Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Reflections of a Museum Educator

Rachel Trinkley has worked as a museum educator for over a decade in the Midwest and DC. She is currently Director of Education for Explore! Children’s Museum of Washington, DC, a start-up children’s museum in the district with plans to open in the Fort Totten neighborhood in the coming years.

I recently spent some time with colleagues preparing for an upcoming educators’ conference at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where I was struck by a painting titled Braceros, by Domingo Ulloa.

Later I stood by myself in front of the work for I don’t know how long - writing down what I saw, thought, and wondered. This experience - in the midst of my day-to-day work of trying to help establish a children’s museum in the district - was a much-needed reminder about the power of art.

I saw men imprisoned, and I wanted to know why. Who or what is keeping them behind barbed wire? I instantly saw injustice. I wondered about each of the men, whether they have names, stories, and families. I felt angry, curious, and compelled to do something. When I went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole and learned more about the Bracero program, it raised more questions: why hadn’t I learned about this program in school? What effect did the program have (and is still having) on labor and migrant rights - and isn’t this institutional racism in action?

I know that part of the reason for my response is because I gave myself the time and space to really look at the work. I also know that my experiences, knowledge, and beliefs informed my interpretation, as did the artist’s compositional devices. But how might others respond, with different political leanings, careers, lives? How might a day laborer react to this painting? Or a young child?

Artists engage in a complex process to make a work of art that often encompasses deep research, imaginative thinking, trial and error, persistence, and emotional grappling. In this way, artists transcend disciplines and can serve as phenomenal models for the concept of whole child development. Art is fundamentally a whole human endeavor - messy, clarifying, confounding, pleasurable. High-quality arts education gives learners an opportunity to consider their place in their world and respond to it through cognitive, social-emotional, physical, and creative means.

Youth (including young children) have the capacity and strength to engage in these ways. They aren’t immune from the messiness and injustice of life. All art educators I know have incredible stories of students being transformed by participating in a class, workshop, or summer camp, and when that happens, it’s rarely a result of students following step-by-step instructions or coloring in the lines (even if coloring books have their uses). Transformation happens when educators and the larger community guide and support their youth, giving students opportunities to take risks, build understanding, grow, and succeed - often through multi-session collaborative projects or by starting with student interests and curiosities.

Since we’re in the midst of #summerlearning, do something to support arts education in your community. Attend a performance, give to a non-profit like DCAYA or one of its members, introduce a friend to a new arts organization, or volunteer. The conference workshop I’m leading is about how perspective taking can be nurtured through experiences with art. Works like Braceros can stimulate empathy and prompt dialogue about white privilege, inequality, and racism. And if you choose to go to an art museum - crucial, sometimes overlooked community partners in learning - here’s one of my favorite quotes to keep in mind, from artist Mark Dion:

"My job as an artist isn’t to satisfy the public. That’s not what I do. I don’t necessarily make people happy. I think the job of the artist is to go against the grain of dominant culture, to challenge perception, prejudice, and convention…"

- Rachel Trinkley, @racheltrinkley on Twitter

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

DCPS Teacher Reflects on the Importance of Summer Learning for Kids and School Community

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

This week, in recognition of the day, we invited a DC Public Schools teacher to share about how learning in the summer months produces significant reading growth for kids at Garrison Elementary School.

With its longer days and more time to spend outside and in the community, summertime provides students and their families with a valuable time to play and learn outside of the classroom while experiencing new things together. At Garrison Elementary, a Title I school in the Logan Circle/Shaw neighborhood of Northwest DC, our goal is to provide all our students and families with both traditional and non-traditional opportunities for learning over the summer months.

We start planning for the summer with families before the school year ends. At our APTT (Academic Parent Teacher Team) meetings in May, families discuss opportunities to continue providing enrichment to their kids over the summer months, and set goals for their children’s learning. These may include goals such as “go to the library once a week” and “go to a museum every two weeks”, and the opportunities do not end there. During the last week of school, we hold a school-wide Reading Growth Celebration to recognize our students’ reading achievement and to equip families with tools to keep their children reading over the summer. Students leave the celebration with bags of free books, blended learning website log-ins, and colorful bookmarks with comprehension questions. At the early childhood level, our PTO has organized “playdates” throughout the summer for both new and enrolled families to connect and build a strong school community.

