The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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Simple and Radical Ways to Create Safe, Supportive, and Engaging OST Settings

simple and radical

For nearly two decades, Weiss and Akiva have been connected to the Neutral Zone, a creative arts and leadership center for teens in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Here, they talk about the importance of creating safe, supportive, and engaging OST settings by intentionally centering youths’ intrinsic motivation, supporting their developmental needs, and building youth–adult partnerships.


David, 15, came to the Neutral Zone almost daily, either doing homework in the drop-in space or drawing in the art room. He dressed very punk, complete with leather jacket, mohawk, and chain hanging from his wallet. David kept mostly to himself, head down, barely speaking with others and rarely making eye contact. Besides being an introvert, David is on the autism spectrum.

On Fridays, David started attending the weekly meeting of Riot Youth, the Neutral Zone’s LGBTQIA peer support and social justice program. Although he was quiet, David actively participated in everything from theater games to discussions and dialogues. When he spoke, he did so with a deep sense of understanding, compassion, and wisdom. What is interesting is that David doesn’t identify as LGBTQIA. He came just because he felt safe and supported in the group. He was so accepted and well-liked that the group nominated him to be a teen program facilitator, cementing his place as a highly engaged and invested contributor.

This is a story about acceptance, interactions, and, most of all, relationships. Li and Julian posit that developmental relationships are likely the “active ingredient” for youth program success. We root our chapter in three practical goals for developmental relationships: enabling youth to feel safe, supported, and engaged.

So how do out-of-school time (OST) programs set up relational settings that are safe, supportive, and engaging and that involve youth as partners? Creating such settings starts with practitioners’ existing strengths. It then requires their deliberate intention to support all youth, especially those who have been marginalized or minoritized. We present a short set of strategies to support and engage youth: centering youths’ intrinsic motivation, supporting youths’ developmental needs, and building youth–adult partnerships. 

Many of the ideas and examples in our chapter may come across as obvious or intuitive. Indeed, research supports the value of many of the strategies that seem natural to seasoned youth workers. The paradigm shift we’re calling for is to conduct these strategies with intentionality. Many practitioners already do this work, including the authors of the essays in this book. However, through intentionality, programs can instill more equitable practice. For example, in any given youth program, some young people will find ways to pursue activities they find intrinsically motivating. But this doesn’t mean the program supports intrinsic motivation for all youth. Only by intentionally designing experiences to support intrinsic motivation—by offering meaningful choices, opportunities for leadership, and so on—can programs provide this spark for all youth participants, including those who may be marginalized or simply less vocal. 

Intentionality is what marks youth work as a professional practice, built on and building from science. We call this a paradigm shift not because it is radically complex or difficult—human relationships are the stuff life is made of—but because it is uncommon. Building true youth–adult partnerships, in which young people have voice, choice, and power, is indeed a radical endeavor.

The paradigm shift we propose is simple, but revolutionary. And though it is revolutionary, it has broad global recognition. Consider Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, drafted by the United Nations in 1989 and signed by every country on the planet except the United States. This legally binding international agreement establishes the right of every young person to freely express their views “in all matters affecting” their lives, with the subsequent right for those views to be “given due weight in accordance with [their] age and maturity.” 

In essence, this means that young people have an internationally recognized right to have a voice in the spaces and systems that affect them. Article 12 can be a guiding star to spread our Youth-Driven Spaces movement in programs and agencies across the country. Through intentionally co-creating and shaping settings that are safe, supportive, and engaging, OST programs can be authentic partners with youth in working together toward more powerful and humane settings and systems that recognize young people as agents of their own destiny.



