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Here in Ann Arbor, Michigan, we're less than two weeks from the last day of school and the launch of 11 weeks of summer day camps. My division of the Ann Arbor Public School district – Community Education and Recreation – is busy preparing for over 100 camps, dozens of staff, and thousands of campers. Through our popular High school Volunteer Program, 160 teens will build skills and provide assistance at our summer camps.

For many of our teen camp volunteers, this is a first job-related experience. Of course, we provide training on safety, working with children, assisting lead counselors, communicating with parents, and so on. But we also want to engage teens to think of themselves instrumental in setting a positive camp culture.

How do you build teen volunteers' awareness of and capacity to contribute to a positive camp culture? Here are Ann Arbor Rec & Ed's top 5 training activities for teen volunteers.

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1. Ideally, experienced teen volunteers will be your partners in developing and leading your training agenda for new volunteers. According to the Youth Driven Spaces Initiative, developing youth leadership and voice can happen through Youth Advisory Councils and other program structures, with the overall goal of increasing engagement and skill of older youth.

2. Share your organization's vision and mission for summer camps. Why do you provide summer camps? In what ways do you strive be a positive force in children's lives? Use aspirational language to explain your organization's purpose. Invite your teen volunteers to react and add to this vision, sharing their own experiences where applicable.

3. Conduct a quick self-assessment. A quick review of a core set of skills for working with children can be really helpful to teens, especially those in this role for the first time. We like this basic list of 5 skills and qualities for those who want to work with children: patience; the ability to hide frustration and annoyance; keeping calm in an emergency; communication; and enthusiasm. We ask our teen volunteers to talk about their areas of greatest strengths and weakness in this skill set.

4. Help teen volunteers understand their unique contributions to a positive camp culture. High school students are likely to relate the idea of "camp culture" best in relation to their own lives at school.

○ Large group brainstorm: Think about your favorite high school class, one where you're really engaged and enjoy learning. How would you describe the classroom culture? Generate a list of the aspects of the class they like, including relationships, traditions, attitudes, and activities.
○ Reviewing the list, ask if another person were to walk into your favorite classroom, what would he or she observe? (Examples: Smiling faces? Would students be active and engaged in their learning? Are students showing respect to each other?)
○ Help them "crosswalk" their answers from their favorite classroom to what a favorite summer day camp might look like. What characteristics would be the same, what would be different? What would they add to make it even better?
○ Finally, have them take a 2-3 quiet minutes to think about what they believe their unique contributions to a child's favorite camp would look like. They can share with a partner or the whole group.

5. Monitor, support, coach - When observing teen volunteers at camps, be sure to notice and give feedback when you see them contributing to a positive camp culture.

Teen volunteers can be an essential part of any day camp. Help them understand their role as a mentor and change-maker in the lives of younger children -- they and their campers will reap the rewards.


For breakfast this morning, I had a bowl of cereal and a banana. (And coffee, of course.)

Published in Breakfast Club

summer mattersIf you are an educator responsible for providing a high quality summer program for children and youth in your community, you are probably busy right now with planning for summer and making sure you finish the school year strong. It is easy to fall into the routine of this busy time. Take just a moment to consider some of the proactive things you can do to take your summer program to the next level.

1. Brainstorm ideas for your unique program culture
High quality summer learning programs feel more like camp than school. If your program is school based consider decorating and re-branding classrooms and other learning spaces. With the right theme, you can transform a classroom into a cabin or a cafeteria into a mess hall. Or go with a space theme and turn the office into mission control. The opportunities are endless.

2. Sharpen your plan for professional development
Begin with the end in mind. What are your goals for the training? How will you achieve them? Consider what other support is available for summer program staff. Who will provide coaching? Focus on continuous improvement. Review the feedback you received on the training you provided last year. Are there changes you can make?

summer pic3. Find creative ways to give youth a voice
Public Profit developed a great resource, Creative Ways to Solicit Youth Input, that has many non-traditional ways to solicit input from youth, including interviews, collages, and song and dance routines.

4. Plan an event for National Summer Learning Day
Summer Learning Day is July 14, 2016! Summer Learning Day is an annual national advocacy day led by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) to elevate the importance of keeping kids learning, safe and healthy every summer.