The learning that happens from June through August for our students is sustained by community partnerships. The DC Public Library holds regular events for students throughout the summer, and Garrison partners with Barnes and Noble to hold Summer Reading Nights. Twice this summer, families will visit the Barnes and Noble in Brookland to participate in reading-based activities. Many of our students also attend programming during the summer months (and school year) at the Kingman Boys & Girls Club, where our children participate in sports and activities including basketball, football and cheerleading.

Starting in August, our teachers will begin visiting families at their homes to get to know one another and begin forming trusting relationships. 87% of our kindergarten students ended the year reading at grade level or above, and 75% of our 5th graders ended the year reading at grade level or above. Communicating with families frequently throughout the summer and organizing school-wide community partnerships help us ensure that our students come back to school on August 22nd at or above the same reading level where they had left in June, ready and excited to keep reading and to keep learning.

DCAYA thanks Amy Tyburski for her contribution to our blog for this week. Ms. Tyburski is going into her fourth year as a teacher at Garrison Elementary School. She currently teaches 4th and 5th grade English Language Arts. She has previously served as a Family Engagement Leader for two years, and this year will work supporting other teachers in literacy instruction.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

A Fourth of July recap!

Thought we'd just do a round-up of the Fourth of July highlights from DCAYA member organizations.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Summer, summer, summertime…

... time to find work, rise and grind. 

That’s right, it’s that time of year again! While many of us will take advantage of the next six weeks to escape the sweltering DC heat for some R&R, about 15,000 District youth will be staying put to participate in the 2016 Mayor Marion S. Barry Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP). With SYEP participants ranging in age from 14-24 reporting to their first day this week, we thought it was a great time to reflect back on the major changes made to the program last year and to highlight plans for program year 2016.

As the first year of SYEP to serve youth through age 24, 2015 marked big changes to the program. While we saw the size and budget of the program expand to provide work opportunities to the District’s unemployed youth, we were also encouraged to see new commitments made to the quality and accessibility of the program.  The participation of 25 youth with disabilities was supported by a partnership between DC’s Rehabilitative Services Administration (RSA), SchoolTalk, and District schools. This pilot program (now called SYEP JumpStart) provided the individualized supports and services needed to ensure that these youth could access meaningful work experience through SYEP. In addition, the Office of Youth Programs (OYP) expanded the availability of transportation supports to SYEP participants in 2015 so that they could budget $110 over six weeks to travel to and from their jobs. At Council’s urging, we also saw an increased emphasis on DOES’s ability to demonstrate the impact of the program, especially for those youth 22-24 who stand to gain the most from participation in the program. Understanding that summer work programs like SYEP can provide a critical entry point into a broader array of workforce development, education, or employment opportunities, it’s especially important to leverage SYEP for older District youth who struggle to gain a foothold in the labor market.

Full Report Available Here
In addition to a DOES-produced report on the 2015 SYEP, the DC Auditor also released their report on the operations and outcomes of SYEP in comparison to eight other cities. In tandem, these reports provided valuable insight into the improvements already underway within OYP to strengthen the program, and also highlighted areas of the program which stand to benefit from greater attention. The Auditor’s report suggested that the District could draw more on non-local sources, such as federal or private funding to decrease the $20 million annual price tag of SYEP paid by DC residents. The report also strongly recommends the development of more diversified program options to meet the varied needs of District youth who participate in the program. For example, those youth who indicate their disconnection from education, their housing instability, or their non-resident status could be flooded with supports and transitioned into longer-term programming from their participation in SYEP. The report also highlighted that under statutory requirements in place since 2010, SYEP must receive an annual, independent evaluation. We’re hopeful that OYP will continue to welcome the results of this annual report in their efforts to seek new, innovative, and data-driven improvements to SYEP.

Building off of these report recommendations, Deputy Mayor for Greater Opportunity, Courtney Snowden, recently shared some of the plans underway for this summer’s program on the Kojo Nnamdi Show. In addition to continuing SYEP’s commitment to serve as a bridge for 22-24 year olds into employment (or educational opportunities), the Deputy Mayor also highlighted the program’s partnerships with the White House as a Summer Impact Hub, with LinkedIn to create more corporate and private sector work placements, and with DCPS to connect the students of DC’s 9 Career Academies to summer work placements that align with their courses of study. These new or intensifying partnerships demonstrate significant progress for the program in addressing long-standing concerns and leveraging SYEP as conduit for youth to pursue substantive, long term supports and opportunities.

