and based in collaborations. In fact, our field is driven by collaborations. School districts collaborate with providers who collaborate with Community Based Organizations, foundations, and private sector funders. Schools collaborate with summer learning groups and, often, two after school providers collaborate on one school campus. That is just the tip of the iceberg. We collaborate with teachers, parents, government officials, youth sports. The list goes on. Whether the collaborative work is intentional or situational, it is hard. Collaborations sound great, and are great when done well. Regardless, they are hard and they are complicated because of communications. There is a simple math formula that demonstrates this concept; n squared minus n over n. Draw it out. Two people have one conversation. In our formula, the people are 'n'. Add a third person and there are three potential conversations. Here is where it takes a twist. Four people have 6 potential conversations. Five people have 10. Make 'n' 6 and the potential conversations are 15. 7 people = 21 communication lines...and so on. If you are a visual learner, draw a dot for each 'n' and then start connecting them and you see how complicated collaborative conversations become through a multiplier effect.

I am not saying we should avoid collaboration. I am saying we need to recognize the increased potential for blurred messy collaboration pic visions, values, outcomes analysis, and failure as we add more people and cross-conversations to a group approach in OST. We need to walk into group efforts aware of the difficulties and the potential for struggles due to significant cross-communications and we need to be deliberate and efficient in our word choice.

Let me be clear. I believe in and support collaborative work. In fact, I have worked on many state initiatives to align OST efforts and my organization won an award from the CA After School Network for collaboration and was runner up for the National Loadstone Collaboration Prize. The conversation with Jonah and Sydney this morning just reminded me of what a wise mentor once taught me...99.9% of the time that an issue exists in a business or between people, it is a communications issue.

Sorry. I have to go. My phone is ringing, email is pinging, iPad is tweeting, colleagues are interrupting, and...


Published in Breakfast Club

Imagine with me, that 13 year old Steven walks through the door of your out of school time program. His thick eyebrows are furrowed over low eyes. His lips twisted into a sullen scowl. You excitedly greet him at the door with an extended hand. "Good Afternoon, Steven!!" He mumbles an unenthusiastic "Hi", limply shakes your extended hand, and walks away with hutched over shoulders. Clearly something is up. Now of course you can check in with Steven by asking him if he is okay: "No" he replies. "Do you want to talk about it?" He hesitates then whispers "No." You reply with an "Okay", but you can also try the following Arts-based check in:

In BuildaBridge classrooms we create an area that is stocked with some blank drawing paper, colored pencils or markers, books, music player and headphones, etc. We refer to this space as our "Peace" or "Thinking Corner" (however, you can feel free to call it whatever you would like). This space is ideal for student self-soothing, also known as emotional self-regulation, as students can utilize the space whenever they feel angry, tired, sad, anxious, etc. to help calm themselves down.

Direct Steven to the "Peace" corner in your classroom/activity space. Suggest he draw out how he feels using the supplied materials. For the sake of this example, Steven chooses do some drawing. Inform him that he can use whatever colors he would like.

As the facilitator of this process, it is important for you to understand that that piece of paper Steven uses to draw how he feels acts as a container for all the strong emotions he is feeling. The very act of drawing allows Steven to move the emotions he is feeling from the intangible, internal to the tangible, external in a very physical way as it is now actually on and within the confines of the drawing paper. The drawing may not be realistic. It may be a page full of jagged lines, or a sad face, or...a sneaker. Whatever it depicts, it is Steven's visual representation of his emotions. It takes the "edge" off of all Steven is feeling, and in my experience, opens the door for verbal communication as Steven has a visual representation of his feelings to simply describe to you. Let him do just that-describe or tell what each line, symbol, figure, etc. means. Ask probing questions, if needed. Check for his affect. Does he seem relieved? Is he still angry?

