Friday, November 30, 2007

Lens of Lack: The Identification of Children through the Adult Perspective

An issue that has come up through lots of the research I have done as well as the work I have done in the non-profit sector has been the identification of the needs of children through the eyes of adults.

One of the biggest problems that leads to the ineffectiveness of after-school programs is it tends to be more adult-centered than youth-centered. Adults and society are the ones defining what children need and the behaviors they need to exude. Constructing youth as deficient leads to youth demonstrating education and social downfalls and exhibit negative behaviors. Adults assume the needs of children, and thus define the support that is provided to the youth. Adults, society, and schools define what it means to be an educated child by stating what type of knowledge is valued and how it can be measured to be deemed as successful. Childhood is constructed by those involved in after-school programs through policies where adults control time, place and experience. Adults define the social capital that are accessible to kids and equate “good children” with those who academically achieve, as shown in grades and standardized test scores.

Childhood is portrayed as an empty space to be filled by adult visions and state parameters for experiences in education, some appropriate and some not. In this regard, children do not participate in the narrating of their own experiences. We understand childhood through a fragmented construction-visual image and test scores. Childhood is organized into a division of work, school, and play, where their need for safety and vulnerability to high risk behaviors leads to the necessity of adult and state regulations.

Many times, youth development, as emphasized by after-school programs is to help children become what they’re not, for them to develop in contradiction to their values, beliefs, and skills of their own communities. Good children are academically successful, and education is defined in terms of performance objectives measured by performance indicators. Value is placed on school-based goals and behaviors not to those seen as resistant to normative expectations of learning.

This is more detrimental for children who live in high poverty communities. Children and families in high poverty areas and who attend low performing schools are constructed as lacking and in need of additional schooling intervention.

How can this be resolved in after-school programs so children are truly at the center of the program while gaining ownership over it?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Technological Advances: How should we Integrate Technology in After-School programs?

With the current advances of techonology it is difficult to get ahead in this world without grasping basic skills involving technology and computers. To what capacity should technology be integrated into the curriculum of after school programs? Also, how do areas with limited resources gain access to such important technological resources?

Technology enables students to develop self-expression and creativity in numerous ways. It also enables youth to gather and share information in an internet-reliant modern world. Access to technology also enables youth to find and solve problems using a variety of different methods. Through collaboration on projects using technology, youth are able to learn within virtual spaces and build skills and understanding. The major benefit of technology is its emphasis on project learning.

Many times, the idea of computers sparks enthusiasm among youth. Gaining competence in computers reinforces skills in other academic subjects and assists in homework completion. Also, may parents state access to computers and technology as a high priority for thier kids. Access to technology is an important learning tool that can increase motivation and lead to more positive attitudes amongst youth.

However, many areas, specifically underprivileged areas, have limited access to technological resources. These resources, specifically computers, tend to be expensive. So there is a threat that this can perpetuate already existing inequalities. How can this be addressed?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

How much Should we Focus on Academics?

You would think that it would make the most sense of focus predominantly on raising academic achievement in after school programs. Most after school programs seek to ameliorate the educational inequalities that are prevalent in schools through their programs. By providing homework assistance and one-on-one tutoring and attention, many programs seek to raise the academic achievement of the youth they serve.

But how much should an after school program focus on academics? Also, who defines the objectives and the goals of the after school program? Is it the school district? The youth? The families?

In an article entitled "All work and no play?" researchers asked community members what exactly they want from after school programs. If the program is meant to address the needs of a community, shouldn't the members be the ones identifying what the needs are? According to this study, many parents want an opportunity for kids to develop hobbies and interests while keeping out of trouble while participating in after-school programs. Parents also hope that programs reinforce good values and behavior such as hard work and comitment. Many community members showed a limited interest in focusing primarily on academics.

This one example is just a reflection of how we, as community activists, need to listen more to the people we represent and hope to positively effect. By making parents and children an integral part of constructing the curriculum and defining what the program is, this can lead to increased participation and feelings of ownership. It is essential that the voices of community members is implemented in every step of the process in order to trule address the injustices that silence their voices every day.

Question to Payment: Should Students Pay for Extracurricular Activities?

What we tend to forget in the sector of after school programs is that it costs money. Even if run out of schools, the costs of salaries, curricular demands, and running facilities increases the costs of running a school district, where administrators seek to cut spending and increase revenues. This is even more costly when after school programs are run out of community centers, where facilities and resources are not necessarily accessible. Recently, schools have shifted the financial burden onto students and parents, by having a fee to participate in a variety of after school activities and extracurriculars.

The problem with this is that it automatically cuts off certain students from participation, specifically students from underprivileged families. Fees can serve as an automatic barrier to a large portion of the students population.

Some schools believe that waivers can solve this problem. However, what exactly fits under the umbrella of a free and public education? Can after school programs and extracurriculars be considered an extension of school curriculum, governed and supported by schools?

Ulitmately, in both scenarios, those from underprivileged backgrounds and low-income areas lose out. Many times, even minor fees are out of reach of students who come from low socioeconomic backgrounds. However, in admitting need for waiver, this may lead to identifying oneself based on negative social stimgas. It is again another situation where this student would have to identify himself or herself as lacking in order to gain access to resources.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The integration of Art: Expanding means of Expression

With the focus on meeting national standards in the forefront of education, many low-income schools have reallocated resources away from art programs. Many US schools don't have full time art teachers, and the focus on standards has lead to the elimination of art in many urban schools.