5. Engage a local leader as your Summer Matters Champion
Have your superintendent or other local leaders sign on publicly to say that summer matters in your community. You can also host a site visit with local stakeholders such as superintendents, school board members, and community members to highlight your summer program.
What are you doing differently to get ready for summer this year? Tell us in the comments below.

Published in Breakfast Club

Ending childhood hunger, especially during the summer, has been the defining focus of my work for the past few years. At the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), I've worked with my team to chart participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs. These programs—the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP)—are designed to replace the school breakfasts and lunches on which low-income children and their families rely during the school year, keeping hunger at bay and ensuring that children remain healthy throughout the summer. They also support summer programs and help draw children into educational, enrichment, and recreational activities that keep them learning, engaged, active, and safe during school vacation.

It has been remarkable to see the strides that have been made over the past few years, and the increase in the number of low-income children eating summer meals. That's particularly good news since summer nutrition is so critical to children's achievement, especially when meals are coupled with enrichment and learning activities. Children who participate in such summer programs reap countless benefits: they stay free from hunger, stay healthy, and stay engaged. Unfortunately, research shows us that when children are not involved in such activities they are likely to experience summer learning loss and are more likely to gain weight.

school lunch

While there has been positive movement with summer meals, there still is a long way to go. FRAC's most recent look at summer food participation – FRAC's Hunger Doesn't Take a Vacation – found that only one in six children who needed summer meals received them.

But we can keep the momentum going.

• Groups who are operating summer programs should consider serving meals if they aren't already. FRAC has a calendar that lists opportunities throughout the year.
• Groups who are already serving meals should consider expanding their operations, perhaps by adding more sites or by increasing the quality of food being served.
• Groups should also strongly consider offering enrichment activities to complement their current program.

The Food Research & Action Center has a number of resources to help you learn more about the Summer Nutrition Programs and how to develop quality programs that keep children well-fed and engaged, including a calendar that lists year-round actions for organizations seeking to strengthen their summer programs. In addition, FRAC's Meals Matter: Afterschool and Summer training calls and monthly newsletter provide valuable tips and best practices to achieve that goal. You can sign up here.

Photo Credit: Flickr

Published in Breakfast Club

Summer is here! For some families, summer plans involve which parks they'll visit or vacations they'll take. But for other families, summer can be a time of great stress as they find themselves struggling to fill the food gap that's created when schools close and children no longer have access to healthy meals at school.

Fortunately, there is a solution: the Summer Nutrition Programs. These programs—the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP)—are designed to replace the school breakfasts and lunches on which low-income children and their families rely during the school year, keeping hunger at bay and ensuring that children remain healthy throughout the summer. They also support summer programs and help draw children into educational, enrichment, and recreational activities that keep them learning, engaged, active, and safe during school vacation.

The Summer Nutrition Programs are incredibly important but they aren't reaching as many children as they should. Our most recent report – FRAC's Hunger Doesn't Take a Vacation – found that only one in six children who needed summer meals was receiving them.

Summer meals make a huge difference for children.

1. They fight hunger. Unfortunately, far too many children live in households that struggle with hunger and poverty. The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture data show that one in five children lived in households that struggled with hunger. Increasing participation in the Summer Nutrition Programs would lead to fewer hungry children.

education-662458 12802. They combat summer learning loss. The vast majority of summer meal sites offer educational and recreational activities, keeping children's bodies and minds active during the summer months. In fact, the Summer Nutrition Programs often act as a magnet to draw children to these activities.

3. They support working parents. More than 24 million children live in working poor families. For their parents, the Summer Nutrition Programs provide a safe environment where children get healthy food and benefit from activities that keep them engaged while school is out. As a result, working parents know their children are safe and hunger-free – even when school is out.

The Food Research & Action Center has a number of resources to help you learn more about the Summer Nutrition Programs and how to develop quality programs that keep children well-fed and engaged. Its Meals Matter: Afterschool and Summer training calls and monthly newsletter provide valuable tips and best practices to achieve that goal. You can sign up here.


Published in Breakfast Club

Asia Society and BOOST Collaborative are partnering to create a series of blogs on global learning in out-of-school time.  This blog entry was originally published on EdWeek's Global Learning Blog.  This entry is written by Monica Logan, vice president of program and systems quality at the National Summer Learning Association.