If he seems relieved or "feeling better", ask Steven what he would like to do with his drawing. Use this time to point out to Steven that he has let all of the negative emotions he was feeling out on that paper. They are not in him anymore and he now has the power to do whatever he wants with them. He is in control! I often ask students if they would like to throw the negative emotions in the trash (to which all have obliged!). This actual physical discarding of the negative emotion drawing is an incredibly powerful and transformative moment as the student has gained

• an alternate means of communication,
• a self-soothing technique,
• the understanding that he/she has control of their emotions and can choose what to do with them,
• as well as increased his/her Internal Locus of Control (ability to self-regulate emotions or behavior).

If Steven is still upset, you can then ask him to draw the opposite of what he is feeling or how he would like to feel (e.g. He is currently sad because he failed his spelling quiz, but would like to feel happy). Encourage him to add things or steps that will help him move from sad to happy in his opposite drawing. Through the art-making process, you are helping Steven develop important life skills such as goal setting. Also, you use this time to help Steven plan for his next spelling quiz. Perhaps you can ask him to draw, write, or say what he thinks he can do to better prepare for his next quiz. Again, it is the art-making that opens the door to this communication. Try it! Feel free to use any other Art modality-movement (dance), music, poetry, etc. The children we serve desire to communicate with us, they just need to know there are more options than just words to do so.

Today for Breakfast, I enjoyed a bowl of white hominy grits (with salt and tons of pepper and butter) and a maple-apple flavored chicken sausage. Yum.

Published in Breakfast Club

A few years ago I wrote a book called Lessons in Leadership, drawing on the wisdom of pioneers in the afterschool world – individuals who have made a real difference in developing and sustaining exemplary programs, forging authentic partnerships, building the capacity of thousands of staff members to be more successful than they had ever imagined, influencing public policy and impacting the lives of millions of children and young people.

I've received hundreds of e-mails and phone calls from readers who have followed their advice and are becoming part of the next generation of leaders in California and across the nation. Above all, they've learned that leadership isn't a position, it's a choice they've made and you can, too!

Lead with purpose, passion and vision. Your knowledge, abilities and talents will determine what you're capable of doing. Your motivation will have a huge impact on what you'll do and where you'll go. Your attitude will influence how far you go. Believe in something that larger than yourself, something that gives purpose and meaning to your life. Create a powerful, compelling vision of what could be, fall in love with the destination and focus your efforts on bringing it into reality. Commit to leaving a legacy of lasting value by making the world a better place for everyone around you and for children and their families and your community. Re-ignite your passion and take yourself and those around you to the next level!

Put people first. No matter what else you do, nothing will be as important as the relationships you build, the trust you gain or the confidence people have in your ability to lead them to a place they want to go. Your success depends on the success of those who work for and with you. Take time to build authentic relationships. Meet people where they are. Get to know them as individuals and not just employees. Do everything you can to support them, help them become more confident and competent and make them feel valued and valuable.

Create a culture of excellence. Be open, honest and collaborative. Share information freely. Deal with real issues in real time. Set clear expectations and be sure everyone understands and buys into them. Be fair, consistent and supportive. Show up and stand up for what you believe in. Inspire people to do their best work and see themselves as members of a high performing team. Set high standards of performance. Hold yourself and everyone else accountable for what happens, or doesn't happen.

Be a risk-taker in a risk-adverse environment. Be creative, innovative and bold. Keeping fighting for what you believe in. Don't give in to bureaucratic or political pressures, succumb to naysayers or take the path of least resistance when more is called for. You may not always be successful, but your wins will count in a big way. It's better to take chances than settle for mediocre successes or be overcome by inertia. Get out of your comfort zone. Make things happen, don't wait for them to happen. You won't always get what you want, but at least you won't regret what you didn't do when you had the chance.

Create the Future. No matter where you're coming from, where you are at this point in time, what opportunities you have or what challenges you're facing, what really matters is where you're going and what difference it will make when you get there. Establish your own priorities – or someone else will! Set and achieve meaningful goals. Align your goals with your vision, engage your staff, your colleagues and your partners in developing them. And, importantly, do good, have fun and make a commitment to co-create the future together!

