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Linda Kekelis

Linda Kekelis

Executive Director
Techbridge
Oakland, CA

blogger-2012

Linda Kekelis is Executive Director of Techbridge, a program that inspires girls in science, technology, and engineering.  With over 20 years’ experience designing and leading girls’ programs, Linda participates in advisory boards, collaborates with girl-serving organizations, and works with professional groups and corporate partners to promote females’ participation in science, technology, and engineering.  She conducts research, participates in national conferences, and writes, translating research into practical applications for educators, professionals, and parents. She has a doctorate in special education from the University of California, Berkeley.

How many programs are built with the best of intentions but don't deliver what participants need? How many times do we offer opportunities for families that we think they need and are disappointed because turnout is low?

Family 1I'm sharing one of our works-in-progress at Techbridge. We know how important participation in summer opportunities can be and want to do more than address summer learning loss. We want the girls in Techbridge to develop talents and explore new interests in STEM over the summer, which is why we actively encourage every girl to participate in at least one summer program. We have tried a number of strategies to support families to reach this goal, including identifying summer programs and offering workshops to help parents complete applications. This year we offered support for transportation to our summer academy. We were surprised when families didn't take us up on this offer, which we thought would address the barrier to their daughters' participation. We hadn't considered that a ride service might not be an option or that transportation wasn't the reason holding girls back.

Our lesson learned is that we don't know what we don't know about supporting families. This year, we are working to engineer a new model of family engagement. We are bringing girls and their families to the table to learn what they want and understand what resources will be helpful (or not). We are grateful to the Clorox Foundation that is investing in the potential of this approach for working and learning with families.

Our ultimate goal is to empower families – knowing that every parent can make a difference. We have seen from our own experience that the encouragement girls get from their families deeply influences their participation in our after-school programs and their access to other opportunities. We have heard from some parents that they don't feel qualified to advise their children. One father expressed concern that he could not help his daughter because he hadn't gone to college and didn't have fluency in English. I knew that he was making a difference. He took time off from work and rearranged his schedule to drive his daughter, which made it possible for her to participate in Techbridge. We want to empower parents like this father, and help them understand how they are making an importance difference. We also want to partner with them to provide support that will be most helpful and accessible to their interests and needs.

As we build our programs, let's be mindful and invite kids and families to the table – not ours, theirs. We need to meet them where they are comfortable, and listen to what they want and need. I've learned that we can't assume that we have the answers. We can't even assume we know the right questions to ask. But together we can learn from and with the youth and families in our communities.

Stay tuned for what develops from our work. I invite you to check in with Techbridge next summer to see what we have learned. We look forward to sharing with you new ideas for family engagement that will be informed and shaped by parents and girls.

For breakfast I had a breakfast burrito at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Regional Shoreline Park in Oakland, across the street from the Techbridge office. This is my last blog for the BOOST Breakfast Club. I am stepping down from my role as CEO and Executive Director at Techbridge in December. I am fortunate to have had a dream job that has been my life's calling. Over the past 15 years I have come to work each day eager to lead and learn with a team that is as passionate about equity and making a difference in the world as I am. As for what's next? I look forward to taking time off to relax with family and friends and explore options for what my "next chapter" will be.

When I write a blog it's usually when I've reached a point where I've figured something out, or at least enough about something to feel that I'm ready to share "what works." This time I am trying something different. I am writing because I have a question that I don't know the answer to and a challenge that I am trying to figure out.

We all have to administer paper work in our after-school programs. We need the families of our kids to complete applications for a variety of reasons—gather medical information, evaluate our work, ensure the safety of the kids in our programs, and secure funding. At Techbridge we are also involved in a project that requires institutional review board (IRB) approval, which adds even more paper work to the mix. What started out 15 years ago as a relatively short and simple process has grown into a longer and more complicated application process for the parents of the youth we serve.

BOOST 2

Today, we are looking to work with new partners in new communities. We are partnering with a new school this year and the experience is raising questions that we don't have the answers for. Our application process is proving to be a road block to the participation of many of the girls that we most want to serve. We have tried strategies including offering incentives for returning forms, but they aren't working. We have reached a point where until they bring in completed forms, girls can't continue in Techbridge. For fourth and fifth graders, this seems like a tough consequence for actions that are outside their control.