John Weiss served as the executive director of the Neutral Zone from 2005 to 2014; in 2015, he began leading its training and coaching work with other organizations as the director of strategic initiatives. Tom Akiva worked with Weiss in the development of the Youth-Driven Spaces approach and has conducted research projects with teens at the Neutral Zone. The above excerpt appears in the book The Heartbeat of the Youth Development Field: Professional Journeys of Growth, Connection, and Transformation.
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How Relational Cultural Theory Helps Us Understand the Transformative Power of OST


Below is an excerpt by Betsy Nordell, Ed.D., a NIOST master observer, from the book The Heartbeat of the Youth Development Field: Professional Journeys of Growth, Connection, and Transformation. The book was co-edited by NIOST Director Georgia Hall, Ph.D., Jan Gallagher, Ph.D., of Clear, Effective Communications, and NIOST Research Associate Elizabeth Starr, M.Ed. Here, Nordell talks about Relational Cultural Theory and how it can help us understand the transformative power of OST professionals.

Ideas we as youth development professionals now take for granted, such as the human need for connection, the value of empathy and compassion, and the power of positive relationships to foster growth, can be traced back to Jean Baker Miller and her seminal book, Toward a New Psychology of Women (1976). The book’s content, once viewed as dangerous, radically challenged prevailing ideas about human growth and development. 

Miller offered an alternative to the entrenched psychological models that articulated healthy human development as a process of increasing separation, autonomy, and independence. These models did not align with what Miller heard from her mostly female patients in her clinical practice. She sought to add the voice of women’s experience to psychological theory, identifying connection, empathy, and mutuality not as weaknesses or lower stages of development, but as strengths. Over time, through close collaboration with others, Miller’s beginning ideas evolved into the Relational Cultural Theory (RCT).

RCT views the expansion and deepening of healthy relationships as the markers and causes of human growth and development. We are social beings, built to function optimally in supportive groups. Gains in neuroscience have demonstrated this hardwired human need for relationships

How people are met by the world, every day and over time, also matters. As RCT scholar Maureen Walker states in her most recent book, "Our sense of place and purpose in the world is shaped not only by formative relationships but by the omnipresent cultural messaging that establishes standards of beauty, goodness, worth, values, and reality." RCT reminds us to carefully consider the ways the cultural context, with its established power dynamics, shapes and constrains relationships affecting everyone's growth and development.

RCT is a natural fit for the OST field in many ways. For one, the OST program environment tends to allow more time for relationship building than traditional classroom settings do. Researchers have found this opportunity to cultivate positive relationships is a significant draw for OST professionals; it helps fuel their strong passion for and commitment to their work. 

Youth workers’ genuine interest in forging strong bonds and creating a connected community pays dividends. The positive quality of adult-youth and youth-youth relationships affects the degree to which youth can set aside distractions, feel safe enough to fully engage, admit they do not understand something, and ask for help. RCT uses the term power-with to describe environments that intentionally support connection, empowerment, and growth. This dynamic arises when adults and young people alike strive to respect and acknowledge each person’s value, knowledge, and authentic capacity to contribute, while honoring different people’s needs and roles. 

In power-with OST environments, adults tap into youth experience, expertise, and interests and provide age-appropriate leadership responsibilities. RCT specifically identifies five good things that happen within, and are outcomes of, such growth-fostering relationships: 

1. Each person feels a greater sense of zest (vitality, energy).

2. Each person feels more able to act and does act.

3. Each person has a more accurate picture of themselves and the other person(s).

4. Each person feels a greater sense of worth.

5. Each person feels more connected to other person(s) and feels a greater motivation to connect with other people beyond those in one’s primary relationships.

Youth development professionals powerfully affect young people’s beliefs about who they are, what they can do, and who they can become. The research supports what is evident in the personal stories of youth workers in this volume: that their passion for positive relationships is the mechanism by which OST programs effect transformation.


Betsy Nordell, Ed.D., is a NIOST master observer. The above excerpt appears in the book The Heartbeat of the Youth Development Field: Professional Journeys of Growth, Connection, and Transformation.
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Creating and Supporting Pathways to Sustained Careers in Youth Work

Man leading afterschool program

Below is an excerpt by Nancy Peter, Ed.D., director of the McKinney Center for STEM Education at the Philadelphia Education Fund, from the book The Heartbeat of the Youth Development Field: Professional Journeys of Growth, Connection, and Transformation. The book was co-edited by NIOST Director Georgia Hall, Ph.D., Jan Gallagher, Ph.D., of Clear, Effective Communications, and NIOST Research Associate Elizabeth Starr, M.Ed. Here, Peter talks about the many pathways people take into youth work, and the need to support them with clear entry points, opportunities for advancement, fair compensation, and continuous professional development—no matter how they arrived in the field.