Oh, and by the way, don't forget to talk good care of yourself – we're all counting on you to lead the way! I'm just finishing a fruit smoothie for breakfast. How about you?

Published in Breakfast Club

A few weeks ago, Jan and I had a meeting with our son's preschool teacher to review Oliver's Kindergarten Readiness Assessment. I didn't even know there was such a thing. When I was a kid, being "Kindergarten-ready" meant you were five. Today, apparently, it's all about whether or not you can properly grip a pencil. I thought that was something you were supposed to learn in Kindergarten! Here, we think we're raising this prodigy because he uses phrases like "on the other hand" and "speaking of that," but it turns out he's the only kid in class who can't write his own name. After registering Oliver in school (which now entails a urine sample, by the way – for the child, not the parents), we attended a Kindergarten orientation that featured their "reading intervention" program – for the ones who enter the system unable to read. Because, you know, if they're not reading on day one, how can they possibly get through constitutional law by the second semester, right? I felt woefully negligent. My son hadn't attended his first day of public school and he was already on the remedial track.

All right, I'm exaggerating a bit, but my point in sharing this story is that I'm finally getting the opportunity to see the work we do from a parent's point of view. I have spent twenty-one years of my life providing programs to students and families. Now, suddenly, I'm standing on the other side of the counter, and it's given me a new perspective on customer service. We are engaged in what my good friend Bob Cabeza refers to as "the sacred work" of caring for other people's children. And I can tell you, the first day we dropped Oliver off at that preschool, entrusting him to people who, despite being highly qualified professionals, were not members of his immediate family, we understood exactly how sacred this work is. Parents, except in the most rare and unfortunate cases, love their children more than anything else in this world, and when you take responsibility for them, you become a part of their family.

There's a line from the movie Spanglish where the dad says, "Worrying about your kids is sanity. And being that sane...can drive you nuts." This quote offers some insight into why parents may not always react rationally where their children are concerned. As an after-school administrator, I've dealt with my fair share of unreasonable parents, but now that I am a father, I'm a bit more forgiving of those who may have advocated in a manner I considered inappropriate. I'm not excusing abusive behavior, but we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking it's possible to have a corrective conversation about a child that does not reflect poorly upon the parents.

I don't want to hear anything negative about my son. I take it personally when he is criticized. I will defend him to the death and make whatever excuses are necessary to fend off any and all perceived shortcomings. When Oliver's teacher, quite correctly, pointed out that he was behind his peers in writing mechanics, my first inclination was to say, "Hey, you're the teacher! What are we paying you for?" Of course, I didn't say that, but I'm sure the look on my face was not one of unfaltering teacher/parent solidarity.

It is not uncommon for young people in our field (or even those my age) who have not experienced parenthood themselves to be assigned the responsibility of dealing with parents. Now, I'm not inferring that having children imparts perfect enlightenment on this issue (nor that being childless makes it impossible), but I have experienced a revelation or two in the last year and would like to offer the following advice, if I were the parent in question.

1. Understand that when you're talking about my kid, you're talking about me. (This wouldn't have necessarily occurred to me before I became a dad.) Expect that I'll be on his side, not yours, and incapable of remaining entirely objective.

2. Say something nice, if you can, about my kid before telling me what he did wrong. If you can convince me that you know him by specifically describing one or more of his good qualities, then you'll have more credibility with me when suggesting he isn't perfect.

3. Don't get defensive if I challenge the validity of your account. My tendency will be to assume you are mistaken, given that my child is infallible, so even though I will be taking this conversation personally, you can't. Be armed with documented facts, stay focused on the specific "alleged" behavior that needs correcting, and you may be able to convince me that this isn't some fanatical witch hunt.

4. Express your faith in my kid's ability to do the right thing. I will always endeavor to exonerate my child from accusations of wrongdoing. I will offer you a myriad of excuses and even readily take the blame myself, before acknowledging that he is responsible for his own behavior. Don't let either one of us off the hook. Help me to understand that my child and I are two separate human beings.