As we take these plans and improvements into consideration, it’s important to highlight the significant growth of this program within a few years. While the program enrollment fluctuates annually (between 13,000 and 15,000 youth), the program’s budget has nearly doubled over the last 5 years from $11.5 million in 2012 to $20.2 million in 2016. The incremental increases to the District’s investment in SYEP over time have certainly yielded impactful improvements in the accessibility, quality, and operation of the program. Yet taken in context with the full array of workforce development programming offered in the District, additional investments of local funding should be used to bolster year-round programming moving forward. It will be important to work within the current budget mark to maximize SYEP’s quality and impact, and to further leverage its popularity and size to direct youth to the longer-term supports and services they need. While SYEP quality is paramount, we fully recognize that a six-week program will not be able to directly facilitate workforce outcomes like full-time employment, certification or high-tech training that other programs of an extended duration strive to achieve. More than ever, SYEP stands to serve as the District’s jumping off point for more intensive youth workforce development. While the crown jewel of DC’s youth workforce development system, SYEP is ultimately one of many gems the city must value.

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Amy Dudas is the disconnected youth and workforce development policy analyst at DC Alliance of Youth Advocates. She credits her first summer job as a server on the Jersey Shore for teaching her how to multitask and how to remove tomato sauce stains from white shirts. Please contact her at with any questions or feedback on your 2016 SYEP experience.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Together, We Changed DC - Now, Let's Do It Again!

The final vote by the DC Council on the FY 2017 budget marked the culmination of multiple campaigns, appeals, and partnerships focused on securing additional resources for the District’s children, youth, and families. Despite the impact of our collective advocacy, our work is far from done. In order to build on the successes we have achieved in the last year, and to ensure children and youth receive the services they need to thrive, we ask that you please consider renewing your organizational membership with DC Alliance of Youth Advocates.

Absent our collective efforts and quick responses during budget season, DC children, youth and families would have lost, or been unable to access millions of dollars in services and supports. While it may seem like the finish line is behind us, the work we do is more like a marathon than a sprint. To carry our collective work forward, we need your support in the year to come.

What your contribution supports:
Over the past few years, DCAYA solicited community input and feedback at over 60 different convenings. This feedback, combined with high quality research and analysis informed over 350 pieces of testimony delivered at 51 public hearings, facilitated over 9,000 advocacy letters and emails to DC Council and the Office of the Mayor and led over 400 hours of direct advocacy to key decision makers. Not to mention, numerous professional development and networking opportunities.

These efforts have resulted in a variety of significant outcomes for the year to come, including:

  • Preserving the District’s $4.9 million investment for community-based expanded learning programs over the next school year and summer. Absent our work, over 3,000 students would go without an afterschool or summer option.
  • Successfully advocating for $2.3 million in new investments for prevention, diversion and crisis intervention to end youth homelessness; work that will impact hundreds of incredibly vulnerable youth in the year to come.
  • Securing $800,000 in local funding to sustain critical, quality afterschool programming which would otherwise have been cut off for up to 1,000 low-income children and youth in the next school year.
  • Removing transportation barriers to the Summer Youth Employment Program (SYEP) for financially insecure youth, and making huge progress in expanding transportation subsidies to nontraditional and adult learners.
  • Informing the final structure and public funding for the Youth Re-Engagement Center; which has exceeded expectations in its first two years of operations and is now serving hundreds of opportunity youth.
  • Strengthening the pathway to postsecondary success for nontraditional students with the creation of a State Diploma for students who demonstrate high school mastery through the GED or NEDP.

But that’s not all.

  • In the last 5 years, our collective work has helped protect or secure just under $700,000,000 in key services and supports to our children, youth and families.

Each of these efforts requires months and sometimes years of work with continuous outreach, convenings, and research. Your membership is one of the critical pillars that sustains our efforts year round. Together, we provide resources and supports to enable young people to reach their fullest potential.

Thank you for your membership with DCAYA.  We believe it is an investment in the strength of your organization, in the future of our city, and, most importantly, in the lives of our youth.
We look forward to another successful year and thank you again for your commitment.

Maggie Riden
Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates