Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Afterschool Succeeds with In-School Support: Reading Partners in DC

As part of Afterschool Awareness month, DCAYA has featured the work of our community-based partners throughout the month of October. To wrap up our series, we look at the work of Reading Partners with DC’s elementary schools, a successful partnership due to the combined effort of the community-based organization working with teachers, parents, administrators and students.

The first grade student had just traced the letter ‘C’ on the whiteboard. Together, we were coming up with words that start with C: cookies, can, cat.  We brainstormed a few more, and then he drew a picture of a cat on the back of his letter card.  

“C!  Cat!  C-c-c.  COOL!” he exclaimed, giggling.  

By the time his mom appeared at the door to pick him up from our weekly tutoring session, he had chosen a new book to keep at home, and she beamed at the sight of him eagerly flipping through the pages. As she gathered her son’s jacket, bag and lunchbox, our tutor shared how great a job her son had done reading and identifying rhyming words.

Just a few months ago, afternoon tutoring sessions like this one were just a vision for Bancroft Elementary, a bilingual school in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of DC. Under the requirements of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education has designated Bancroft as a Focus School, meaning it is a school in need of targeted support to address large achievement gaps between students.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Keeping the Lights On After School in DC

As part of Afterschool Awareness month, DCAYA will be featuring the work of our community-based partners throughout the month of October. This week, in concert with the Afterschool Alliance’s Lights On Afterschool, we take a look at the need and present funding for afterschool programs in DC.

October is Afterschool Awareness Month, and on and around October 22, events will be held nationally for Lights On Afterschool to underscore the need for investment in afterschool programs. In DC, this need is especially heightened. More and more District families are seeking after school enrichment opportunities for their kids while at the same time, fewer public dollars are being invested in proven programs.

“These programs inspire children to learn beyond an instructional classroom setting,” says Jodi Grant, executive director of the national Afterschool Alliance. “By providing one-on-one mentoring and homework help, healthy snacks and team sports, new STEM learning opportunities such as robotics and computer programming, expanded time to learn art and music in a studio setting, and countless other hands-on opportunities, afterschool programs build upon classroom learning to promote positive youth development and motivate each child and youth toward college and job readiness.”

The Afterschool Alliance has promoted a growing body of research that shows afterschool programs and expanded learning programs keep kids safe, help working families, and encourage increased parental involvement in children’s learning. Data gathered by the Alliance have shown that for every child in an afterschool program nationally, there are two more whose parents say they would participate if a program were available. So, how does DC stack up?

DC Afterschool Investment Falls Short of Demand

The Afterschool Alliance’s survey data show that in DC, the unmet demand is greater than in any state: An estimated 72% of children in the District in grades 6 through 8 would participate in an afterschool program if one were available to them (compared to 40% nationally).

Community-based providers of afterschool programming in the District have a proven track record for tangible outcomes. Yet there is presently little political will toward expanding access in order to match the level of demand in the community. In fact, as other states and localities increasingly see funding for afterschool as a major policy goal, funding for expanded learning and enrichment programming (afterschool and during the summer) in the District (and youth development programs in general) has actually followed a downward trend in recent years.

Less funding means fewer spots in afterschool programs for the kids who need them most. Just last month, due to funding constraints, the DC Trust cut $460,000 from their out of school time grants and 24 organizations saw their funding discontinued. As a result of these cuts, as many as 1,200 expanded learning slots were lost.

In the wake of these cuts, a $1.2 million allocation to the DC Trust has been proposed to fund a series of “mini-grants” to five target neighborhoods. While the grants are well-intentioned to target funding toward neighborhoods most at-risk, the structure of the grant distribution has youth afterschool enrichment and mentoring programs competing with violence prevention and family support programs for the same pot of funding, and in a limited geographic area. Further, with each grant capped at $25,000, we remain concerned that the scope of the funding is insufficient to significantly affect outcomes.

In order to keep the lights on after school in DC, the District needs to return to having stable, multi-year funding to quality organizations. Only with the assurance of a stable funding stream will the District’s strong network of community-based providers be able to better collaborate with more schools and expand the reach of afterschool expanded learning and enrichment opportunities to the kids and families who have the greatest need.