5. Let me participate in the solution. Don't tell me what he did and then tell me what I should do about it. He's my kid. If you can get me to agree that my child does, in fact, have an issue that needs to be addressed (no easy feat), ask me if I have any thoughts on how it should be handled. Even if you know the answer, let me talk first. Then, when you implement the plan you had in mind all along, it will feel to me like we came to an agreement.

I know that my son is only at the beginning of his academic career and, as a small child, I am understandably protective. But I don't believe that will change when he's eight, or ten, or twelve, or twenty. In fact, I'll probably be crafting righteously indignant emails to any future supervisor who ever dares reprimand him. He is my boy, and I love him. When he is enrolled in your program, I will expect you to love him, too. And I know you will. Because, really, what's not to love?

For breakfast this morning I had a blueberry muffin. OK, two. But they are the healthy kind my wife makes, with low sugar, whole grains and loads of fiber.

Published in Breakfast Club

You might not be thinking about summer, but I think it's the perfect time to ask yourself what the youth in your programs will be doing this summer.

The summer experience that was most memorable for me was a sewing class I took in elementary school. My mom was an avid seamstress and made clothes for me and for my dolls. I thought I might design fashion-forward clothes for me and my Barbies if I learned to sew. So I signed up for an intro class at a fabric store with some friends. The instructor had a store to tend to and a group of girls who knew nothing about sewing to teach. I think we got the short stick. I didn't think the instruction was good enough, so I organized a walkout. While I never did get good at sewing, I did learn an important lesson--advocating for what I thought was right. Lucky for me, my parents respected my judgment and didn't make me go back. I spent the rest of the summer visiting my neighborhood library and reading through the selection for young readers. I also spent a lot of time outdoors playing with friends, and learning social skills until after dark.

For some kids, summer is a time to travel and learn new skills, visit the library and read what interests them, or get introduced to new technology at camp. What will the students in your after-school programs learn this summer? How will they spend their time from June until the start of school in the fall? That's a lot of time to go deep and pursue hobbies, explore new interests, or find a passion. Or, it can be a time to unlearn skills mastered through hard work over the school year. Unlike when I was little and could spend hours outdoors running around the neighborhood or exploring new territories many of the kids we serve don't have these options. Their neighborhoods aren't safe and their opportunities are more limited.

Summer learning can help close the achievement gap. Unfortunately, for many kids what they learn in summer only increases the gap. In fact, two-thirds of the ninth grade achievement gap in reading can be attributed to summer learning loss. We know about summer learning loss, and what it can mean for kids who aren't engaged. What can we do about it?

I encourage you to talk with the kids in your after-school program about their plans for summer starting now. In Techbridge, we spend time discussing programs available in parks and recreation centers, at science museums and zoos, and on college campuses. We invite others kids to share out on what they did last summer and recommend their favorite programs. There's nothing like peer-to-peer recommendations to help turn kids on to learning. We also encourage role models who visit our after-school programs to talk about the summer programs they participated in as youth and what they learned. For one role model, an engineering camp on a college campus introduced her to a lifelong love for engineering. For another, a summer internship led to a job at Google. We want every one of our students to find a summer program or class to inspire and expand their options.

Equally important, we communicate with parents. Not every parent knows just how important summer programs are for their child's success and how summer learning loss can hamper progress in school. We talk with parents about summer learning and share a list of summer programs. We especially look for those that introduce kids to science, technology, and engineering. While the fees for some programs may seem out of range, we let families know that there are scholarships and financial aid available for those in need. The National Summer Learning Association has an interesting infographic about summer learning. You can download it and share with the families of the youth in your after-school programs here. Find out if there is a list of summer programs in your community for your kids. Here in Oakland, the American Association of University Women sponsors an annual fair where families can learn about summer programs available in their community. If you can't find resources like these, partner with other after-school providers and create your own.