Summer will soon be upon us. According to a report supported by The Wallace Foundation, an estimated 25 percent of our nation's youth participate in summer learning programs leaving the majority subject to the troubling effects of summer learning loss.

High-quality summer programs are critical for reducing summer learning loss which "disproportionately affects low-income students [and] contributes substantially to the achievement gap." Research has shown that hallmarks of high-quality programs such as individualized instruction, parental involvement and low teacher-student ratios help to better prepare students for success in our interconnected world. A global theme infused into a summer learning curriculum enriches the experience for students of all ages.  Below are a few strategies that bring global learning to life during the summer.

A Global Theme Gives Students a Passport to the World

global learning summerThree years ago, the New York City Department of Education, in collaboration with the New York City Department of Youth and Community Development and The Fund for Public Schools (FPS) developed the NYC Summer Quest pilot program to improve, expand, and sustain summer learning opportunities for NYC public school students. One strategy of this program was to identify a global destination theme and then integrate and frame program content and youth outcome goals around it. The "Passport to the World" theme was used by one of the sites over the course of three years. The first year students explored Mexico, then South Africa, and in the third year Peru and China. By incorporating activities reflecting the global theme, youth are encouraged to go beyond the surface, to build subject matter expertise and skill mastery through deep analysis of a subject or idea. Students were also encouraged to share their cultural heritage orally, through writing or arts projects. These are great ways to celebrate student achievements in global learning and to engage parents, families, and community members. If you are focused on a single country theme, students can also do comparisons.

Books Open the Door to the World in the Digital Age

Also consider engaging youth in art, books, or digital media projects, which are excellent ways to cultivate youth voice and choice and help students connect to each other.

A good book is still one of the greatest ways youth can explore the world and summer is an ideal time for instructional innovation that can transform teaching and learning year-round. The Global Read Aloud: One Book to Connect the World, is an inspiring initiative that started in summer of 2010 in Oregon and Wisconsin. In just five years, with a little technology and a great love of reading, this movement has reached 500,000 students in 60 different countries.

Libraries across the country are also reinventing themselves to help youth rediscover literacy in the digital age. In an effort to help teachers navigate through the seemingly infinite amount of digital learning tools available, Common Sense Education, a leading independent advocate and reviewer of media and technology tools, created Graphite, a free online resource to assist "...preK-12 educators discover, use, and share the best apps, games, websites, and digital curricula for their students..." Reading at home can also have a big impact on reducing summer learning loss when supported by access to a variety of books that match children's interest and ability levels and when comprehension is guided by an adult.

The Arts Foster Cross Cultural Understanding

Similar to literacy, research supports how arts education fosters cross-cultural understanding. The Adobe Foundation is among the champions of digital media and is inspiring youth to harness the power of digital media to tell compelling stories and affect social change. Over the past decade, the Adobe Youth Voices program has impacted 190,000 young people in 60 countries. The collaborative nature of digital media and the performing and visual arts also promotes youth voice and can facilitate learning and exploration of cultures and customs from around the globe.

The summer offers freedom to explore the world and to keep all kids learning so that they thrive in the school year ahead.

The National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) is the only national nonprofit exclusively focused on closing the achievement gap by increasing access to high-quality summer learning opportunities. For more information and to learn about Summer Learning Day activities happening on June 19, visit

Follow NSLAHeather, Asia Society, and BOOST Collaborative on Twitter.

Visit the National Summer Learning Association for information about how your organization can apply for the Summer Learning Award and the Founder's Award.  These awards recognize outstanding summer programs or models that demonstrate excellence in accelerating academic achievement and promoting healthy development for young people between pre-kindergarten and twelfth grade. 

Photo courtesy of Asia Society.


Published in Breakfast Club

What was your favorite book as a child? Do you remember a teacher or adult reading to you? If you were blessed to experience that, what do you remember best about it? I remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Langdon, reading Charlotte's Web to us. That's when I fell in love with Wilbur, reading, and thus, learning.