Our partner at the school welcomes our program and understands our need to get parent permission forms returned. She also shares that the challenge isn't just one for Techbridge, but across school and afterschool programs. I appreciate her support and also understand that these challenges make it harder and take more time for our Program Coordinator to support this program.

I have more questions than answers at this time and recognize that I have a lot to learn. I invite you to share with us your experience supporting afterschool programs in schools and communities that face significant challenges and experience economic hardships. How do we engage with the community to better understand the challenges and needs of families? What are you doing to make your application process family-friendly? What works and why? And just as important, what have you tried that didn't work and how did you adapt your process? Often, we share our "effective practices" all wrapped up tidily in a blog or article without information on how we arrived at our successes and what failures we learned from. I expect that some of the messy work that you faced getting through the challenges involved in working with school partners and families will help us.

For breakfast I had homemade chicken soup. My 88-year-young mother is visiting from Cleveland and keeping busy cooking and baking. I love her!

I was in a meeting recently and was offered a suggestion: to invite my staff to play back what they heard when we're having discussions to reduce the chance for misunderstandings. I appreciated this feedback because it was practical and addresses an area of growth for me. It was especially meaningful since the feedback was from someone whom I supervise. I know that it's not always easy to offer up constructive feedback to a supervisor.

Techbridge feedback

Feedback within an organization: Practice makes better
It takes determination and practice to make feedback part of the practice of our organizations. At Techbridge we encourage all staff to offer feedback on what is working well as well as areas in need of improvement. This goal came out of our recent performance review process in which areas for improvement surfaced. There were a smattering of challenges described in peer and supervisor reviews that had not been shared between supervisors and staff during the year. Next year, we don't want any surprises or missed opportunities for making changes and improving practices with more timeliness.

We recognize that while giving more and better feedback is a goal, it is a work in progress at Techbridge. Jane MacKenzie, Chair of our Board of Directors, offered up her help and hosted training for our staff. Jane is General Manager for Global Workforce Development at Chevron and she shared research and encouraged us to role play and practice some of the strategies she recommended. We know that a one-time training isn't enough and plan to revisit our staff needs for additional training later in the year.

Feedback to partners: Regard it as a gift
Offering feedback is also important for the partners we work with. We introduce our girls to role models who dispel stereotypes and inspire our girls in science, technology, and engineering. They come to our after-school programs and host field trips. Knowing how to be an effective role model is not something one learns in college or on the job. In order to support their success, it is important for us to share feedback with role models. At the start our staff wanted to focus only on the positive since role models were volunteering their time. While we want to recognize and reinforce what role models get right, it is important to note where role models (and Techbridge) can improve. We've learned that while it may be hard at first, it is important to engage in candid discussions with role models.

Looking at feedback as a gift instead of an indication of a shortcoming is a perspective that helps guide us. It helps to set up the expectation from the start that follow-ups are part of successful partnerships and feedback supports program improvement. Starting these conversations by asking partners for their help on what they think can be improved makes it easier to share feedback on how they can also improve. Everyone wants to help when they are asked. Quality feedback makes for lasting partnerships. With practice and training it does get easier to provide feedback.

Matt and Martha

Techbridge's Top Ten Tips for Making Feedback Part of our DNA:

1. For most of us, feedback can sometimes be hard to give and receive. Provide training so that everyone in your organization gets more comfortable and more skilled. It takes practice and with time will become easier and more effective. It helps to remember that we are all works-in-progress.

2. Make it timely. When you see or hear something that you want to reinforce, let your staff know what they have successfully accomplished. Be specific on what made their behavior effective. Did they walk around the classroom and make sure that all kids were engaged with hands-on materials? Did they demonstrate growth in giving directions and managing behavior since your last visit?

3. In instances when you can't provide immediate feedback, find the next appropriate moment to share your comments. Or, send a quick email or write a note that captures your insights and can serve as the basis for a discussion the next time you meet.

4. Techbridge after-school programs end with shout outs. We learned this from one of our program coordinators. Our girls share out and acknowledge and appreciate the actions of others. They note the partner who helped them work through a design challenge, the teacher who encouraged them to persevere, or the role model who visited their school. We brought this practice back to our office and end team meetings with shout outs. Help with a weekend family event, review of new curriculum, and success in managing a challenging partnership are examples of shout outs that appreciate the collective efforts of our team.