We've learned that it's not enough to just share information about summer programs. You may need to help kids and families with filling out applications. We devote time in our after-school programs to reading and completing applications.

I enjoyed a bowl of Total this morning while my dog, Buddy, looked on hoping for a treat or spill. I like Total because it provides 100% of the daily recommended vitamins. Wouldn't it be great if there was a magic potion that could provide 100% of what our youth need to be successful in school and in life? While there is no fortified cereal to just that, we can do something to keep the youth in our after-school programs safe and inspired 365 days—encourage their participation in summer programs.

ImaniVernonMom DSC 0386

Published in Breakfast Club

Many articles being written lately are suggesting that parents are the missing piece in solving the cyberbullying puzzle. What they are suggesting is that communication between parents and their children is often too many times missing. Parents need to truly get involved in "cyber" discussions with their children. We need to take the initiative to dialogue on "cyber" issues that our children are engaging in. The following questions and strategies will help parents initiate and sustain conversations with their children.

Initiating Conversation Questions

All questions are asked from parent to child

  • "If I was to spend an hour a night online, which sites do you think I would enjoy going to?"
  • "Can you show me how to get to the site?"
  • "What sites do you enjoy visiting?"
  • "What is your favorite site to go to? How often do you go there?"
  • "What sites do your friends enjoy going to?"
  • "If I wanted to play video games online, where would I go?"
  • "What are your favorite video games to play online?"
  • "What do you think my user name should be?"
  • "What is your user name you use with your friends?"
  • "Is there anything I should worry about when I am online?
  • "Have you ever been worried about anything when online?"
  • "Have you ever had a friend worry about something when online?"
  • "What would you do if someone approached you online that you did not know?"
  • "What should I do if someone approaches me online that I do not know?"
  • "Are there sites that your friends go to that they probably should not?"
  • "Have you ever witnessed someone being cyerbullied while online?"
  • "What did they say?"
  • "Did anything happen to the person?"
  • "Have you ever been cyberbullied?"
  • "What do you think needs to be done to address cyberbullying?"
  • "What can I do to make you feel comfortable to talk to me about threatening situations that might happen while you are online?"
  • "If you were ever threatened while online, what would you do?"
  • "What do you think about the two of us sitting down once a week to talk about things that you experience while online?"

Sustaining the Conversations

The preceding questions will help initiate communication between parents and children. Although it is an important step, simply initiating communication is not enough, sustaining communication and making it a habit is critical in our efforts to address cyberbullying. The following strategies can be utilized to sustain consistent communication.

Sustaining Strategies

  1. Cyber Chats – Establish a time where you can sit down with your child and have discussions on cyber issues. These "cyber" chats should be implemented on a weekly basis and should focus on any situation that might have come up in the last week. These situations could create dialogue on personal issues as well as issues seen in news media. Use this time to establish a communication line between you and your child that they can depend on. You will find that this weekly communication will develop trust between you and your child and overtime that trust will become the catalyst to exposing critical issues they experience when online.
  2. Personalized email addresses – Create personalized email addresses that are to only be used for you and your child. These email addresses will not be shared with anyone else and will only be used for private communication between you and your child. Explain to your child that they can email you anytime they want and express how they are feeling. The only person who will read this will be you and your child. Use these email accounts to send positive comments to your child and let them know you care about them.
  3. Cyber Projects or Games – Spend time online together with your child. This could be as simple as playing games together. Remember not all gaming online is bad. Find some positive time together online where you can learn from your child what is going on. This time together will not only develop your online skills, but more importantly will create moments for discussion on online situations. This will create an opportunity for you as the parent to model the behavior that is expected online. To know what is going on in the cyberworld, we must get into the cyberworld.
  4. Instant Messaging Account – Set up an instant messaging account for your child to contact you when needed. This is to be established as a casual communication tool and not one for an emergency. Instant messaging is not always on and should not be relied on to send an emergency message. Instant messaging is a great tool to communicate casually when you can.
  5. Situational Practice – Create time to practice together how you would respond to a threatening situation when online. Create a fictitious scenario that you and your child can go through together. Example, if your child was online and they saw a friend being cyberbullied, what could they do? Have them go through the steps in how they would respond this threatening situation on their friend. This practice will develop both you and your child's skills to responding to these online interactions. This will also expose any gaps that might have gone undetected. These practice scenarios should be implemented once a month.

As stated earlier communication between a child and their parents is the most important factor in establishing a safe and secure online environment for our children. There is not a secret formula that will guide us to effective communication. Simply spending time together and engaging in conversations will lead to effective communication with you and your child. Understand that we are all different and our kids are all different, use strategies that work for you. What may work for your neighbor may not be what works for you and your family. What is important though, is that you spend time together with your child in conversations. By not spending time together will leave our children vulnerable to situations they may not understand how to handle.

For breakfast I had a fine balance of Waffles and Coffee!

Published in Breakfast Club

"Honeeeeeeeeeeeey, I'm hoooooooooooome. What's the plan for dinner? Did you make it to the bank to take care of the girls' accounts? Where are the kids?"

Sound familiar? Well, it should. It's common daily conversation in many homes. In fact, this is the exact verbiage that came out of my mouth when I arrived home to my stay-at-home hubby yesterday. His answer: "There's no dinner plan, girl's are doing homework, and yes, I went to the bank but they won't accept the girls school ID's as identification so we're headed back tomorrow." To which, my mind contemplates some negotiation of dinner possibilities (Sushi?!?), some flexibility of the banking project timeline, and some verbal praise for homework getting started!

On the surface, this seems simple enough. It's just your normal partner banter, coordinating plans, kid activities and resources. BUT WAIT! It's more than that. It's collaboration. It's communication. It's 18+ years of marriage. It's ALIGNMENT!

If you've struggled to wrap your head around what it really means to align with your core day partners, you're not alone. When the nebulous notion of aligning with the core day surfaced, I was one of THE biggest resisters of the idea. (Shhhhh, let's keep this between us shall we?) However, I've succeeded in softening this resistance by defining alignment in the context of relationship building, making connections and achieving common visions for youth aka Married With Children!

So, here are some tips co-developed by our amazing CalSERVES staff. I hope they offer some guidance as you enter the new school year and work to build the necessary bridges with your core day partners for the best results for kids! (Rings and Vows optional.)

Alignment Means:

  • —Coordinating
  • Linking
  • —Augmenting
  • —Bridging
  • —Connecting
  • —Reinforcing

Alignment Doesn't Mean:

  • —Duplication
  • —Replacement
  • —More Core Day Activities

Why Align?

  • Relationship Building: creating a culture of shared trust, understanding, and respect.
  • Making Connections: sharing resources, strategies, perspectives and practices.
  • Achieving Common Vision: creating agreements and plans for working toward the goals of student access to learning opportunities, academic achievement and personal success.

Ideas for Aligning:

  1. Academic Advisor: Create a formal position in your program for a highly supportive core day teacher to work with you in developing relationships and accessing information about the core day.
  2. Staff Observations: If possible, have after school staff observe in core day classrooms to build relationships with teachers, increase understanding of what is being covered, and developing classroom management/instructional skills.
  3. Staff Development: Attend as many staff development opportunities put on by the school as possible. It will support skill development, create a common language and build good will.
  4. Essential Standards: Get a copy of the schools essential standards and integrate them into your activities where appropriate.
  5. Common Instructional Strategies: Find out what instructional strategies are being used school-wide and make a plan to train staff on how to utilize them.
  6. Curriculum Pacing Guides: Get a copy of curriculum pacing guides and talk with teachers to see if they are actually on pace!
  7. Grade Level Meetings: While timing can be challenging, attending grade-level meetings can serve to build priceless connections regarding student attendance, homework, behavior and overall achievement.
  8. Meet Regularly with the Principal: The principal can unlock many doors and will almost certainly support your goals to align with core day instruction.
  9. Regular Communication Strategies: Create strategies for regular two-way communication with teachers. You can solicit regular input on student progress and classroom focus.
  10. Make your Intentions Known: Let the principal and influential teachers know that you are interested in aligning strategies that that support student learning in both the core day and after school.