Most afterschool educators are aware of "summer slide," the term given to children's loss of academic skills during the summer months. This happens especially for students in low socioeconomic areas, as shown in a video by Brian Williams.

book loveThe battle between meeting both the academic needs and the social needs of children, especially during the summer months, is real. There is one activity, though, that earns an immense return for students – both in learning and in social growth: being read aloud to. Being read aloud to allows children to get lost in a story and experience the joys of reading, sparking the love of reading as well as the art of listening. Being read aloud to builds a sense of story for children and develops vocabulary. Reading aloud to demonstrates human interactions and relationships and builds an understanding of the world in general. Being read aloud to builds community within your program. Listening to many genres (types of books or writing) helps open the world of books and reading to students who may never know them otherwise. While this practice is labeled as one of the most effective for growing reading skills in students, children get the most from being read aloud to when books with great appeal, either through language, repetition, or suspense, are chosen. Perhaps start with a story staff members loved as a child, or choose from this fabulous list.

It is a wonder that being read aloud to, with its many proven positive outcomes, is not a more common activity in our summer programs. Perhaps that is because of staff's level of comfort with reading in general, and reading aloud more specifically. Help staff members be most successful when reading aloud to children by pre-reading the books and practicing fluent, paced, and appropriately inflected reading. Take time to solve challenging words or sentence structure beforehand so readers are more confident. Be silly – exaggerate some phrases and use voices for different characters. Practice in front of other staff members, too, for even more fun! Student engagement is key, so create an environment of enjoyment. Make sure students can see pictures and can join in repetitive language pages. Don't limit your reading aloud to early elementary students, either. All students enjoy being read to, no matter the age. Even better, help older students choose books to read aloud to younger students. Remember to allow them time to practice, too.
Reading aloud need not take a large portion of your day. Have a time when chaos seems to reign? That's the time to read aloud! First thing in the morning, 10 minutes after lunch, or even during dismissal time are all perfect for gathering students and sharing a story. You'll find no better activity that builds community, social growth, and academic knowledge in such a short amount of time!


For breakfast I had bacon and eggs for breakfast today.

Published in Breakfast Club

If you’re like me, you are NOT reading this at breakfast but from your sofa at night with an IPA or cup of chamomile tea in hand … which means you might not make it to the end.  So, I’m starting with a plug for input to the Standards in Action being developed by CAN’s Work Group on Quality Standards.  Just go to the CAN website.  You don’t even have to review all of them, just click on the two or three that interest you most and give us your thoughts.  You’ll be done in a few sips.  Or you can do the whole thing, which would be really fabulous.  Or better yet, you could come to our workshop at BOOST (Thursday 10 am to 12 pm, San Jacinto) to give input in-person.  Diego Arrancibia is facilitating which means it will be fun and funny.  The Work Group is amazing – committed, smart, experienced – and we need all YOUR ideas and perspectives to make sure the quality standards fully reflect California’s vision for quality.

Wow!  You’re still reading?  Here’s what I’ve been thinking about – besides the Standards in Action.  As you’ve probably noticed, these are crazy times for California’s education system.  And, these crazy times are creating great opportunities for our expanded learning field.  The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) and the CORE districts’ waiver all focus attention on how kids learn and the importance of learning beyond what is strictly academic.  These changes fit perfectly with the way quality after school and summer programs have been running for years – as documented in Temescal Associates’ Learning in Afterschool and Summer principles (and not surprisingly in the newly adopted California Quality Standards).  Good after school and summer programs excel at learning that is active, meaningful, collaborative, builds mastery and broadens horizons – all skills and approaches to learning embedded in the CCSS.  And, we’re great at engaging students, improving school climates and expanding the range of courses available, as required by the LCFF.  All of these strategies and activities are consistent with building young people’s social-emotional skills – including learning strategies, social skills, growth mindsets, perseverance –that the CORE districts have signed up to monitor, and that will, therefore, become increasingly interesting to school leaders across the state.

But, while we know high quality programs are doing these things well, we also know that poor quality programs are not.  If we are going to seize this opportunity, we need to message clearly about the contributions that expanded learning programs can make and then we have to deliver on that promise.  That means being intentional about assessing our quality, planning and making improvements, and continually reflecting on our progress.

And so, if you are still reading, and haven’t yet given input to the Standards in Action, please grab what you need – a bowl of ice cream, a cup of tea, an IPA – and give us your 15 minutes of input (here).  

Looking forward to seeing you at BOOST.  Stop by Smoketree D/E for a little spirit from the Summer Matters campaign, especially on Thursday at 3:45 pm … where there will be beer.

Breakfast?  Coffee, of course, and oatmeal. 

