Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Afterschool Programs For The Win!

In DC, 35% of children and youth participate in afterschool programs, while 66% would participate if a program was available. This week, we have a special guest blog from WNBA assistant couch Eric Thibault who witnesses firsthand the transformative power of sports on a young person's social, mental, and physical development. Eric is a DCAYA "Afterschool Champ" for his advocacy in expanding access to afterschool sports programs for DC girls.

The blog 'tips off' DCAYA's eBay auction for the "Ivory Latta Experience". The highest bidder will practice their backswing with basketball star Ivory Latta at the Top Golf  driving range. Along with spending quality one-on-one time with a WNBA athlete, the lucky winner will receive a signed Latta jersey and mini basketball. All proceeds will go toward DCAYA's work in expanding access to quality afterschool and summer programs for all District youth. 

Enter Your Bid for the "Ivory Latta Experience" 

As an assistant coach for the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, I’m very lucky to have sports pay the bills. But before basketball was ever my profession, it was what I looked forward to every day: at recess, on Saturday mornings, and after school let out in the afternoon. While basketball has stuck with me and become a central part of my life, it was never the only after-school activity to grab my attention. Baseball, soccer, tennis, golf, band, creative writing, math club – I can point to each of these experiences as having a key part to play in my social, mental, and physical development.

Learning to be a valuable part of a team is an essential and irreplaceable component of growing up, and one that is most readily accomplished through sports. Among countless other lessons, playing sports taught me how to handle winning and losing, to pursue and achieve both personal and group goals, to relate to others with different backgrounds, viewpoints and abilities than myself, to sacrifice for the good of a group, and how to handle myself in pressure-filled situations. When I was in graduate school, a classmate expressed frustration with one of our sports management group projects. Our professor, with a laugh but clearly not joking, told him to “get used to it – life is a long string of group projects.” The professor was completely right; whether you are a coach, a teacher, a chemist, a musician, an administrator, or a politician, there’s no substitute for learning how to interact and succeed within a group of varying opinions and attributes. Almost without fail, the people in that class that grew up playing team sports adapted more quickly to the tasks at hand than those who lacked that experience.

In a more immediate sense, after-school activities directly improve the quality of life for kids. Sports help with nutrition and combat obesity, a growing problem in our country. Art and music are backed by endless amounts of research that indicates they improve academic performance. After-school programs of all kinds can help keep kids living in high-crime or poverty-stricken areas from falling into more dangerous situations. On a personal level, I know I learned arithmetic from studying basketball stat sheets and understood geometry more easily with the help of passing angles. Understanding how to curve a golf shot went hand in hand with physics class. Playing the drums in the band showed me the importance of getting on the same page with my peers in those interminable group projects.

Above all, the part of my sports experience for which I’m most grateful was the opportunity to establish relationships with people I would not otherwise have befriended. When I was 13 years old and in middle school (a mostly-white, upper-middle class middle school), I played on a predominantly black basketball team. Some players came from money, some did not. Some had two parents at home, some had one, some had none. The thing that we all had in common was a love for basketball, and that bridge allowed us to move past any awkwardness and get to know each other as individual human beings. When you get to spend that quality time around people from different backgrounds, it shapes how you see the world. You start to see the world in shades of gray, and move away from lazy stereotypes. It’s one thing for your parents to explain tolerance, it’s another to learn it on a day-to-day basis. I have no doubt that our society would be a more accepting place if more people had similar opportunities at age 13, or younger. Being part of a sports team, school band, or debate club offers an environment where that becomes a natural consequence, where kids develop attitudes and habits that will serve them well for the rest of their lives.

Who's your #AfterschoolChamp? Tell us on Twitter from March 25 - April 1 for a chance to win a "DCAYA Afterschool Champ Badge"!

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

DCAYA Testifies about Youth Homelessness

This week’s blog post is an excerpt from testimony given by Maggie Riden, the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, at the Department of Human Services performance oversight hearing on March 12, 2015. The following entry was edited for length. 

Good morning Chairwoman Alexander, fellow Councilmembers, and committee staff. My name is Maggie Riden and I am the Executive Director of DC Alliance of Youth Advocates, a coalition of over 130 youth-serving organizations in the District.  Today, I would like to welcome the new Director of the Department of Human Services and identify the key areas in which DHS can move forward.

It is indeed a “fresh start” for DHS.  We are committed to working with Director Zeilinger to prevent homelessness, improve homeless services, and find stable housing solutions in the District.  In order for this collaborative effort to work, transparency and communication are critical to building a system which properly serves homeless youth.  