This morning I had oatmeal and apples covered in cinnamon with a couple slices of cheese while my stay-at-home hubby slept in.

Annette Z married

Published in Breakfast Club

Nine years ago, when my son was in 4th grade, he had a homework assignment that involved reading a newspaper article and bringing it in to school. He spread out the newspaper on the kitchen table and IMMEDIATELY my big, fluffy, 13 pound cat jumped on the table and spread out as far as she could over the newspaper (cat owners have surely seen this phenomenon.)

Now Kasha, the cat, had done this to me MANY times. And no matter how often I pushed her out of the way or picked her up and moved her, she would just keep coming back.

But, when Kasha did this to my son, he looked at her and said "You just want some attention don't you?" So he scratched her under the chin, and behind the ears, and petted her on the back. And do you know what that cat did? She jumped off of the table and walked away.

I watched with amazement, and realized a very important lesson. I was responding to Kasha's behavior (with very poor results.) While my son responded to Kasha's need and changed the behavior.

We all know children whose behavior is as annoying as Kasha's was to me. When this happens, do you respond to the behavior, which is likely to just lead to more annoying behavior? Or do you respond to the need, and change the pattern?

Learning to respond to need rather than behavior of children and youth in afterschool programs can be challenging. But a wealth of research and support is available.

The Technical Assistance Center on Social Emotional Intervention has developed a methodology for addressing challenging behaviors in young children called "The Pyramid Model". 

The Office of Special Education Programs in the US Dept. of Education promotes the use of Positive Behavioral Support as a systematic approach to addressing behavior issues during the school day. 

Another excellent resource is your local school district. Just as afterschool programs are encouraged to "link to learning" during the school day, we should also connect with school day efforts to promote positive behavior. Doing so offers consistency for children who need assistance navigating social situations and provides guidance for staff struggling with challenging behavior.

And of course creating a team approach with parents is crucial. No one knows the child better or is more vested the child's success.

It may sound like a lot of work, but learning how to step back and assess the need behind the behavior is a skill that is useful in all relationships, not just those with children. I certainly wish I was better at it!

For breakfast, I have tea in my special BOOST Breakfast Club mug. And I'm trying to lose weight, so I'll have a Jennie Craig meal. Oh, and Kasha is sitting on my desk, spread out on all the papers as I write.

Published in Breakfast Club

If we want to know what is going on in the cyberworld with our kids, we need to get into the cyberworld.

A new frontier has quickly developed and for many adults it is a frontier that is very foreign to us. This new frontier is the Cyberworld. This world offers our kids some pretty amazing things that can help foster their growth as an individual and provide information that accelerates their educational learning opportunities. Developed as an educator's tool for sharing, the internet and cyberworld has quickly taken on a dark side. To understand the risk factors associated with this dark side, parents must get into the cyberworld immediately.

For some parents, teachers, and youth advocates, navigating in the cyberworld is an everyday occurrence and something that comes naturally. For a much larger population the cyberworld can be intimidating and an environment parents hesitate to frequent. Bottom line though, is that our kids are there, so we must be there too.

The following will help us get into the cyberworld with our kids. By no means are these tips universal and work for every situation. We need to understand that the dark side of the internet and the actions in the cyberworld is a human behavior, and working with a human behavior, nothing is universal. Each family is different and each family needs to take the time to discover what works for your situation and your family.