Published in Breakfast Club

This summer I've been eating my breakfast on the road. Every year, the Summer Matters campaign tours summer programs across the state from Glenn County down to San Bernardino and over to Fresno. The programs, supported by local technical assistance providers, have been working intentionally to improve their quality for the past 4 years. What we're seeing is a real testament to the ingenuity and determination of our field, and to the power of the cycle of quality improvement.

Here are a few of the highlights:

  • At the Whittier City School District's Jumpstart program, middle schoolers were reading The Hunger Games and doing activities related to its themes. In one room, children acted out scenes from the book, while another room made elaborate costumes and weapons from paper bags, bark, leaves and string, and still others played "blood rain," a modified version of capture the flag.
  • At the East Bay Asian Youth Center in Oakland, we watched students inventing make-believe survival tools and marketing their new products to their peers as part of a unit on outdoor survival skills. At the end of each day, kids and staff gathered around a "camp fire" to debrief the lessons learned and place foot step along their nature "path to knowledge."
  • In Fresno, the Central Unified School District's CESA program centered on the novel, Gone, in which all the adults over age 15 suddenly disappear from a town. During our visit, the author was also visiting, and met with kids in their classrooms to answer questions - about where the story idea came from, why the characters took different actions, upcoming novels, etc. His direct manner of speaking really got their attention. I heard a bunch of kids saying, "I'm definitely reading his next book!"
  • With THINK Together in Santa Ana, students, teachers and after school staff are getting a head start on learning and teaching strategies for the Common Core English Language Arts curriculum, and they are building more skills with fun, hands-on STEM projects.
  • The middle schoolers in Sacramento City Unified School District's Summer of Service program were working in teams to do a whole range of service projects – from educating peers about bullying to teaching basketball to younger kids. The gardening class was painting tables in the school's courtyard with different life cycle themes and creating lesson plans related to each table to be used during the school year.
  • Throughout our visits, we saw children collaborating, negotiating, laughing, leading and following, using their hands, dancing, discussing, creating, and thinking – all on topic because the topics were good.

Not only did we see great programming, we're also seeing consistent and positive improvements year-to-year.

  • More and more line staff are understanding that having their teaching observed is a great way to build skills, not a potential reprimand or compliance report.
  • More and more managers are prioritizing prep time and training for their staff to make sure they have the support they need to do a great job.
  • Being intentional is all the rage – from thinking about what you want kids to get out of an activity, to prepping partners about your learning goals, to setting up specific steps for your program to get better, summer leaders are making sure they know where they want to go before they start moving.
  • Superintendents, principals and credentialed teachers are buying in to summer learning as the best way to get their students engaged and excited about learning.

The last summer visit happened on Friday. Summer programs are closing their doors for a few much-needed weeks of down-time before the school year rush begins. While they may be exhausted right now, we know summer staff will come back to their school-day and after-school jobs stronger, more confident and energized by their summer creativity and success.

From the Summer Matters campaign, I offer a hearty congratulations for another, even better summer. Thanks for another great road show!

Published in Breakfast Club

Here's a little story I'd like to tell

About 3 camp ladies I know real well.

It started back in Two Thousand and 12,

When they were planning camp, like busy little elves.

They were looking for ideas based on campers' interests

One of them said "Hey, let's check Pinterest!"

...And that is how our Project: Pinterest started.

A little Bit o' Info About Project: Pinterest

For the past two summers our camp programs have been using Pinterest to support our summer camp planning. While I imagine the idea of having a Pinterest board or two related to work is something a majority of the camp and out of school time field has done. We decided to try something a bit different. Instead of using Pinterest as a place for each of us to warehouse camp ideas, mixed in with our "For the Home" and "Dinner Ideas", what if we used it as a program planning resource- a way to share ideas with the 100+ centers and camps within our agency? Here are a few of the lessons we have learned along the way.