5. Find out the preference for how each staff wants to receive feedback. Each of us is different. A private note may be more appropriate for some. A public remark during a meeting may work better for others.

6. For managers, make it a standard practice to ask a question during check-ins to make sure that they are providing feedback to their direct reports. Ask them for an example of when they provided feedback on successful work and when they provided input on a skill that needed improvement.

7. Positively reinforce feedback. When someone offers up feedback, thank them for caring enough to offer a suggestion on how to improve. This is particularly important for supervisors since it can be intimidating to offer constructive feedback to someone with more authority.

8. Managers, give your team a box of thank-you notes to support their giving of feedback. Let them know that you will be checking back to make sure they use them up in a timely way.

9. We invite partners to visit our programs and see us in action. We ask that they follow up with feedback. We learned this effective practice from Galileo Learning. In advance of a visit to one of their trainings, Glen Tripp, CEO and Founder, requested that we share at least one piece of constructive feedback with him. We liked the idea so much that we stole it!

10. Random acts of feedback are demonstrations of caring. They help us thrive in our work. The benefits go round and round. The person who receives feedback feels better and becomes more effective at the job. The person who provides the feedback feels good and knows that she or he is cultivating leadership within.

For breakfast today, I had coffee and granola. I shared breakfast over a phone call with Elizabeth Hodges, who is Executive Director in our Greater Seattle office. We may be in different cities, but we share a common commitment to inspiring the next generation of innovators and leaders. In these calls, we can offer input to one another and work on our feedback muscle.

At Techbridge we host a book club that gives us a chance to make time to read and come together to talk about research. We don't always agree on the subject matter, but the book discussions always get us thinking about how we approach our work with kids and with one another. Our last read was Quiet. In her best seller, Susan Cain shares research and personal experiences about the continuum of extroversion-introversion and how the trait can impact engagement and performance at work and school.

Quiet got me rethinking how we support the girls in our after-school programs and how we work at Techbridge. Here are some of my take-aways from the book for our work with kids in our after-school programs.

1) One third to one half of us are introverts yet there is some bias in our culture towards extraverts. Research shows that those who are talkative are more likely to have the chance to present their ideas and more likely to be perceived as competent. As we plan activities, let's stop and think about how we can encourage kids—and especially the introverts—to get their fair share of time and attention so they can fully engage in every part of the lesson.

2) Introverts and extroverts have different preferences for levels of stimulation. We can value both types of learning styles and create sweet spots for introverts and extroverts. In cooperative projects, we can be mindful of the demands placed on introverts and keep some space and time for individual work, especially at the start of a project.

3) It helps when kids know their roles in group activities. Clearly defined goals can help introverts take an active role and not get overshadowed by those more extroverted. With thoughtfulness, role assignment can gently nudge introverts to take on more active roles and extroverts to be more reflective.

4) Despite years of research on what works (and what doesn't), we're still setting up brainstorm situations in ways that are likely to be less productive. Invite kids to think about the project at hand and brainstorm on their own in advance of sharing in a group. With time to think kids are likely to generate more useful ideas and introverts are more likely to have the chance to add their ideas in the mix.

5) Many of the projects we introduce in our after-school programs ask kids to work with others. Sometimes kids get to choose who they work with while other times we assign partners. We have heard from some of our girls that they appreciate moving outside their comfort zone and working with others. These opportunities help kids go beyond their circle of friends, grade level, racial group, ability level, or place on the introversion-extroversion continuum.

6) Explain why it's important to learn to work with others and why you do social engineering. From our experience we found it helpful to explain to kids and parents. We promote teamwork to prepare our girls for what's ahead in high school, college, and the work place.

7) Working collaboratively can also create challenges. Some pairs find that two minds are better than one. These groups jump in and share ideas that build upon one another's efforts. They quickly try out their plans and when their first design fails—as they typically do—the girls step back and discuss how they can improve upon the redesign. In contrast, others just can't seem to figure out how to work together. Through trial and error, we have learned lessons to reduce these challenges and help more of our girls to work together with success.

8) At the end of the afternoon, allow time for kids to reflect in ways that support introverts and extraverts. Give everyone a post-it and invite them to share an idea they learned or a question they want to pursue. Collect and discuss them at the end or start of your program.