DCAYA thanks the Afterschool Alliance for contributing to this post and for their work toward raising awareness on the need for afterschool investment. For more information on DCAYA's Expanded Learning work, please contact Joseph Gavrilovich.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Expanding a Partnership in Service to DC’s Kids

As part of Afterschool Awareness month, DCAYA will be featuring the work of our community-based partners throughout the month of October. Read on for more on the exciting expansion of afterschool arts, sports and civic service programming from DC SCORES!

Fifteen. Every day when I wake up, that number flashes before my eyes. It is imprinted on my brain. It is the number of schools currently on the waitlist for programs from my youth development nonprofit DC SCORES, which recently finalized a partnership with D.C. United with the goal of serving more District youth.

DC SCORES provides free after-school programs and summer camps to low-income 3rd-8th graders across the District. Our whole-child curriculum thoughtfully integrates the art of poetry, the sport of soccer, and the civic experience of service.  

Mind, body, soul.  

In the neighborhoods and schools we work in, DC SCORES typically is the only opportunity kids have to participate in an organized team sports league. We frequently offer young children their only chance to explore the literary arts for fun and to experience performing original work on stage. We often are the first people who not only ask schoolkids living in poverty how they want to change the world, but who also give a team of kids the tools to do it.

Although DC SCORES has expanded rapidly the past five years, the demand for our programs has grown even faster.  

Why? The young children DC SCORES works with face incredible challenges: hour-plus commutes to school; the responsibility of raising multiple siblings; violence on their streets; no stable home or family support structure.

We help at-risk kids stay on track by surrounding them with a supportive team of peers and committed adult mentors, giving that team the opportunity to safely and creatively express themselves through both arts and sports, and helping them experience that they can change the world around them.  

You don’t have to take my word for it; instead take the words of Ingrid, Claudia, or Christian M. — all DC SCORES alumni.

A new depth of commitment

What keeps me up at night is worrying about the many more Ingrids, Claudias, and Christians out there whose schools we’re not in. Who aren’t, as Christian says, getting to be “part of something greater,” something “to look forward to every day no matter what else was going on in my life,” “something that gives me a pathway from step A to step B, a goal to achieve.”  

Being able to serve all of the children who need us was a big motivator behind our recently announced long-term strategic partnership with D.C.’s Major League Soccer team D.C. United. (Read the press release.)  

Although our organizations have worked together in varying capacities for years, this new, long-term partnership cements our relationship and makes it possible for us to change many more kids’ lives together than either organization could on its own.  

The partnership goes far beyond simply giving DC SCORES’ poet-athletes enhanced soccer experiences and access to major league expertise (though it does that, too!). It symbolizes a new depth of commitment by D.C. United to the community. Programs previously run by D.C. United’s United Soccer Club program have been consolidated into DC SCORES, and two members of D.C. United’s leadership team have joined DC SCORES’ Board of Directors.  

While D.C. United is contributing some limited up-front capital to seed this partnership, it is not really a financial transaction. The partnership’s true value to the children of Washington, D.C., is the willingness of D.C. United to leverage its brand name and corporate access to drive new levels of philanthropic investment to DC SCORES. This year, we are serving 2,000 children. Our goal: expand to 3,000 children in three short years, an objective we’ll only be able to achieve with increased support from community members throughout the District and beyond.

While the partnership is a catalyst for helping us wipe out our growing waitlist; everyone else’s continued support – and those interested in joining our team and advocating for DC children – can make it a reality.

Helping D.C.’s kids succeed on the playing field, in school, and in life is what DC SCORES is all about. We are excited by the potential of this partnership and a growing supporters base to help even more kids do just that.

DCAYA is grateful to this week's blog author, Bethany Henderson, Executive Director of DC SCORES. Want DC SCORES in your school or neighborhood? Please complete their new school application.