  1. Create a Pinterest account that is specific for your program, agency, or camp. We initially started the "Summer Camp 2012" board on one of our personal accounts. While this was a functional board, it really started to clutter that person's account. It also meant that as an agency we didn't have access to the account.
  2. Create multiple boards based on the different elements of your camp or program. Our first attempt was a solo board. We quickly noticed it got really crowded and hard to search. For the 2013 season, we initially broke the boards into our general camp topics: art, science, crafts, sports, etc. Since then we have added many boards beyond just program ideas. Boards, like camp leader inspiration, project-based learning and documentation, are there to support our leaders in the work they do. We also added general camp boards like camp culture, indoor & outdoor games, songs, skits and special events to support the transition from being a school year program to a camp.
  3. Designate a Lead Pinner. Our in our case, a Pin Queen. While we shared the responsibility of pinning ideas between the three of us, we designated one person the Pin Queen. Her responsibilities were to 1) keep the boards clean- it never failed, all three of us would see a great idea and repin it. She made sure items weren't duplicated 2) check the links to make sure they work 3) check the comments to make sure they were work friendly and clean, the last thing we wanted to do was pin something that had profanity or inappropriate comments. 4) Track "Pin Popularity". When our Pin Queen sees a certain topic or pin trending in our repins, she creates a special board for that topic and adds additional pins. This is how our Duct Tape pinboard started. 5) Keeping things Organized. We were asked to find resources and ideas that would promote recycling and upcycling found materials for our activities. We began pinning ideas for home made games and recycled crafts to our "games" and "crafts" boards. The size of these boards grew and became hard to manage. Our Pin Queen then created separate boards for "DIY Games" and "Going Green".

Once we had things established. We pinned away. Currently we have over 30 boards and over 1,100 pinned program ideas and resources. We add new pins and boards on a regular basis to keep things fresh.

Some of the Benefits of Project: Pinterest

Pinterest has given us the speed and flexibility to provide resources to our camps. We are now directly connected to staff at many of our camp programs. It has helped to create an online community for our program staff.

Flexibility: The Development of Tapas Camp - We were asked to develop resources for a Tapas camp. Of the three of us working on camp curriculum, none of us really had a background in making tapas. We began by searching Pinterest for "Tapas and Small Plates" ideas. Once we found a few ideas we were able to write activity plans. But we wanted to do more. Realizing that this camp was a bit "out of the norm" we created a Cooking Camp-Tapas pinboard and started adding pins to it to support this camp.

Speed: NEWS FLASH! A Heat Wave Hits California - We believe that campers should spend as much time outside as possible. But what do you do when you are faced with a week of extreme heat? We were able to quickly respond to a request for more indoor games and activities to do with campers. Within 20 minutes we had a board created and a variety of pins selected for camps to begin implementing.

What's next for Project: Pinterest

  1. Pin our Own Ideas - We know our camp leaders have amazing ideas.  They are always sending us photos and stories about the great things happening at camp. One of our challenges has been "How do we share great things that are happening in Fairfield with the programs in Menifee?". Since all pins have to be linked to a web address, we are currently looking into developing a blog page to highlight great work and pin the ideas onto our boards.
  2. Connect to Our Blog - Our Program & Resource Development team hosts a staff development blog with greatIt has a plethora of articles, videos, and tidbits to support staff in the work they do, along with various resources to be shared. We plan on updating the blog with more images so we can pin the articles on the Pinterest site.

Besides having a blast finding and pinning awesome ideas, this has been great way to connect program resource development to social media and our program staff. We receive feedback from our program staff daily that the Pinterest boards are user-friendly, easy to navigate, and a great way to share ideas. It has also helped us cut down on the amount of paper we use as we now share ideas virtually versus printed on paper.

Come check us out at If your program has a Pinterest account, let us know-leave your Pinterest account name in the comments and we would love to follow you. The more ideas the better-right!

What other online resources are you using to collaborate and share ideas with program staff?

I encourage you, if you haven't already, to create a Pinterest account for your program, collaborate with your co-workers, and share ideas. Take the Pinterest challenge and start "collecting and organizing the things that inspire you".*


For breakfast this morning, I had an Egg in a Nest made with 100% whole wheat toast and a Cool Lime Refresher while listening to The Beastie Boys License to Ill.

ElizaBeth Parker Phillips, or PEP to her camp friends, works for Child Development Centers, Continuing Development Inc. in California. CDI serves families across California in over 100 centers, offering programs of excellence for youth ranging from infancy to teen years.

Published in Breakfast Club

The tug-of-war between the priorities of quantity of and quality of out-of-school time programs has finally crossed the mud pit. With millions of children still without a place to go afterschool, this conversation has vacillated between the two opinions. But when research shows that children in low quality programs have no better outcomes than children who are unsupervised during the same time, quality must be the focus (Child Trends, 2010-19). Research recently published in Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success (Peterson, 2013) expands on the evidence of impact of excellent programs, giving even more steam to the argument for quality first.