Youth workers are often described as “passionate.” They feel called to do the work, have a strong desire to serve or give back to their communities, and are committed to building positive relationships with youth. Most likely a conversation with a youth worker will quickly reveal their passion. This is corroborated by the research: surveys consistently show that this passion for the work is a strength of the field. The practitioner essays that make up this book give voice to this hard-to-describe quality—a passion, a calling, an artistry, the heart work. It is part of what makes this workforce unique. Moreover, it is part of what makes this workforce impactful. It is a true strength that can and should be articulated, celebrated, and leveraged. The aim of this book is to shine a spotlight on this strength.

This passion, though, is only one part of the picture of a strong workforce, and elevating it is only one part of our work as field-builders and leaders. It also needs to be supported. Critical foundational workforce supports—clear entry points, opportunities for advancement, fair compensation, and continuous professional development—are needed to sustain the energy and commitment the workforce brings.

Whichever pathway they take into the field, youth workers are similar to workers in any other field: they need to be supported with opportunities for professional growth and continual professional development

As the field struggles with recruitment, a longstanding issue exacerbated by the pandemic, we need to better understand the mechanisms by which people currently enter youth work. Like many of the youth practitioners in this chapter’s essays, I did not set out to become a youth work professional. In college, I majored in animal behavior because I loved animals. That love led me to volunteer at the local environmental education center—where I discovered a passion for education that has guided me ever since. I worked in environmental education, then in museum education, and then in a large city park. That’s when I realized I was also interested in work that affected people. I moved into children’s policy, out-of-school time programming, and positive youth development. Today, as director of the McKinney Center for STEM Education at the Philadelphia Education Fund, I no longer work directly with youth. Instead, I focus on professional development, curriculum development, and organizational capacity-building.

Whichever pathway they take into the field, youth workers are similar to workers in any other field: they need to be supported with opportunities for professional growth and continual professional development. A strong system is needed to provide this support, including the option of academic pathways, both access to credentials and higher education; career pathways tying experience, professional development, and formal education to advancement; and increases in compensation and benefits commensurate with experience and training.

Professional development is one specific workforce support that enables youth workers to develop their skills and knowledge and advance in the field. The practitioner authors in this book talk about their ongoing, meaningful professional development to scaffold growing competence and confidence, whether that means attending workshops and conferences, being mentored, or coached by a supervisor or colleague, participating in a peer learning community, or—for most—some combination of these.

In these essays, mid-career youth workers present their own compelling stories of their entries into the profession, their journeys up the career ladder, their successes, and the obstacles they have overcome. Several essayists emphasize how their own participation in youth programs influenced their eventual choice to work in such programs. Three of the five describe circuitous routes into the field. Only one entered college with the intention of getting a degree to support a career in youth work, though others mention college work along the way. For all five, their professional pathways took unanticipated twists and turns. Every one of them experienced on-the-job learning and professional development that ranged from formal opportunities to informal mentorships and coaching.

As a field, we must explore the ways in which career pathways are more available to some potential youth workers than to others. Then we can integrate ongoing research with our individual and collective stories to find ways to redress these fundamental inequities.


Nancy Peter, Ed.D., is the director of the McKinney Center for STEM Education at the Philadelphia Education Fund. The above excerpt appears in the book The Heartbeat of the Youth Development Field: Professional Journeys of Growth, Connection, and Transformation.