  1. Centralize the computer – getting in the cyberworld does not necessarily mean you have to be online navigating the internet all day everyday. We can get into the space of the cyberworld by simply being around the area our kids are working when online. Put the online accessibility of the computer in a room that is frequented by parents constantly. Make the computer screen be viewable to you, so that you can easily see where your kids are navigating too. Having the computer centrally located and close to adult supervision also enables our kids to quickly communicate with us anytime they feel uncomfortable with an online experience. If you have accessibility to more than one computer, establish an offline computer. This computer can be in a quiet room and will be utilized for anything not needing online capabilities. When working on a project or a report, require them to use the offline computer. This will limit distractions (instant messaging from friends) and put them in a room that they can truly concentrate in.
  2. Consistent Communication – probably the most important strategy we can resource too as parents is simply establishing consistent communication with our kids who are going online. Do not wait for a special moment to happen and react with communication. Establish proactive communication with your kids that focuses on their online etiquette and behavior. This channel of consistent communication will not only develop trust, but will also serve as a lifeline for our kids when they experience a threatening situation in the cyberworld. Our kids needs to feel comfortable talking with us and trusting that when they share experiences they encounter in the cyberworld, they will be supported. To establish the communication designate a day of the week and time that you can sit down at the computer and navigate through sites your kids visit. Talk with them about any risk that they might experience when online. It is important that boundaries are established and that the boundaries are clearly identified and understood. Use this weekly meeting to reinforce the boundaries and expectations of your child when they are online.
  3. Online Experience and Knowledge – Parents must become tech savvy and experienced with online applications. Like we said earlier, if you want to know what is going on in the cyberworld, you must get into the cyberworld. It is critical that parents spend time navigating through the internet on their own and learning the capabilities of the computer. The best teacher I can recommend to educate on the cyberworld is simply experience. Parents must dedicate time each week to developing their online skills and knowledge. Sign up for classes which keep up with the currents trends and changing technology. Understand how the computer works and what resources there are to secure the safety of our children while online. The more knowledge a parent can develop about the internet and risk factors associated with it, the better equipped parents will be to secure the safety of children while online.
  4. Blogging, Chatrooms and Social Networking Sites – Along the same lines as Online Experience and Knowledge discussed in #3, parents need to develop an understanding of how Blogging, Chatrooms, and Social Networking sites operate. Create a user identity and spend time in chatrooms which your kids might frequent. What are the discussions like? Are they appropriate? It must be clear, you are not "snooping" on what your kids do online, you are supervising and taking responsibility to discover if where they are going online is safe. To discover the social networking sites it is recommended that parents set up a profile on MySpace and learn what this site is about. When MySpace and other social networking sites are used with responsibility, they are a tremendous tool for kids to connect with one another and stay in contact. Unfortunately it is when these social networking sites are abused do they turn into a risk factor for our kids. Spend some time in the social networking sites and discover the safety features each one has to offer.
  5. Be There: Establish a Emergency Communication System – Assure rapid communication with your child while they are online. Parents can not spend every minute of the day next to their child while online. Although you physically can not be there, you can via the cyberworld. Set up a system with your kids to immediately communicate any threatening situations they may encounter while online while you are not there through technology. Utilize emailing, instant messaging, and SMS as a rapid communication system to alert you when you are not home. This would entail owning a PDA device which receives emails and/or text messaging. It is critical we establish these lifelines for our children so that they can communicate to us the threats they receive while online. The proactive communication, established in step one, will assure kids feel comfortable alerting their parents when they are scared and in need support. We need to be there for kids when they need help. We can not rely on technology to alert us, there is a responsibility that falls on the shoulders of kids and their parents to have a system of communication in place, so that parents can be there immediately when a threat occurs.

The growing trend of cyberbullying has exceeded to impact over 43% of the kids online in the United States. Simply put, it is not if it will happen to your child, but when will this cruel behavior happen. Like any emergency, and the act of cyberbullying needs to be seen as needing an emergency response, the faster we can get to the child and communicate the better off we will be. As parents we no longer can afford to sit on the outside and watch. We need to know what is going on in the cyberworld, therefore we must utilize strategies that puts us in the cyberworld.

Breakfast for the day:
Cereal and Coffee with my beautiful son and daughter!

Published in Breakfast Club
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