9) Help parents appreciate their child for who they are and offer strategies to support their child's strengths.

Our discussion around Quiet also gave us food for thought on our workspace and how we work at the office.

1) The open space concept is very popular, yet research suggests a different approach may work better. Top performers have workplaces that provide the most privacy, personal space, and freedom from interruption. Excessive stimulation and frequent interruptions can reduce productivity. Places with the optimal work environments offer a mix of personal and private quiet areas where staff can focus on individual projects and work alone along with casual meet-up areas where folks can brainstorm and share work in progress without interrupting others. This arrangement allows people to choose when and how much they want to collaborate. The set-up also accommodates for differences among introverts and extroverts. While it may not be possible to totally reconfigure an office, it is possible to reimagine elements within the office.

2) Some of our staff have jobs that bring frequent interruptions and interactions with others. They have been encouraged to create systems that let others know when they need quiet and uninterrupted time. A stop sign, a cartoon, or closed door gives them permission to have quiet time when they need it and to let others know when to hold off on a request or question.

3) Meetings are an important and frequent part of our work day. We are trying to be more mindful of differences among staff and support the inclusion of ideas from everyone during meetings and project planning. From Quiet, we learned that we can create opportunities for introverts to participate by inviting them in advance to present an idea or project update. With time to prepare they will be able to think about and rehearse their contribution. Another idea we are trying is asking staff to brainstorm by themselves and compiling their ideas for group discussion. This gives everyone time to contribute and reflect in advance. Not only does this encourage introverts but it also makes for more productive discussions.

I encourage you to read Quiet and think about how you support the introverts and extroverts in the work you do. What did you learn from the research? Do you disagree with any messages in the book? I invite you to share your experiences.

By the way, I had breakfast this Sunday morning here at the Techbridge office. I find that the quiet and uninterrupted time allows me to write and think about where I want to go during the week.

A holiday toy catalog arrived with Sunday's paper. I eagerly checked out the offerings for this season. I have three nieces, ages 3-9, and am looking for holiday gifts that will inspire them—toys that are educational and lots of fun. I was disappointed but not surprised by how gender stereotyped the toys are. Do all girls like pink, princesses and fairies, and dolls to accessorize? You might think so from the selection offered. While there were lots of construction toys for boys, the offerings for them were not all together positive. Many of the "boy toys" looked like weapons and were modeled by boys in combative stances.

I am going to pass on the holiday Barbie and the princess klip klop stable and get my nieces some cool science and tinkering toys. I've seen how toys like these can turn a kid on to a new interest and possibly a lifelong passion that leads to a career in science or engineering. My son suggests that he was "brainwashed" into becoming an engineer by the toys we got him. In fact, he is an engineer. I think he like what he does, although you'll have to ask him. I hope my son was kidding about the brainwashing; but I confess that we did provide many opportunities for him to explore engineering from an early age with buckets and buckets of LEGOs, visits to museums, and unconditional support for his tinkering endeavors.

Last week I visited one of our after-school programs at a middle school in Oakland. The girls were creating circuits and making lights flash and alarms sound. When it was time to put away the Snap Circuit kits one of the girls asked where she could get them. She had a learning disability, which did not get in the way of her enjoyment and success. The activity involved open-ended exploration with a partner and allowed time to work through challenges at one's own pace. While science during the school day may offer fewer of these opportunities, in after school she is encouraged to manage her own exploration. I hope that this girl gets her own set of Snap Circuits.

How can we increase the likelihood that our students will get the encouragement to continue to pursue the interests that get sparked after school? While some students continue the conversations about what they learn after school over the dinner table, many don't. We learned from our families that they are eager for updates on activities offered in after school programs and on what's to come. They want ideas that they can follow up on. When parents know more about the projects in which their kids are engaged in after school, they can talk about and follow up with activities that build upon their child's interest.

Do families wait outside your after-school program at pickup time? We can make families feel welcome and encourage them to come in. When there's a special activity planned, invite families to drop by early and participate. One afternoon when an alumna visited one of our after-school programs she brought a model of a motor she had built when she was in high school. While all our girls were interested in the project, the person in the room who was most fascinated was a mother! Check out the Harvard Family Research Project for more ideas to support family involvement.