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The Lessons We Should Learn from Settlement Houses

Hull House in Chicago during the 1900sAs a country we seem to be moving far away from the nurturing and sustaining activity of the settlement houses of our past. The first settlement house, established in New York City’s Lower East Side – Neighborhood Guild – was founded by Stanton Coit, and just a few years later came Hull House in Chicago, materializing through the passionate vision of Jane Addams. Settlement houses were the cornerstone of communities as they over time took on the task of educating citizens, providing English language classes for immigrants, organizing employment connections, and offering enrichment and recreation opportunities to all in the neighborhood. A most significant beginning to the current child and youth development field, settlement houses provided childcare services for the children of working mothers. The Immigrants’ Protective League, The Juvenile Protective Association, The Institute for Juvenile Research, The Federal Children’s Bureau, along with Child Labor Laws can all trace back to the persistent national efforts of settlement house founders and advocates.

Today, the health and wellbeing of thousands of children are in peril.It has long been established in the field of child and youth development that caring relationships are key factors in the positive and healthy development of children and youth. Separating children from their primary caring relationship--their parents--is critically detrimental and traumatizing. To grow up healthy and be productive citizens of whatever community and country they attach to, children need to acquire, practice, and effectively apply the skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. Adolescents who were besieged by trauma as children cannot undertake successfully the daily tasks of growing-up. Nor can a hostile environment possibly support positive mental health and trust in adults, for even the youngest. The president of the American Academy of Pediatrics has suggested that “children torn from their parents experience serious short- and long-term health consequences.”

Decades of research in the child and youth development fields have made it clear that children need to be surrounded by appropriate structure, safety, supportive relationships, skill-building, high expectations, continuity, and predictability. It is imperative that we do not detach ourselves from these important tenets of caring for all children. We could use the more collective and holistic approach of the settlement house in our methods of organizing immigration. Former first lady, Laura Bush has asked, “In 2018, can we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis?” I believe we can and we must--immediately.

Georgia Hall, Ph.D., is director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time and associate director of the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. Hall specializes in research and evaluation on youth development programs, settings, and learning experiences.

 

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Back to School, This Time with Social and Emotional Learning

It’s back-to-school time and families, youth, and educators must adjust their schedules for another school year. In the midst of the forms and information families receive – or that get “lost” in a child’s backpack or locker – you may have heard something about a social and emotional learning (SEL) initiative or curriculum. In fact, the local school system in my rural, seaside community is convening a team of educators to consider how SEL can inform and improve what teachers are already doing to promote positive youth outcomes.

SEL refers to the way individuals learn and use a set of social, emotional, behavioral, and character skills to navigate successfully in school, work, and relationships across the lifespan. Related experiences, programs, and curriculum vary widely just like the school or afterschool settings in which they are taught. Whether the particular program is focused on conflict resolution, character education, bullying prevention, or another version of social skills instruction, the development of SEL programs is based on the consensus among social scientists, educators, and health care professionals that social and emotional skills matter. The positive youth outcomes from high-quality, evidence-based SEL programs include improvements in behavior, attitudes, and academic outcomes. (Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. B. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82(1), 405- 432).

Across the country at all levels of education – from state administrators of federal child care funds to infant-toddler and early childcare teachers or public school and afterschool leaders – a focus on SEL practices is gaining ground. For many, this is not a new conversation.

Here at the Wellesley Centers for Women, SEL has been an ongoing part of our work for the past thirty years.

  • In 1987, Open Circle was launched as a research project committed to the social and emotional wellbeing of children. Today, Open Circle provides a unique, evidence-based SEL program for grades K-5 aimed at proactively developing children’s skills for recognizing and managing emotions, positive relationships and problem solving, as well as helping schools develop a community where students feel safe and engaged in learning.
  • The National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) has brought national attention to the importance of children's out-of-school time using research, training, and advocacy to strengthen children's emotional, physical, and social development.

From my desk at NIOST, I’m starting the school year by working at the national, state, and local levels to support educators and administrators in their efforts to promote positive youth outcomes, especially in the expanding field of SEL. Specifically, I am researching the SEL programs that states are currently adopting in preparation for our forthcoming workshop for out-of-school time (OST) leaders on how to integrate these practices into school-age child care or other OST settings. As I do this work, my background as a former school committee member and education advocate means I can’t resist passing along the newest SEL information that comes across my desk to the regional school administrators in my community who are convening the SEL planning discussions for local schools.

