By Sam Piha
We have known for decades that promoting young people’s sense of physical and emotional safety is foundational for any expanded learning program. This has been reinforced by research on the brain, learning, and trauma-informed practice and is the number one quality standard created by state and national entities.
The knowledge about the importance of safety in expanded learning programs is so ubiquitous that we chose to not include it in our LIAS learning principles. However, recent events at the southern border has shined a light on the importance of promoting young people’s sense of safety.
Below, we share text from a chapter on promoting safety from the Community Network for Youth Development’s Youth Development Guide: Engaging young people in after-school programming.
FIVE THINGS YOU CAN DO NOW TO INCREASE SAFETY
1. Develop group agreements regarding safety and regular group meetings to ensure that everyone feels physically and emotionally safe.
Conduct a meeting with the program participants early on to express the commitment that in your program “every person has the right to feel safe, included, and accepted.” Ask participants to define what these terms mean to them, and what agreements and rules they want to make to ensure the right of safety. Decide together what happens when the safety agreements are broken. Train young people in a process to resolve differences and decide at what point an adult should be asked to intervene.
2. Institute a regular group or “community” check-in meeting.
If issues of safety and relationship building are important, set aside a regular time for the group to reflect on their experience in the program and to suggest ways in which the peer group can work together even better. Make room in the meeting for people to share appreciations for their peers who are contributing to making the program a positive, safe place. [See previous LIAS blog posts on this topic.]
3. Include “no put-downs” in your group agreements.
When developing group agreements with young people, a request for a “no put- down” rule will usually surface early in the discussion. [Note: for those preferring an alternative agreement avoiding the negative "NO", try “respect yourself and others”. This is a broad agreement and needs to be “unpacked” with the participants.]
It is important to discuss with the young people how everyone will support its enforcement. This takes real commitment, as many young people have learned to use “put-downs” as a defense against being hurt themselves. Adult staff members will have to follow through with great consistency, offering reminders that ask members to hold to this agreement, especially in the beginning. Take every slur you hear seriously, even if it is in a teasing tone or participants claim it is okay. It is not okay because slurs hurt. It is helpful to hold group discussions or activities around “put-downs”, why they hurt, and what we can do instead. As young people come to trust that you will enforce this policy, you will see a reduction in the number of “put-downs”, and the sense of safety in the program will grow. Learning the benefits of interacting without this kind of hurtful behavior at an early age teaches young people a profound lesson in the value of mutual respect.
4. Assess the cultural, gender, ethnic, and family structure background of your group.
Without asking unnecessarily probing questions, do what you can to learn who is in your program. Do the staff members and volunteers reflect these backgrounds? Do images and books in the classroom? Program activities and celebrations? Are there differences in who comes to program, who participates in which activities, which parents feel welcome at events?
5. Expand the group’s knowledge of particular groups and cultures.
Start by educating yourself. Avoid tokenizing young people or others in your program or school by asking them to explain their culture. Instead, go to the library, look on the internet, attend local cultural events, and call or visit organizations promoting equity for the group you are researching. Learn what you can about the history, art, literature, music, food, celebrations, and struggles of a culture or group. Then help the young people in your program study different cultures and celebrate the contributions of different groups. You might learn about women, people of color, and gay people who have contributed to your neighborhood. Celebrate various holidays as they are celebrated in different countries. Celebrate Black History Month, Women’s History Month, Gay Pride Month, or Cesar Chavez’s Birthday. Young people can present what they’ve learned, and adults may be willing to share food, decorations, or music. Don’t make assumptions about what any particular person might share. Be sure that these celebrations are part of an ongoing process of inclusion and education, and that some groups aren’t just segregated to certain “diversity days.”
By Sam Piha
In expanded learning programs, we are seeking to learn the effects of childhood trauma and design programs that integrate trauma informed practice. Thus, we were horrified by the Trump Administration’s practice of “zero tolerance” which inflicts trauma on children and youth.
Below, we post a statement by our colleagues at the Forum for Youth Investment on this topic. We have also published several LIAS blog posts on the issue of immigration and young people.
The Forum for Youth Investment stands with our partners and peer organizations in expressing deep concerns over the Trump administration's immigration policy and its impact on children and families.
On June 20, President Trump issued an Executive Order to reverse his administration's policy of separating children from their parents. The "zero tolerance" policy that separated more than 2,300 children from their parents was inhumane and unjustifiable, but the approach that is likely to replace it is only a small improvement and falls far short of what we should demand of our nation.
In particular, the policy to allow indeterminate detention of entire families is morally indefensible. It is also counter to everything that science tells us about child and youth development, health and well-being and the impact of trauma on young brains. As many physicians' associations have noted, these children are experiencing trauma that will likely follow them for the rest of their lives.
