Monday, March 03, 2014

Are Your Programs S.A.F.E.? A Librarian Look at the Afterschool Alliance Report

Last week, the Afterschool Alliance published a literature review/report called "Taking a Deeper Dive into Afterschool: Positive Outcomes and Positive Practices." First of all, if you didn't know the Afterschool Alliance was a Thing, I forgive you; but please immediately rectify this situation by adding their incredibly informative website to your radar and maybe even following them on Twitter.

Now, many of us librarians don't have the time, resources, or community interest for a daily/weekly afterschool program that this report focuses on; but we definitely can take some great suggestions from its Positive Practices to make our planning more deliberate to set our kid patrons up for success at our programs.

First, some awesome and empowering words about our role in these kids' lives:

  • A great feature of our programming is that we don't have to focus on standardized assessments and academic achievement. This allows us to focus on the meat of success in afterschool programs: personal development, such as social and emotional growth. (page 8 of PDF)
  • a meta-analysis by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (okay I want to read everything by them right away, don't you?) found that children who attend afterschool programs "saw a significant improvement in their perceptions of themselves, improved positive social behavior and a decrease in problem behaviors" (page 8 of PDF)
Note that due to increased pressure of testing and emphasis on assessment-driven instruction (which may take intervention into the afterschool realm, like Club Z as an afterschool offering at Title I schools), we public libraries are uniquely posited to offer personal-development-focused programming. How does our programming support social and emotional growth?

There are 4 factors the Afterschool Alliance points out that are hallmarks of quality programs: strong program design, staff quality, effective partnerships, and program evaluation/improvement. What really interested me when reading this study was their approach to strong program design; I love a chance to think more deliberately about the programming we offer. We talk about continuing education for quality staff, community partnerships, and improvement (even in blog form). We even have models for successful programming. But why do those models work, and is it programmer-by-programmer basis? Afterschool Alliance reports four focal points in programming to create stronger programming (whichever model you use) right away. And of course there's an acronym, and that acronym is S.A.F.E. This is powerful in its own right; where are your kid patrons' safe spaces? School? Home? What if they have no safe spaces? Is your environment accepting and welcoming enough to become their safe space?
(These are ridiculously tough questions right here. I know I'll be thinking a lot about this report in the coming weeks months life, and I hope you do too).

The following are the four hallmarks of quality afterschool programs. I've added what I'll be thinking about during my programming as a result: 

S: Sequenced: Coordinating and implementing activities that are broken down and sequenced to allow youth to learn, develop, connect to and master a specific set of skills.
 Now this is definitely aimed at afterschool programs that go on for weeks or years, but I'm certainly taking something from it, even for our one-shot-deal programs. Does everyone have everything they need to complete each task? What prior knowledge are you expecting your program attendees to come with, and is it reasonable? How do you ensure successful participation for children that don't have that prior knowledge?(One way is definitely to create a spontaneous shared experience

A: Active: Employing teaching strategies that use active forms of learning and engage students in the learning process through hands-on exercises.
Are your participants learning by doing or learning through play? This is something they may not have the opportunity to do during school hours, so it's extra important they get to do that elsewhere; their neurons need it!

F: Focused: Focusing appropriate time and resources on student instruction and skill development
Once your participants have what they need to complete a task, do they have time to? Do you have enough activities to fill the time? Is under-planning ever okay? Once activities are completed, what happens?

E: Explicit: Developing clear and explicit learning goals that are relayed to youth in well-defined and specific terms
Do your participants know what will happen next? Do they know what's expected of them at each step in your program?

What I did with this report is find implications for my work. They're not prescriptive, but rather things to consider.
What's YOUR take-away from the report?
For more implications, check out Lisa's take at Thrive After Three!