If you want more information about SEL programs and practices, check out the Wallace Foundation’s May 2017 report, Navigating SEL from the Inside Out.

If you simply want to celebrate the importance and purpose of afterschool care for the wellbeing of children and families, consider joining the 18th annual Lights On Afterschool on October 26, 2017. This campaign includes a series of events across the U.S. promoting awareness of the many ways OST programs contribute to positive youth outcomes and children’s wellbeing.

If you have other ideas or resource recommendations for how SEL can be incorporated more into OST programming, please share in the comments. Let’s make this a rewarding year all-around for our young people and those who support them!

Gwynne Guzzeau, M.S., J.D., is a research associate at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. She has been affiliated with the Gestalt International Study Center for a number of years as a faculty member and Professional Associate and served as executive director from 2014-2016.

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A Week to Appreciate Afterschool Professionals – April 24-28

It’s Afterschool Professionals Appreciation Week! Perhaps we should back up - what is an Afterschool Professional? Maybe you call them staff, teachers, or care providers. There are many names for the same thing – someone trained to work with youth during out-of-school time.

This week is a chance to recognize the “professional” in Afterschool Professionals. We know that afterschool matters for kids, and that afterschool professionals impact the quality of that programming. Some fun facts:

  • Participation in afterschool programs consistently increased from 2004 to 2014, rising by nearly 2 million children from 2009 to 2014 alone. In 2014, 10.2 million children (18%) participated in an afterschool program.
  • Regular participation in afterschool programs has been shown to help narrow the achievement gap between high- and low-income students in math, improve academic and behavioral outcomes, and reduce school absences.
  • The Afterschool field has defined what it takes to provide quality afterschool programming. The National AfterSchool Association (NAA) has adopted a set of Core Knowledge and Competencies, and at least 24 states have their own versions.
  • Afterschool Professionals are well-educated. A recent NAA survey of its members found that 34% of staff surveyed reported having a Masters or Doctorate degree.

And some less fun facts:

  • Less than half of afterschool professionals surveyed have access to health insurance and 39% do not have any benefits (such as insurance, paid vacation, sick leave, retirement savings).
  • The field suffers from high turnover (with some estimates up to 40% annually), with pay cited as the number one reason people leave their job.

So how can you show your appreciation? The actions of this week should be twofold. First, express your individual appreciation for those in your community who work with youth – maybe your own children - afterschool. Give them a card with words of heartfelt thanks, bake them some muffins, say thanks. But don’t stop there. Second, take some time to appreciate the incredible contribution of afterschool professionals in improving youth academic, behavioral, and social emotional outcomes. Given the proposed budget cuts of the current administration, it seems an opportune time to also suggest you contact your representatives and let them know how much you support afterschool professionals (the Afterschool Alliance also has information to guide you).

This week is a chance to both thank Afterschool Professionals for keeping our kids safe and happy, and to think bigger about what it takes to be an afterschool professional and the huge positive impact they have on the lives of youth. So, to all the Afterschool Professionals, thank you!

Betsy Starr, M.Ed. is a research associate at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Her work focuses on professional development and system-building for the field of afterschool and youth development.

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Partnerships are Critical to Student Success

A group of students sitting together while reading books

The days are getting shorter, the air feels crisper here in the Northeast, and children everywhere are heading back to school -- a welcome return to routine and to the exciting possibilities of a new year, but still it’s hard to let go of summer. Fresh and sweet in our minds here at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) (and hopefully in many of your minds, too) are the unique joys of summer -- yes, popsicles and bonus hours of daylight, but also the special learning opportunities that summer brings.

Summer learning programs offer the chance to develop interests and skills, focus on social and emotional learning, and engage youth in positive ways. Summer learning programs can also offer an important strategy in closing the achievement gap between low-income children and their middle- and upper-class peers.

Luckily, these kinds of experiences do not need to be packed away with our shorts and flip flops. More and more, out-of-school time (OST) programs are partnering with schools to create amazing, year-round learning experiences for children and youth. At NIOST, we believe collaborations like these are a critical ingredient to student success, and we applaud the work they are doing to engage with children and youth throughout the year.