With winter break coming up shortly, it's the perfect time to share ideas that families can engage in. Parents can make a difference in their child's future through the toys and activities they provide. Do you have a newsletter for families? We are sending home ideas for holiday gifts like Snap Circuits to support engagement in science and engineering.

Suggestions don't need to be only about toys but can also include experiences for families to engage in. There are lots of opportunities to explore science at science and tech museums. From interactive exhibits to hands-on projects, museums offer families a day to connect and share a common experience. Look in your community for events coming up and for opportunities that are free or low cost. Many museums offer special days where families can visit for free.

Here are additional ideas to help families jumpstart their engagement with science and engineering. They can generate fun at home and may help spark a child's interest in becoming a product engineer, computer scientist, or CEO of a tech startup.

  • Snap Circuits are a simple and safe introduction to how circuits work. This kit includes everything you need—speakers, snap wires, LEDs, lamp sockets, and motor—to make fun projects.
  • Building sets including traditional favorites like LEGOS and erector sets along with new offerings like Roominate and GoldieBlox promote imagination.
  • With so much technology in our lives, it's great to sit back and spend time reading books together as a family. Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty introduce girls and boys to the idea that engineering and architecture are fun pursuits.

My breakfast got a boost this morning because I shared it with a member of the Techbridge team. We enjoyed French toast, eggs, and hash browns. Our breakfast came with a fist bump from the owner—a unique welcome. It was nice to connect on a personal level away from the office and share thoughts and feelings beyond work. I am hoping to do this regularly with staff.

The favorite part of my job is getting out of the office to visit after-school programs. I see that kids really do like science and engineering when given the chance to jump into hands-on projects and explore questions that interest them. What has surprised me is seeing the difference in how kids approach challenges in after-school programs. Engineering design challenges can be a great way for kids to experience the practices that scientists and engineers engage in. They start with a real world problem and allow kids to work out the solution without step-by-step directions. They promote testing and redesigning at least once, if not more times. I have been amazed to see kids hunker down and stay focused for however long it takes to get their design to work. I recently saw a girl scrap an idea and start all over again, and while I experienced some remorse watching her redo all the work she had put into her project, she seem satisfied with the process and worked until she succeeded. I've seen other kids quickly give up in defeat. They explain they didn't like the activity, or try to bend the rules to get by without doing the work required to really succeed. I hadn't understood why kids differ so much in their involvement in the same project, but now wonder if it's how they view their ability and approach learning.

I had the opportunity to hear Carol Dweck talk about her research on growth mindset at the National Council for Women and Information Technology (NCWIT) Summit. She shared how our mindset affects our approach to learning. With a fixed mindset, we want to look smart at all costs. With a growth mindset, we want to learn at all costs. Our mindset affects how we experience and interpret effort. With a fixed mindset, you expect success to come naturally, so having to expend a lot of effort makes you feel stupid. In contrast, a growth mindset helps you understand that effort is necessary and failure just means that more work is needed. How might this play out for kids involved in STEM after-school programs? Those kids I observed who gave up on design challenges in the face of setbacks might have been afraid of not looking smart. Kids with a fixed mindset hide deficiencies, blame someone else for their failures, or just give up. Going back to engineering design challenges, it's kids with a growth mindset who are prepared to do the work to get their work right.

So where do our mindsets come from? The kinds of praise and attention we received early on can affect how we regard intelligence and respond to challenges. The good news is that it's possible to change one's mindset. Sharing this information with kids is an important first step towards supporting their growth mindset. Imagine that you had heard, "You can grow your intelligence" when you struggled in algebra class, bombed a high-stakes test, or got rejected from the college of your first choice? How might things have turned out differently for you?

Let's monitor the messages we send kids. Haven't all of us tried to help and said something like, "That's really good. You're so smart at this." We thought we were bolstering the confidence of a student who could use support. Feedback like this might come easily, but we want to step back and reconsider how praise can sometimes backfire. Here are some suggestions from Dweck that you might offer next time kids are working on a science experiment or trying a new technology in an after-school program.

"Let's do something we can learn from."
"Let's try something fun, hard, and challenging."
"The more you practice the smarter you become."