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Arts After School and Why It Matters

As part of Afterschool Awareness month, DCAYA will be featuring the work of our community-based partners throughout the month of October. Next week we'll hear from DC SCORES about their exciting new partnership with DC United! Read on for more on afterschool arts programming from Project Create!

Accessible, high-quality, arts-focused afterschool and summer programs can make all the difference in a youth’s life. Research shows that creating work through artistic expression has universal therapeutic and human developmental benefits

For more than twenty years, Project Create has worked in partnership with social service organizations and afterschool programs in underserved neighborhoods of DC to provide accessible out-of-school-time arts education to promote positive development in children, youth and families experiencing homelessness and poverty. 

In January 2015, Project Create opened an art studio in Anacostia that offers youth development programming through free visual, performing and digital media arts classes to young residents. In addition to the tremendously beneficial therapeutic aspects of Project Create’s programming, the afterschool setting and the studio space itself provides a significant and meaningful community of care for youth. Across cultures throughout human history, artists have gathered in community spaces to form friendships, share their craft, enhance their skills, and find support among each other while creating their work. Project Create’s Anacostia studio is a space where youth come together, and stay, because they are safe, they are protected, and their voices are heard. 

The depth of identity the youth feel towards the Project Create studio space is exemplified by how they themselves have built community there through their own networks. This story starts with Brittney. We got to know Brittney through our work with So Others Might Eat (SOME) back in 2010 when she was eleven years old. Her family had already experienced homelessness for most of Brittney’s young life, and even as her mother struggled daily to provide Brittney with the essentials, Brittney had daily access to multiple enrichment activities. Each day after school, Brittney painted, danced and performed theater in Project Create’s art classes at SOME. As Brittney grew into a teenager, the mentorship she received from her Project Create teachers was essential to her development.

We were thinking of Brittney when we created and opened our Anacostia studio space. In addition to strengthening our relationship with the community of children and youth who live in Anacostia and surrounding neighborhoods, we wanted to provide our long-time students like Brittney with a space to stay connected with Project Create, even as they “age out,” move out of their housing facilities, or move around the city. 

As soon as we opened our studio doors, Brittney was there! And she didn’t come alone – she brought her boyfriend James, and then her friend Calvin. Then Calvin brought Evan. Then Evan brought Cecilia. And so on it went until, before we knew it, the studio was alive with budding young artists. They come for the art, for the fun, and to see their friends. They also come because it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer, and because they’re hungry and they know there will be pizza. They come even when Project Create isn’t running classes because they know at least one of their staff mentors will be around.

At times, the youth come reluctantly because they (think they) don’t really like art. James was unenthusiastic about Brittney’s invitation to the studio space, but like so many of the youth we serve, James comes and stays on because Project Create becomes a consistent and stable space for him. In the time since he started spending his afternoons at Project Create’s studio, James has been forced out of his home, drifted through emergency shelters, exhausted his options while couch-surfing, and moved into foster care placement. But through it all James continued coming to Project Create every day, and even in the midst of constant life disruptions over a matter of months, James has found his niche as an artist. He has created original music and learned that he’s a pretty good songwriter. He has learned the craft of 3D printing, and he carried the plastic superhero he made with him everywhere he went for months after. And we were all impressed to find how adept he is with a sewing machine. James continues to experience uncertainty in his life, but every day after school, he finds enrichment and new possibilities in the Project Create studio.

Brittney, now 16, has emerged as a young leader in the artistic community she helped create. She signed up for several classes and quickly became a regular presence during open studio, at family art days, on field trips and at special events. This summer, she worked with Project Create through D.C.’s Summer Youth Employment Program. Brittney is now working with Project Create as a student assistant (when she’s not attending classes as a student herself).

Brittney, James, Calvin, Evan, Cecilia and dozens more youth, each have their own story of what has happened in their life so far that led them to Project Create. For these young people seeking enrichment after school, just as it has been for creative minds throughout history, quality art in an accessible setting can be transformative as they write, illustrate, design and perform the next chapters in their own life stories.

*All names have been changed to protect our students’ confidentiality.