Therefore, we implore the Trump administration to move swiftly to end this inhumane practice and to focus on reunifying separated children with their families as quickly as possible. We also strongly advocate for the President to work with bipartisan congressional leaders to craft just and responsible long-term immigration solutions that have at their center the health and well-being of children, young people and their families.
Please visit SparkAction's Immigration Resources page for more resources and actions to take.
By Sam Piha
Milbrey McLaughlin has been a leading thinker, researcher, and advocate on youth development, out-of-school time youth programs, and community schools for decades. Dr. McLaughlin teaches at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education and is Founding Director of Stanford’s John W. Gardner Center.
Dr. McLaughlin recently released a new book entitled, You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: The Power of Opportunity to Change Young Lives. Below are her responses to a few questions regarding her work.
Q: Can you say a few words about the subject of your new book and why you decided on this?
A: My 1994 book Urban Sanctuaries chronicled the successful youth outcomes associated with CYCLE (Community Youth Creative Learning Experience), a neighborhood-based youth program operating in Chicago’s notorious Cabrini-Green housing project. CYCLE provided the high-poverty black youth growing up there with concrete alternatives to gangs and school failure, occasions to experience life outside the four square blocks of their dense neighborhood, and opportunities to imagine futures different from the concentrated poverty they saw around them.
While Urban Sanctuaries documented participants’ encouraging outcomes in the early 1990s, it could say little about whether these positive attitudes and behaviors could or would be sustained over time given the powerful challenges of poverty and negatives of life in Cabrini-Green. You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: The Power of Opportunity to Change Young Lives follows up with around 700 CYCLE participants 30 years later and provides a rare opportunity to see the long-term impact of a youth program on their lives, and the lives of their children.
CYCLE had remarkable success in enabling Cabrini-Green’s low income, African-American youth to make it through high school and move into positive adult lives. In a community where around 30% African-American females and less than 20% of African-American males graduated from high school, and where gang membership and early pregnancies were the norm, CYCLE participants’ accomplishments are extraordinary. Around 90% of the youth involved in CYCLE’s scholarship programs and other activities during the 1980s graduated from high school. They subsequently achieved careers such as educators, doctors, office workers, social workers, managers, youth leaders, tradesmen and law enforcement officers. Many attained success in higher education. In addition to earned Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees, CYCLE participants from the 1980s include 11 doctorates, 2 MDs, and MAs in programs such as architecture, social work, education, and business.
Today, CYCLE alums have stable jobs, families and friendships; they are active in their communities and in their children’s lives. And, a majority of their children are high school graduates headed for higher education.
Q: What were the key takeaways?
A: There were several:
Q: Were there any findings that you were surprised by?
A: Interviews, alums’ personal friendship networks and social media provided information about the lives of more than 700 CYCLE alums. Although I expected to hear many reports of alums’ rewarding personal and professional lives, I found the extent of these positive life accounts stunning. All but a handful of CYCLE participants enjoy productive middle class lives today, and former participants credit CYCLE for this success. CYCLE represents an extraordinary return on investment!
Q: Several years ago, you led qualitative research on the San Francisco Beacons. To conduct this research, you hired youth ethnographers. This was very unusual at the time. Why did you choose to conduct research in this way and what were the benefits?
A: It seemed to me that youth would be especially perceptive observers of Beacon activities and contexts, as well as effective interviewers of youth about their Beacon experiences--better in many instances than Stanford researchers and graduate students! Stanford researchers interviewed youth and staff, observed, and reviewed record data as part of the Beacons research. The youth ethnographers’ reports and perceptions brought important ‘validity’ and insight to our work. In several instances youth ethnographers pointed out features of program settings we did not see or fully understand—particularly around staff/youth interactions. For instance, youth ethnographers considered the Beacon center that the quantitative [survey] research deemed ‘best’ not all that attractive. They preferred the Beacon center that quantitative research deemed disorganized; it was their choice because they found it welcoming and supportive in ways the other more by-the-schedule Beacon was not.
Q: In 1994, you wrote a book entitled Urban Sanctuaries, in which you describe how urban leaders create and sustain youth programs in spite of enormous challenges. Based on what you've seen and learned since then, have any of your views changed or been altered?
