Category Archives: Youth Development

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!

Introducing Generation Four (G4) in School-Age Care

What do we mean when we talk about “Generation 4” – or G4 when it comes to the Out-of-School-Time profession?

G4 is a direct thought-line descendant from “Generation Theory”- work that was pioneered and authored by the Ollhoffs, et. al. at Concordia University’s department of After-School Time (a subdivision of their Education Department).

In a nutshell, Generation Theory traces the purposes and defining characteristics of School-Age Care programs. Generation 1 had as it’s focus a simple warehousing of children while parents worked- a utilitarian viewpoint. Generation 2 followed with child-centered and developmental activities. Generation 3 took the long view of the child, family, school and culture, and promoted School-Age Care as an integral piece to the overall socialization of children and youth.

Through the heyday of the Youth Development Movement of the mid-to-late 1990’s (and early 2000’s), Generation 3 and Youth Development Theories seemed likely to create a critical mass nationwide in Out-Of-School-Time arenas and were poised to win the day as the gold standard for Out-of-School-Time philosophy. The National Afterschool Association (NAA) published it’s “Purple Bible” for quality baselines in School Age Care. Concordia University in St. Paul rolled out its groundbreaking School-Age Care degrees, both for undergraduate and post-graduate work.

Then came the Bush years (and, in California, the Schwarzenegger years)… No Child Left Behind became law, and Prop 49 was passed in California setting in motion a conflict for the soul of the Out-of-School-Time profession. Should after-school (School Age Care centers and Out-of-School-Time-focused organizations) continue in the vein of the Youth Development philosophy, or should they be co-opted as second-fiddle actors in the rush to boost school-day test scores?

Today, we stand at that crossroads.

Generation 4 will either see the continued development and implementation of Youth Develoment strategies and professionalization of the after school field, or it will fall as we see Out-of-School-Time disappear and be co-opted into a longer school day. At this point, it could go either way.

Restarting the Conversation

Over the summer, we let the ball drop.

We have spent the past three (really? has it been three?) years working with the kids in our afterschool program in the context of the Josephson Institute’s CHARACTER COUNTS program.   At times using curriculum from the Instititute, and most of the time crafting our own relatable curriculum around the six pillars (Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship), we’ve spent a fair amount of time engaging the children in the meaning and import of these abstract ideas.cc-bnr-6pillar

Then, for some reason… call it laziness, failure to plan, summer overwhelm, whatever… we stopped talking about the pillars this past summer.  And guess what?  The ideas and behaviors that had become a daily “given” at the site (older kids helping younger, sharing, and a sense of community) simply fell out of existence.

The beautiful thing is, now that the school year is underway, and we’re back to a more normalized (ritualized) schedule, the pillars have once again become part of the conversation.  We opened with our first “Word of the Week” (WOW) and we chose the one word that sums up what it is we’re up to as a group:  COMMUNITY.

Lo, and behold- as if a magic switch were flipped, the kids are back in the swing of things.

Or, I should say, the kids are back in the conversation.

Not a casual, one-on-one conversation, but the conversation.

The conversation is made up of all the hundreds (if not thousands) of smaller daily words, actions, and conversations between the teachers and kids (and the teachers and teachers and the kids and kids as well).

I once took a course that tantalizingly held out the maxim that “the only way to transform an organization, is to raise the level of the conversation.”  When we talk with kids and keep them in THE CONVERSATION, we keep our community in existence.  Instead of looking to find ways to make children “behave”, perhaps we should be looking for ways to raise the conversation.

Should the School Day Get Longer?

There seems to be a growing call across the country to lengthen the school day.  Advocates from every political stripe see this as an easy softball issue.  Really, who would be against our kids getting smarter?

Plus, one can hear the clarion call of fearmongering leaders who warn that Americans, after years of statistical gains, are either: 1) dropping out of school at alarmingly increasing rates, or 2) falling behind our industrialized-world counterparts in academic achievement.  This can only mean one thing: we need more school time!

Let’s look at this more closely.  First, the measurement of dropout rates has been a highly contentious issue.  For such a seemingly basic statistic, one hardly knows where to turn.  For instance, the 2000 graduation rate has been pegged in the United States at anywhere between 62 and 88 percent- depending on whose research report you’re reading.  That’s a pretty wide disparity of numbers for something that one can imagine could be easily calculated.  Really… we can land a man on the moon, and yet we can’t figure out a simple statistical datum with a disparity of less than 26 percentage points?

By most accounts, the dropout rate is (and has been for the past 20 years) between 10 and 12 percent with variable spikes and valleys throughout that span.  There has been neither sharp increase nor appreciable decrease since 1990.  This “alarming” dropout rate is certainly no reason to increase the amount of time kids spend in school.

Another tactic used by the panic-of-the-week politicos goes something like this (perhaps you’ve read an article like this before?)…

Headline: American Children Falling Behind Kids in (Japan, Australia, Canada, insert most worrisome country here) in (Science, Mathematics).

What kind of sick sport is this?  Let’s pit the children of the world against each other in academic competition?  What does the winner get?  Really, I’m with Alfie Kohn on this one, when he says that these types of academic competitions and comparisons only lead to a culture that filters down… not only are countries pitted against countries, but states against states, districts against other districts in their state, schools within a district against each other… and ultimately kids against kids.  How disquieting it is to know that my 7th grader is judged, not by the merits of his own learning, but, rather, by how he stacks up against the other 32 kids in his math class.  In his book, The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing, Kohn states (and I paraphrase): if all countries do poorly in terms of academic excellence, what glory is there in being at the top; likewise, if all countries do well, what shame is there in being at the bottom?

Surely, this artificial competition between countries, states, districts, and schools is no reason to elongate the school day.  That this competition may be about money… well, that’s a different question, but I won’t digress in this post.

Many Youth-Development-Based programs operate today, but are being threatened by the spectre of extended day programs that the feds and states have implemented.  In California, this has led to more state requirements and strings attached to funding while weakening some of the strengths of asset-based (Youth Development) programs.  More on this in another post.  The point being that the state (in California and other ‘forward looking’ states) are poised to co-opt afterschool programming to use it to create a longer school day.  This is a nefarious and ill-advised idea.

Schools don’t need more time.  Really- they have our children hostage six-plus hours a day, 180-plus days a year.  Really, if they’re saying they can’t get the job done in that amount of time, why should we, the parents and public, be willing to give them additional time?  Like marketing guru Dale Calvert told me over a decade ago… “don’t wish you had more… wish you were better!”