The U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) program, the only federal funding stream dedicated to afterschool, actually requires grantees to work in collaboration with schools. In practice, partnering with schools may simply mean that afterschool programs communicate student goals and learning needs with school staff, which is a great start.

Some programs, though, are going further -- modeling how a true partnership can produce positive youth outcomes. Through my work with the US Department of Education, I have had the pleasure of seeing such programs in action. For example, Rhode Island’s 21st CCLC grant supports an innovative Expanded Learning Opportunities (ELO) Initiative at Central Falls High School that allows students, driven by their interests, to earn academic credit in alternative ways. Students work closely with teachers and community members who provide hands-on learning either after school or in the summer. The students then create rigorous final products and do presentations to demonstrate their learning. Early data indicate that the approach is improving graduation rates.

Boston After School & Beyond (BASB) is a public-private collaboration that advances student learning through a coordinated approach to school and community partnerships. Through initiatives such as Advancing Quality Partnerships (AQP) and the Summer Learning Project, BASB empowers organizations that serve Boston Public Schools (BPS) students after school and in the summer to provide high-quality social and emotional learning opportunities and to communicate with schools about the skills students develop at their programs. NIOST has helped BASB investigate the nature and functioning of such relationships. Schools, community partners, youth, and families are finding value in these intentional partnerships.

One of the major strengths of partnerships like these is that they are able to leverage family, school, and community resources to chip away at nonacademic barriers to learning and healthy development. Schools are ill-equipped to assume this responsibility alone, and teachers often lack sufficient resources to address the various needs of their students, such as learning disabilities, mental health issues, family instability, negative peer influences, and poverty. The flexibility of the OST field, backed by its expertise in positive youth development, enrichment, and social and emotional learning, can help to fill these gaps in our school system by complementing and supporting traditional education. So, rather than expecting schools and teachers to do this work alone, collaborative partnerships with OST programs can be integral building blocks on the road to educational equity.

As summer comes to a close and school-year routines settle in, remember that not every part of summer will leave us. Thanks to the creative partnerships between schools and OST programs, many of our nation’s youth (and the staff at NIOST) are looking forward to the continuation of collaborative, year-round learning opportunities.

Betsy Starr, M.Ed.is a research associate at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Her work focuses on professional development and system-building for the field of afterschool and youth development.

 

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An OST Quality Case Study

Photo courtesy of MELC

My father-in-law used to say that getting old is not for the faint of heart. It takes a dogged determination to persevere while keeping on top of new issues that arise. I think the pursuit of quality in out-of-school time is similar. That effort is long-term and takes group effort, not just individual commitment. Just as there are services and doctors to help the aging, there are processes and assistance for those committed to improving quality in out-of-school time (OST) e.g. afterschool or summer programs. The process we promote at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) is “continuous quality improvement” (CQI) and our clinicians are “Quality Advisors” or QAs. The QAs are councilors who offer resources, tips, feedback, and guidance. They can be working internally but more often they are occasional visitors from outside.

To best illustrate the concept of doctoring or coaching the CQI process I’ll share a story from Veirdre Jackson, director of Professional Development Dimensions, at the Montgomery Early Learning Centers (MELC) near Philadelphia. Several years ago MELC embarked on a quality improvement initiative in OST programs serving youth kindergarten through sixth grade in three counties. To support this work, MELC received funding for professional development and curricula and received state supported quality advising tied to quality improvement. MELC targeted improving Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills as their overall goal and used the Assessment of Program Practices (APT) tool as their improvement gauge. The tool serves as both a baseline and a year-end measurement, but most importantly the scales are research-based best practices. The specific scales MELC looked at gave a rich picture of areas where staff should be supporting youth, building relationships, and guiding behavioral expectations. The results of the APT baselines gave a clear picture, for example, that routines were not working and wait time was excessive which led to disruptive behaviors and staff taking punitive measures in a cycle of frustration.