After school programs is a perfect avenue in which to implement art into the experience of youth. Arts has the ability to retain older youth, who normally diminish in the participation as they get older, so they feel more satisfied and competent in their work. The arts value and nurture knowledge and skills that are often ignored in the formal sector of education. These skills include intuitive, critical, culturally specific, entrepreneurial, cooperative, kinesthic, and transformative skills. Art requires long term collaboration including planning, managing, strategizing, and evaluating.

A problem that some after school programs face in implementing an artistic component is conflicting values of teachers and artists. Many teachers emphasize the need to increase educational attainment and have a safe yet structured environment. Many artists emphasize the need to have free experimentation and flexibility for youth to freely express themselves artistically.

However, art has numerous benefits. Arts develop the youth mind by giving them the opportunity to learn and think in special ways. Art also serves a social function, by giving youth the opportunity to express themselves and their culture in the past and present. Art also enables students to build self-confidence, while building skills that are transferrable to other life areas.

Through art, students are able to know themselves, their community, and their culture better. Personally, I work with a small non profit organization that focuses on art as a means to have youth gain leadership skills. Through the production of murals, youth are able to identify positive place in their community.

Assessment: How to Measure if a Program is Successful

One of the biggest challenges faced by after school programs is that it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. Many times, positive social and academic changes can occur amongst the youth that participate, but it is hard to isolate the factors of the program that results in those positive changes. It is important for after school programs to measure the affects they have on youth because this enables them to show results to those they seek funding and resources from. Without this evaluation and evidence, why would people and funding foundations put money towards the initiative?

Most quality programs combine academic, recreational, physical, and artistic elements in the curriculum to engage youth in somewhat structured activities. Good after school programs should provice youth with a safe environment to nurture social, physical, and emotional development. Again, these terms seem somewhat ambiguous, hard to evaluate, and measure.

Zhang, Lam, Smith, Fleming, Connaughton address assessing effectiveness in afterschool programs in their 2006 article, "Development of the Scale for Program Facilities to Assess the Effectiveness of After School Achievement Programs". In this article, they identify 4 steps to assess effectiveness of afterschool programs. The four aspects of after school programs that determine their effectiveness include scholastic development, social behavior, caring environment, and personal inspiration. Scholastic Development includes homework assistance, academic remediation, career awareness, learning of technology, enriching activities (sports, fitness, recreation, music, and arts) and can be measured in increased grades and standardized test scores. Social behavior includes behavioral issues, character building, youth development, increased prosocial behavior, cope with behavioral problems, obtain new social skills to meet increased demands school and society, postively affect student attitudes and behaviors in school and ability to achieve learning goals, stay out of trouble, resolution to decrease fighting, and are less likely to drink and skip school. A caring environment is a safe haven, less parental stress with safe and motivating environment and increased children's behavior and rate of homework completion, decreased worry about safety, increased apprecaitive of child's talents, and at ease to concentrate on vocation. Personal inspiration involves an increased sense of personal competence and confidence, feelings of self worth, increased self-concept, increased self esteem leading to increased efficacy.

After school programs need to establish ways to monitor the progress of the program to achieve objectives. Programs need to seek ways to evaluate their programs to increase their effectiveness and accountability to ensure parent and children satisfaction. Through the process of evaluation, program facilitators can adjust curriculum, reallocate funding, increase facilities, develop staff, make decisions, and increase accountability.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Homework Assistance: Why it's important and how to make it effective

The focus of many after school programs is to provide youth with opportunities for one on one tutoring to help youth complete their homework. Many youth who attend after school programs have difficulty completing work in the classroom, so after school programs provide youth with the assistance with which to successfully complete the work assigned to them.

The purpose of homework is to take the academic work assigned in school and extend the practice of academic skills into other environments during non-school hours. Homework is designed to have students drill and gain mastery of skills, expand the concepts they learn in class, increase individual student responsibility, and give parents insight into their childrens' curriculum. Recently there has been an increase in homework demands because of the competition present in college admission. This causes a lot of conflict for students from low-income urban backgrounds, because a large number of the students are unable to complete their homework because of the competing demands of time with taking care of their families or working to support their household. This ultimately leads to lower academic achievement of this population of students.

Many kids spend after school hours in some sort of unstructured activity with low correlation to school achievement. Most of the time, programs that offer homework assistance provide structured time and setting for homework completion, as well as instructional support for students. This allows students to report an increased sense of confidence in regards to their academic performance.

It is very difficult, when researching this topic, to see how positive outcomes are linked specifically to the idea of homework completion in after school programs. However, it has been proposed that homework completion is the mediator of positive non academic outcomes such as self esteem and confidence, increased academic self concept, commitment to school, personal responsibility, reinforcement of school attachment, increased study skills, cognitive strategies and motivation. Also, there has been reported to be a development of resilience in social problem solving, decision making, personal responsibility, social awareness, and maintain student bonding to school.

However, in regards to future research, there needs to be more studies that isolate the affects of homework assitance in after school programs. As of currently, there is little evidence to support that homework assistance in after school programs leads conclusively to positive results.