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Grace and Power

As a followup to yesterday’s post, I wanted to link to a very important message: the parents of Lieby Kletzky have released a statement.

A very powerful statement that confirms the beauty and character of the human race in the face of events too horrific to be believed.

Read the statement here.

Blessings to Lieby’s parents and the memory of Lieby.  Thank you for your words of Grace and Power.

We Have Been Dangerized

Thanks to Lenore Skenazy for her poignant blog post/article in response to the near-incomprehensible Lieby Kletzky tragedy.

READ LENORE’S POST HERE

The fact is that we DO decide in a most irrational fashion what fears to pay attention to.  Sure, the media helps a lot!  And then we obsess, often to the point of unintended and unwanted consequences.

The day after they found Lieby’s body in New York City, our site had a field trip planned; we were taking a small group of 24 five-and-six-year-olds to the Zoo.

24 children with 7 adults.

Two families pulled out of the trip- too dangerous, they said (“…you heard about that kid in New York, didn’t you?”).

At least four other families expressed concern about the trip (“you’re sure you’ll be watching them?”- as if we hadn’t been all this time, but now we were kicking around the idea we should start).

I understand the parental pull to protect your kids.  I’m a parent, too.    I get it.

As a care provider, I’m also always humbled by the trust the parents place in us every day we take care of their kids.  I always strive to keep that trusting bond at the fore of my thoughts (and remind the other staff to be aware as well) as we move through our daily activities.

And, at the same time, I really get it.  I get how freaking irrational our fears can be when driven by sensationalism.  In many ways, we are still the 5-year-old kid worried about the monster from the movie that we’re sure is lurking there under our bed.

Men In Black: Violence is Just Alright With Me!

The Supreme Court has recently ruled that a California law restricting the sale of violent video games to minors is  unconstitutional (Story and commentary here).

I have to admit that the libertarian in me agrees with this decision.  Which makes the internal struggle all the more poignant.

Mainly because the libertarian in me is a purely logical, black-and-white, take-no-prisoners idealogue.

The other part of me- the parent, the educator, the one who works with kids forty hours per week- is horrified.  I would rather have my kid be able to walk into a store and buy a Playboy rather than a game that included the above scene of gristle (of course, logically, a false dichotomy, but emotionally powerful enough to make the point).

I posted my thoughts on this on my facebook page and got replies from all my smug libertarian friends about how it is the parents’ right and responsibility to choose, so, the Supreme Court, was, of course, correct in their decision.

The problem is, in twenty years of working with kids and families, I know that there is a percentage of parents who abdicate that right and responsibility.   Over the past year, I have overheard conversations of 2nd and 3rd graders talking about the carnage they create playing such games as “Call of Duty”, “Assassin’s Creed”, “Halo”, and other such games.  And while the studies around violent TV and video games’ effect on the psyches of impressionable youth come down solidly on the side of “not a good idea to let them play these”… like global warming, there’s just enough wiggle room for the other side to cry that their rights are being infringed.

While the solid empirical evidence is unclear, I suppose that what it comes down to for me is – do we want a world where kids are given scenes like the above as a “plaything”?  Are we ready to deal with the potential consequences ten years down the road?

Yes, I do understand that this is not Armageddon.

It is not the end of humanity as we know it.

But it is one small, tiny, almost subconscious step away from a world of peaceability, community, and non-violence.  We have enough violence and carnage and insensitivity in the world already.  My question is, are we ready to tolerate more for the sake of entertainment?

Giving up the Shoulds

Yes, I’ve said it again and again.  The key, not just to working with children and youth, but to life, is the art of being present.

This morning, I found out (again) just how hard that is to do in the face of “shoulds”.

You know those shoulds… children “should” act a certain way, co-workers “should” do this and not that, the daily schedule “should” be followed, parents “should” parent their kids this way (and not that)… the list goes on forever.

Fortunately today, I ran across a blog post that says it all… “Don’t Should All Over Yourself“.  Yes, the title of the blog is the “Art of Manliness”, but don’t let that put you off (if the play on words hasn’t already).  This message is for everyone.

How it came about is this: I came to work on the opening shift (6:45 a.m.) running on a touch more than four hours of sleep and two cups of French Roast.  Almost as soon as the doors were swung wide open, in walks one of our “Patience Angels” (so named because it’s a more useful framing of behavior-challenged kids: “God heard you were a patient teacher, so he sent you this patience angel to find out!”).

Almost immediately, he begins touching everything he’s not supposed to, irritating and criticizing the four or other so kids who have also arrived early, finding everything under the (7:00 a.m.) sun that there is about which to tattle, rolling over the back of the couch, sitting on furniture… well… you get the idea.