DCAYA extends a big thank you to this week's blog author, Christie Walser, Executive Director of Project Create. For more on Project Create's awesome work that blends creative and youth development, check out their website here

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Forging the Path Forward for DC's Adult Learners & Re-engaging Youth

 In today’s blog, we’d like to share the work of our colleagues at the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition that was highlighted as part of last week’s national Adult Education and Family Literacy Awareness Week. DCAYA’s connection to this work stems from our interest in stable, thriving families as foundations of youth success, and as a function of the disparate definitions of accessibility across the educational and workforce opportunities available to re-engaging youth. As councilmember David Grosso, Chairperson of the Committee on Education, aptly noted last week, “If children are not learning the skills they need to complete high school, and their parents do not have their high school education, then we are nowhere near breaking cycles of poverty and/or inequality.” DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson also underscored, “A 2002 estimate indicates that 37% of adults age 16 and over in the District of Columbia operate at the lowest defined level of literacy, or below basic. This compares to national averages of 21-23% of adults scoring at the below basic level.”

Clearly, the need to address the pervasive barriers to success for DC’s disconnected youth and adult learners is profound. We echo the sentiments of our DC AFLC partners in thanking the DC Council for championing the needs and potential of these populations of District residents.

On September 24, the Committee of the Whole and the Committee on Education hosted a joint hearing on “The State of Adult Education and Literacy Initiatives in the District.” The hearing—the first in recent memory to be dedicated solely to adult education—was an important opportunity to raise the issue of adult low literacy in the District. Councilmember Grosso acknowledged this fact by saying, “A conversation about adult literacy and adult education in the District of Columbia is long overdue.” The timing of the hearing was also significant given that the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition (DC AFLC) and allies across the city were celebrating Adult Education and Family Literacy Awareness Week (AEFL Week) from Sept. 21-26.

As over thirty adult learners, providers, partners and government witnesses testified, a clear picture of the adult education landscape emerged: the need is great, the services are essential, and additional support is needed. Despite the diversity in student populations and programs, providers and learners spoke to the common barriers presented by the high cost of transportation, lack of available childcare, under-resourced programing and limited provider capacity.

Providers also offered up a number of solution ideas, including expanding subsidized transportation to students enrolled in adult education programs, incentivizing evening childcare programs, and investing further in adult education. There was also near-unanimous support for the creation of a State Diploma for DC residents who pass the GED or complete the National External Diploma Program.

Finally, providers spoke to the need for a city-wide strategy for our adult education and workforce development programs. Lecester Johnson, CEO of Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School, summed up the problem by saying, “Providers who work with adult learners have been producing strong outcomes for years, but the disconnections between providers at the various levels have left too many gaps through which our residents continue to fall. Rather than a set of coordinated career pathways, DC residents make their best guess about which door to enter next in their pursuit of higher skills and self- and family-sustaining employment.” The recently enacted Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act gives the District a chance to address this issue head-on through the federally mandated creation of a state plan. A number of providers stressed the importance of capitalizing on this opportunity, and Councilmembers Grosso, Mendelson, and Silverman pressed the government witnesses on their plans moving forward.

The impact of low literacy can be felt across sectors. It can be seen in the emergency room after an adult wrongly administers medication because they can’t read the prescription bottle, and it can be seen in the rising homicide rate, as some turn to crime where no other opportunities exist. From an advocate’s perspective, it was encouraging that five councilmembers were consistently present throughout the five hour long hearing. Our hope is that attention to this important issue won’t wane as another AEFL Week comes and goes. Instead, as we enter a new Council session, we should make a commitment to long-term, systemic solutions that will create adult education and workforce development systems that work—and work well--for all District residents.

Jamie Kamlet is the Director of Advocacy and Communications for Academy of Hope Adult Public Charter School (AoH), where she develops and implements strategies to engage policymakers, business and community leaders, members of the AoH community and the general public in promoting adult basic education in the District. AoH's mission is to provide high quality adult basic education in a manner that changes lives and improves our community. AoH is also a member of the DC Adult and Family Literacy Coalition.