We cannot be fooled into thinking there are vast numbers of programs meeting high quality standards. There are out-of-school time sites tucked in community centers, apartment complexes, faith based organizations, and even on school campuses that lack the deep quality needed to truly create lasting positive impact. With such ample and ongoing research, why is it that there are so many that are not? Certainly the lack of importance is not to blame.

There have not been any playground squabbles over the technical definition of quality. Succinctly, high quality out-of-school time programs improve a child's intellectual, creative, physical and emotional development in a safe, nurturing environment. The more granular explanations of this definition are found in standards documents adopted in many communities, where best practices have spelled out expectations for everything from safety and health of children, to programming and leadership, to the condition of the organization hosting the program. With the growing availability of these documents, as well as the growing number of conferences, workshops, websites, the education of staff does not have to be a barrier to building quality. So what is?

While the details of best practices define the technical appearance of quality, much like the hollow Tin Man, the heart is often missing.

Quality improvement systems, such as DASN's Program Quality Initiative, among others, improve the programs offered to children. This is accomplished by working with out-of-school time sites to conquer benchmarks of quality performance through education of the staff, resources to close gaps, and networking opportunities designed to encourage change and enlist peer support. Our organization continues to create more efficient systems of quality improvement and in doing so, identifies barriers to improvements. What we are learning is that the most needed ingredients in the pursuit of quality include value, purpose, and intent, or in one word, heart.

Value: This is the one ingredient in a quality program that cannot be taught.
It is an innate understanding of the preciousness of each child as an individual and the acknowledgement that our time to make a difference with each is limited. While it seems silly to state it, staff working in programs need to value children. It is not uncommon to find staff who work with children during these hours because it fits a schedule or is convenient. While those reasons for work are valid, without the value of children being a leading reason for working in a program, quality suffers.

Programs are often created because the leadership values children, but this does not always carry through all organizational levels. Best practice tools may quantify indicators of valuing children, such as avoiding negative communication, encouraging participation, and organizing a child friendly space. It is more difficult, though, to do the same with indicators like being a humble leader for and enjoying time with children. Consider these questions to help determine if value is present in your program:

  • Was your program started because of a firm belief system?
  • How is the value of children communicated across organizational levels?
  • Does your program have a stated list of beliefs that help guide decision-making?
  • Are staff members hired because of their passion for making a difference with children?

Purpose: Organizations use mission statements to communicate the purpose for program existence, such as to promote academic achievement or healthy lifestyles, or to expose children to new concepts and experiences. While multi-service organizations may have a broad mission statement, a narrower one must be created for the afterschool or summer experience and should be made clear to all levels of staff. Each idea, activity, or resource should support the purpose of the program.

  • Does your mission statement refer directly to the program component that serves school-age children?
  • Are program goals set for the attainment of that purpose?
  • Are resources in place to support those goals?
  • Do your staff members know the mission and understand their role in the attainment of it?

Intent: When decisions are made that reflect value and purpose; that is, when there is resolution and determination that every interaction communicates the preciousness of a child and seeks to fulfill the purpose of the program, that program is operating intentionally. Leadership sets the tone as organizational decisions around such things as funding sources and board members are made with (or without) consideration of valuing children and supporting the program's purpose. Every decision beyond that should do the same, using the intentional question, "Does this whatever communicate our value of a child and/ or help us achieve our mission?"

  • Is your program involved in a quality improvement system that helps make decisions intentional?
  • Do all levels of staff filter decisions with the intentional question?

There is no doubt quality out of school time experiences make a difference for children. There is no doubt building a quality program involves time, patience, and resources. With the pressure from funding sources demanding more accountability, the tendency is to move toward compliance using checklists of quality indicators instead of deep, intentional efforts to grow quality. We face the danger of creating surface quality instead of a sustained culture of quality when this becomes the case. While surface quality appears to put best practices in place, programs lose traction with staff turn over, with key decisions that do not reflect value and purpose, or with the expansion of services. But when value, purpose, and intent permeate the program's culture, that program reaches a level of quality that is transformative for children. And that is exactly what millions of our communities' children need.

For breakfast I had cinnamon raisin oatmeal!

Published in Breakfast Club
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