A: When we began the research that led to Urban Sanctuaries in the mid-1980s, the term “positive youth development” was not widely in use among youth practitioners, if at all. Greg Darnieder, CYCLE’s founder, certainly had never heard of it! Thirty years ago, successful out-of-school programs like CYCLE generally were the work of committed, passionate individuals like Greg. Little organized support existed to foster systems or networks dedicated to providing or expanding youth development opportunities. The advice offered in Urban Sanctuaries to create more CYCLES was “go find a wizard!” Today, however, many more resources are available to promote and enable effective OST programs. This encouraging development changes my recommendation about how to enable more effective youth programs from ‘go find a wizard,’ to advocacy for efforts that coordinate youth-focused funding streams and resources within and across local, state and federal policy systems, and so provide productive system contexts for those wizards and the youth they serve.
Milbrey McLaughlin, Ed.D. is the David Jacks Professor of Education and Public Policy, Emerita, at Stanford University and the Founding Director of the John W. Gardner Center for Youth and Communities. She also is Co‑Director of the Center for Research on the Context of Teaching, an interdisciplinary research center engaged in analyses of how teaching and learning are shaped by teachers’ organizational, institutional, and social‑cultural contexts.
McLaughlin has focused throughout her career on the various institutional contexts and policies that shape youth outcomes—schools and community-based institutions most particularly. The Gardner Center embodies McLaughlin’s interest in identifying and understanding the cross-institutional issues that shape with settings within and through which youth move, and in advancing a youth sector stance to inform policy and practice.
By Sam Piha
The use of mindfulness techniques with young people have been shown to promote social emotional skills (self-awareness, emotional regulation, social awareness, and empathy, etc.). For years now, they have been used by schools and expanded learning programs. Mindfulness techniques are also being used to promote self-care for adults in stressful jobs (youth workers, health workers, and others).
For some, these techniques are about relaxation, self-care, and time to regain calm. For some, they involve awareness of breath or more formal lessons on meditation.
For others, this sounds too “touchy-feely” or "religious" for expanded learning programs. We disagree and have created a 16-week curriculum for use with young expanded learning program participants and have offered trainings for school districts and county offices of education across California.
Below is a guest blog from an afterschool worker describing her use of mindfulness techniques in her program.
My name is Erika Chavez. I am currently 22 years of age. I have been an after school academic instructor for the POWER program at Pioneer school for 3 years now. I am also in the process of becoming a certified Holistic Health Coach.
I am deeply passionate about bringing awareness concerning health and complete overall wellness to those around me, whether it is through social media, events, or in my classroom. My vision is to someday be able to start a movement that encourages and inspires a balanced and an all-round healthy lifestyle - physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Mindfulness is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s own awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
I have been practicing mindfulness with my students for 3 years now. It all began with a pretty Fiji water bottle full with gold glitter. You see, I needed a visual way for my students to understand what mindfulness was and the purpose it had. So, I showed them the still water bottle with the glitter resting at the bottom of it. I asked them if they were able to see through the water bottle and of course their response was “yes” since the water was clear and calm.
After I shook the entire water bottle, I then asked them again, “can you see through the water bottle now?” They all responded “no” with such wonder in their eyes. I then explained to them how that water bottle was our brain and the glitter represented our thoughts. When I introduced mindfulness to them, I explained how it was a powerful tool to help us calm that glitter down in our brains so that we could be able to clear our waters in order to make wise decisions. They then understood how it all worked and they were all motivated to calm their glitter. [See "Just Breathe" video].
I had them all lay down on the floor with their eyes closed and focused on their breathing. I then played a children’s guided meditation and they followed… sure enough there was one or two students who couldn’t stay calm but what’s new, right? However, with lots of patience and understanding, those few students who couldn’t seem to settle down began to slowly sink into the activity. I must admit, seeing all my students laying down on the floor, with their eyes closed, hands crossed on their chest, and breathing calmly was one of the most rewarding and soothing feelings ever.
Mindfulness has allowed us as a group to come together and form a bond of understanding, kindness and support. Now they even come to me asking if we can please meditate! Especially when they’re hyper, that’s when I realize they ask for it the most. Best part is seeing them tell one another, “calm your glitter, you need to relax and make better choices”. I’ve seen them grab the water bottle and take it to that student so they can be reminded of what’s going on. It’s seriously amazing!
I’ve seen some students mature, others striving to be better, and I’ve heard others open up with very intimate things that were weighing them down. One student in particular taught me a lesson I will never forget. She opened up and talked about a very serious, sensitive and painful situation that had occurred to her. She broke past a wall that had been holding her back for some time, making her feel trapped. I was able to see the strength coming through her as she let it go. She became present and was able to acknowledge her feelings and thoughts.
This also helped me as a teacher to better understand why she acted the way she did and I was able to support her in a much more effective way. Now she is a better student and her behavior has improved radically. This is the POWER of mindfulness.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.