And I forgot.  I forgot to be present.  I forgot my taoist training to “observe and feel without judgement”.  I forgot to look inward and find something I could give up- nothing new can be created without giving something up.

It was 4:00 p.m. before I realized that what I forgot to give up was the “shoulds”.  How this child “should” behave.  How smooth a day “should” begin.  Only by giving up those “shoulds” can I be present, look deeper, and understand the all-too-human, all-too-insecure boy before me that is seeking attention, approval, and an outlet for his naturally intense behaviors.

And by giving up these “shoulds” (even 9 hours later!), I can finally see the angel that was sent to me.

It Happened Again

Recently, I was reminded about how far our profession has to yet travel to be “professional”.  It seems every0ne in the field is clamoring for After-School Care to be considered a “profession”, but this won’t happen until some basic wage and staffing structures are changed to reflect an ethical value placed on retention and the fair consideration of the importance of the work in which we are engaged.

We have been lucky enough to have an aide that has been working with us at our site for the past three years. In fact, Danny reminds me very much of… well, me, twenty years ago. Funny, irreverent, a musician… like having a cartoon hanging out at your site.

Oh, yeah… did I mention? Danny has that innate (and I’m starting to believe that it’s inborn and not learned) talent to relate with kids on a very fundamental and real level.

So, for the past three years, Danny has been with us at our site.. a definite favorite amongst the kids and staff alike.  Along the way, he’s brought a world of comics, music, humor, PMA, and good times with him.  Because he feels hamstrung by a learning disability, he has resisted college at every turn- even if it meant a promotion to teacher for garnering some Early Childhood Education units at the local junior college.

But, units or not, Danny is exactly the kind of person you want to have with your kids every day after school.  Caring.  Funny.  Interested in what kids are saying and thinking.  Creative.  Involved.

But, for a 21 year-old, eight bucks an hour and twenty hours a week isn’t going to cut it in the real world.  Rent still needs to be paid.  Food still needs to be purchased.  And then there’s the issue of health care.  He found a job at a local sporting goods store that was willing to pay him a few cents more per hour, offer him insurance, and schedule him for more hours per week.

As the middle manager in the situation, unable to alter what the company would offer Danny, all I could do was thank him for his service, hope and pray that he would change his mind, and limply wave goodbye as he walked out the door that last day.

When I was an aide in the early 1990′s, still finding my way, my voice, I was fortunate enough to work for Palo Alto Community Child Care, an organization that believed enough in the profession to offer even its part-time employees health care (among other wonderful benefits).  Had benefits not been a part of the scene… I probably would have been another Danny – gone.  Instead, someone or many someones there at PACCC recognized the importance of retaining staff, especially those with the inborn relatedness to kids.  And they tried to retain them in any way possible.  And they had a great record of keeping staff on board- especially staff that has that key ability to connect with kids and provide positive leadership and guidance for them.

But, in today’s reality of After-School Care, “minor” players such as Danny seem to be discarded and discounted as the “rule”, and only the truly longsuffering (or parentally supported) will survive the crucible of poverty and (probably more important than money) denigration through corporate devaluation of their personal and professional worth.  Or they could get lucky enough to work for one of a microscopic minority of companies or organizations that truly and creatively conspire to honor the importance of the work done in the profession of After-School Care.

What is so sad is that, while we all pay lip service to worthy wages, staff retention, and professionalism, the harsh reality of the current climate in After-School Care will continue to discard the Dannys and the thousands of others like him without thought, reflection, or remorse.

I, of course, wish Danny well, and do not begrudge his difficult choice of sacrificing a work-life of meaning for a work-life of self-sufficiency.

To support worthy wages for After-School Care workers that have touched your life, please visit:

Thought Leadership

Thought Leadership (or, in the personal tense, thought leader) derives from business jargon in the mid 1990′s for leadership (primarily in corporations) that bases itself on ideas of merit.

It has since evolved to mean involving a company (or any similar group) in an integration of professional ethics with highly effective leadership development.

What better place to plant the seedling of Thought Leadership than in Out-of-school-Time?  It is that time that is (supposed to be) devoted to the youth’s path of becoming; of learning the ways of the world and interacting with and leading communities.

Even Laurie Ollhoff, formerly of Concordia University’s (St. Paul) college of Education has described Out-of-School-Time care as a miniature community, where children are not learning to become, but are actively involved in the act of becoming (as we all are, regardless of our position on the path of life).

This year, our Junior Staff Leadership Group of 4th and 5th graders will be becoming Thought Leaders.   Stay tuned to find out how this turns out!