A group of young children playing togetherPhoto courtesy of MELC.This scenario is not uncommon in OST (and among anyone with children). Jackson says her trainings that address youth behavior are routinely sold out. OST staff are often part-time and enter this field from a wide variety of career backgrounds that may not offer experience and training in child development that school-day teachers who work with children systematically gain. With an increase in challenging behaviors and a decrease in the presence of self-regulation skills by youth, staff quickly become mentally exhausted and get trapped in the cycle of reacting instead of responding to behaviors.

With the results of the APT, the CQI process began with visits from QAs. The QAs gave feedback on the physical environment and how to make routines such as transitions flow more quickly and orderly. Primarily the coaching addressed interactions between staff and youth and guided staff to de-escalate rather than escalate situations. Staff who asked, “When are you going to work with the youth?” realized their emotional status and behavior were key to youths’ behavior. Staff shifted away from punitive tactics to understanding what’s happening in a situation and addressing that need. Additionally, curriculum was employed to provide staff with appropriate strategies, and individual youth received focused skill-building that was age appropriate. Staff realized that their own social emotional wellbeing helps them be their best and that in turn helps youth be their best.

This experience points to the structure behind CQI: setting goals, using data to drive an improvement plan, making program adjustments, and using resources that involve staff in carrying out the changes and being part of the solutions while keeping a focus on engaging and supporting youth. NIOST has been a leader in advancing quality work for more than three decades and provides all the elements needed to begin this work. Training is available including Quality Advisor, APT tool use (now online), and how to use data for program improvement. Resources for adopting a CQI process and engaging staff, parents, and schools are also available.

Last month, my colleague Betsy Starr wrote about the importance of professional development to attain quality in out-of-school time programs. It is gratifying to hear of the MELC work, to learn of professional development successes, and know that OST is making a significant contribution to improving the lives of children.If our Quality Advisors are our OST “doctors” then we need to make sure that all OST programs have access to this important care.

Kathy Schleyer, M.S. is the Director of Training at the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College(Video: Ellen Gannett, M.Ed., is director of NIOST; Photos: Courtesy of Montgomery Early Learning Centers.)

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Middle School Expanded Learning Opportunities: 20 Years and Growing

A few weeks ago we recognized Middle School Month--dedicated to re-emphasizing the importance of middle school programming and the unique developmental needs of adolescents. The National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST) has worked with many concerned educators and policy makers over the years to ensure that middle school children have quality opportunities.

Eric Schwarz, CEO and founder of Citizen Schools, has been one of the most dynamic partners in his work. Recently, he announced plans to step down from his role as the organization that serves low-income, at-risk middle school students approaches its twentieth anniversary. Back in the mid 1990s, specialized afterschool programs for middle school youth were virtually unknown. But Eric had a vision that paved the way for a not only a new area of programming, but a body of knowledge and research that stressed the importance of giving low-income middle school students the skills and access to learning experiences most middle class students and their families took for granted.

Eric and I met at NIOST in 1994, shortly before he launched Citizen Schools with his partner Ned Rimer. I remember clearly our conversation about the special needs of middle school students, often overlooked by leaders in the field who were mostly focused on elementary-level children. At the time, we looked to the leadership of The Center for Early Adolescence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, one of the few research organizations that focused on young adolescents. Their guidance on the needs specific to this age group helped to shape the early work of those of us who recognized this gap in the developing field of afterschool. They included*:

  • Physical Activity
    Competence and Achievement
    Self-Definition
    Creative Expression
    Positive Social Interactions with Peers and Adults
    Structure and Clear Limits
    Meaningful Participation

 

In 2014, an industry of programs and services exist that focus on middle school youth during their out-of-school time and expanded learning day. NIOST, now in its thirty-fifth year, has expanded its repertoire of scholarship, research-based tools and training to include middle school- (and high school-) level programs and continues to focus its work on the changing needs and concerns of youth ages, 5-18 years. In part we can thank visionaries like Eric Schwarz for his leadership and advocacy. Eric, best of luck in your future endeavors!

Ellen Gannett, M.Ed. is director of the National Institute on Out-of-School Time at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College.

*Planning Programs for Young Adolescents, Center for Early Adolescence, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 1987

 

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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