It's especially important to consider the messages we send girls. In the areas of STEM, girls are more likely to be impacted by how confident they feel about the subject matter. Dweck's work reveals that girls avoid subjects like math that they think they might fail. Focus feedback on the process. Also, encourage girls to work on projects that let them experience challenges in small doses. For additional ideas on how to encourage girls check out Giving Good Praise to Girls.

I have a confession to make. I think I have a split mindset—a growth mindset when it comes to others, and a fixed mindset when it comes to me. I'm trying to move into recovery and practice the steps to embrace challenges and celebrate failure. I know I will be a better Executive Director by recognizing the effort of myself and staff, leaning in to challenges, and welcoming failure in small doses. Failure doesn't mean I'm an imposter, just that I'm learning and need practice to master new skills. I am working with my team to bring the message into our staff development and planning for next year's after-school programs.

I encourage you to read Mindset. The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck and find ways to bring her research to your work with kids and staff.

For my breakfast, I'm having leftovers from my favorite Thai restaurant in Oakland. Curry is a great way to start the day.

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.

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"I made a new friend today," a girl enthusiastically shared as she and her fifth grade peers cleaned up after making polymers. These girls come together once a week and work through science and engineering activities in an afterschool program hosted by Techbridge. We challenge them to work with students that they don't know and measure success when we see them supporting each other. It's a sign that afterschool programs are not only fostering and expanding opportunities for youth to learn, but building their confidence in a positive environment.

In America today, 1 in 4 youth — 15 million children — are alone and unsupervised after school. In our community—Oakland—afterschool programs served over 20,000 students in 2011-12--58% of youth. What about the 42% who are without support and supervision? Youth in afterschool programs demonstrate positive benefits including improvements in their school-day attendance rates, better social interaction with peers and adults, and increased safety during the hours of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Each October, 1 million Americans and thousands of communities nationwide celebrate Lights On Afterschool to shine a light on the afterschool programs that keep kids safe, inspire them to learn, and help working families.

Programs like Techbridge are making a difference by providing a safe place for youth to make new discoveries, develop leadership skills, and explore new interests. Techbridge was launched in 2000 to inspire girls in science, technology, and engineering. In afterschool and summer programs, Techbridge girls design their own video games, program mobile apps that they can share with friends, and create biofuel solutions that power a light bulb. Through projects like these, the girls work with tools, troubleshoot, and develop confidence and perseverance that serve them well in their academic and career paths. They also learn to work in teams and develop public speaking skills. Techbridge serves 500 girls annually in afterschool programs in grades 5-12, primarily working in under-resourced communities. Evaluation results demonstrate the program's success: girls show increased confidence in technology, greater knowledge about careers in engineering, and stronger interest in careers in science, technology, and engineering.

Celebrate Lights On Afterschool with us Oct. 18, 2012. You can expand the benefits of afterschool programs and show your support in a number of ways:

As a parent, check out your school, community center, or local museum for an afterschool program for your child. Explore what programs are available in the community that you can help bring to your child's school. Make time to arrive early so that you can see what is going on afterschool at your child's program and meet the staff. Show your interest and ask your child about the projects he/she brings home.

As an engaged neighbor, make a call to your local school and find out what resources the afterschool programs need. Don't let the lack of materials prevent your neighborhood school from offering science and engineering activities after school.

Get involved and volunteer your time. Ask a school near work or home if you can lead an activity and serve as a role model. Better yet, organize a group of co-workers to volunteer with you and support afterschool programs. Role models often share how much more inspired they are after they volunteer with youth.

Help fund afterschool programs in your community. Not every family can afford enrichment opportunities after school. Resources we provide our children now will inspire them to give back to their community later.

Show your political support and vote for measures that fund afterschool programs. Let your local politicians know the value of these programs. Wouldn't it be great, if all children had a safe place to spend their time and develop new talents and interests after school?

Together we can keep the lights on in all our schools so that every girl and boy can participate in an afterschool program. America's got talent. Together we can inspire the next Top Engineer or Computer Scientist who just needs a little help from supportive adults and enriching experiences in an afterschool program.

Techbridge offers hands-on science and engineering opportunities for girls and partners with Bay Area school districts to encourage youth to experience science in a fun, informal way. Find out how you can create experiences to spark the engineer and scientist in youth in your community at www.techbridgegirls.org.

Find out more about Lights On Afterschool and ways to support afterschool programs at the Afterschool Alliance.

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