First and foremost, DCAYA is concerned by the unclear and seeming slow implementation pace of the Homeless Youth Reform Act of 2013 and the End Youth Homelessness Act of 2014. Having a clearer timeline and transparent funding information is essential for collaborative planning of youth-specific services. This point is especially poignant, because as we speak, there are youth on waiting lists for emergency and transitional beds. We urge DHS to clarify the internal status of the funding and layout next steps to ensure proper implementation.

There is also a need for greater transparency and communication among the services offered to youth-headed families.  This is clearly illustrated in the updated status on the implementation of the Rudd report recommendations. For example:

Rudd report:

“Recommendation 6.1:  Increase the number of on-site case managers to identify and engage those families who are difficult to serve.”

DHS Answer:

“DHS and TCP provide case management services to all families in shelter.  In addition, the Bowser administration recently announced the creation and funding of housing navigators who will be responsible for specifically assisting families with their housing needs, allowing case managers to focus on other issues.”  

This DHS answer does not present clear information on whether additional case managers were hired, how many case managers were hired, if the case managers are full or part-time employees, or the credentials of the case managers.  DHS must communicate transparent information on the status of its implementation of the Rudd recommendations, including basic data on implemented changes, written protocols, training materials, and explanation of mechanisms.  Relisha was not the only young person taken from DC General - DHS must clearly articulate the steps being taken to ensure such tragedies do not repeat themselves.  

Meanwhile, there are pockets of great work happening in our community around youth homelessness.  The Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) is helping agencies and community-service providers in developing and implementing the Coordinated Entry for youth.  DHS is playing a role in this process, and the role must continue to grow, as the issue falls squarely within DHS’s mandate.  

The Coordinated Entry system is identifying the knots, gaps, and workarounds present in the current system of youth services.  It is time for DHS and its partners to untangle the systemic workarounds covering up the problem of youth homelessness.  It is time for DHS and its partners to build a system which connects youth to best-fit services and programs.  With the new funding provided by the youth homelessness legislation, DHS and its partners have the resources to meet the needs of homeless youth with new, transparent, and well-communicated policies and programs.  

DHS has an incredibly difficult job in the District, where inequality is rapidly growing and intergenerational poverty is deeply-rooted. We do not ask for quick solutions, but we do demand greater transparency and communication.  It is the only way that we, as a community, will fix the horrible reality of vast homelessness in the District.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Expanding Our Approach to Education

Photo Courtesy of Beacon House
Education is a top issue in DC. There are constant debates around truancy, graduation rates, charter schools, credit attainment, assessment scores, teacher supports, community involvement, student engagement, and the list goes on. DCAYA focuses on one educational topic at the heart of these debates: Expanded Learning.

To give context, the Expanded Learning Model adds time to the school day by partnering schools with community-based providers (CBOs). These partnerships enhance the curriculum by bringing enrichment activities, led by CBOs, into the classroom to compliment the traditional school subjects taught by teachers. The partnership also allows teachers to spend more time planning the curriculum and engaging in professional development opportunities, while CBOs are working in the classroom with the students. DCAYA supports this model because it is a win-win situation for everyone: CBOs enhance the school climate, students are offered personalized and hands-on learning experiences, and teachers have extra time to plan and grade work without feeling overwhelmed and/or burnt out by the longer school day.

See all of the benefits of an Expanded Learning Model in DCAYA’s latest one-pager:

So what would it take for DC to adopt the Expanded Learning Model?

DC currently has certain pieces in place to smoothly transition schools into an Expanded Learning framework: a high-concentration of quality community-based providers, extended days for certain schools, and the infrastructure to facilitate community collaboration. In fact, DC already has an example of a functioning and thriving Expanded Learning Model at Kelly Miller Middle School through their partnership with Higher Achievement.

However, in order for DC to scale the model responsibly and successfully, District-wide data must be collected on afterschool and summer programming to fully understand the landscape. Both the Children and Youth Investment Trust Corporation (DC Trust) and DC Public Schools (DCPS) are in a position to collaborate and gather such data, which would allow the District to begin building a strategy to connect schools with CBOs. The data would also be used to assess students current limitations and access to afterschool and summer programming and ensure that at-risk students are receiving ample educational supports.

To further understand the Expanded Learning Model and DCAYA’s 2015 policy asks, be sure to read the one-pager and reach out to our policy analyst Katie Dunn at for more information on testifying at DC Council hearings.

In addition to educating the public and policymakers about the benefits of an Expanded Learning Model, DCAYA is also advocating to protect current afterschool and summer programming. In the coming weeks, look out for another #LightsOnAfterschool social media campaign to ensure that Trust grantees receive full funding for their summer programs. 

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