OOSA - Out Of School Academy

Jul 24

Winding Down while Ramping Up

It is hard to believe there is less than one month of summer left before school starts!  For those of us working in the out-of-school-time field, it is a period of push and pull.  While we are still knee-deep in our summer programs, our brains are already being drawn into planning for the fall.  We are simultaneously winding down and ramping up.  The result often feels like a spinning head!

In order to help you calm some of the chaos, this post offers a quick checklist of fall-planning activities you may want to start working on.  If it helps, go ahead and put a “due date” by each of the activities, to help you spread out the workload over the next weeks.  If you have coworkers who can help you with some of the activities or deliverables, put their names down by the item and spend this week asking them for support.

Program Applications:

O   Update your 2012-2013 program application and distribute it. 

O   If you have already sent out your application, do a push to get applications back (phone calls, email blasts, post flyers).

O   Update your program acceptance letter.

O   Once your 2012-2013 has passed and you have received enough applications, contact families to let them know their children have been accepted and send out your program acceptance letter.

O   Update and include any necessary paperwork for families to fill out in the program acceptance letter (e.g. emergency forms, field trip forms, important program dates, etc.)

O   Plan a family orientation and inform families of the day(s) and time(s).  You may want to hold more than one orientation to accommodate the busy schedules of your families.

Staff Hiring and Professional Development:

O   Revise your job descriptions for any open positions, post, and begin interviews.

O   Plan a staff orientation, put it on the calendar, and inform staff of the dates and times.

O   Pick weekly or monthly staff meeting times for the year (e.g. Tuesdays from 1-3pm), and put it on a calendar along with other important program dates.  Send the calendar out to staff so they can plan ahead.

Program Schedules and Activities:

O   Review any participant surveys and plan out classes and special program activities for the fall. 

O   Create a program schedule that you can share with families and staff.

O   Create a list of materials that you will need to purchase before the start of program in order for activities to run smoothly.

O   Update sign-in/out sheets, lesson plan templates, and any other paperwork that staff are required to complete for program activities.

Hopefully using this list will help you feel more organized and less panicked about winding down while ramping up!  Upcoming posts will delve into some of the checklist areas in more detail.  In the meantime, if you have a specific area you would like me to address, or a suggestion for something to add to the list, post a comment or send an email!


Apr 19

Weather is Cool

I always think of “talking about the weather” as a last resort at a boring cocktail party.  However, in case you are not familiar with San Francisco weather patterns, they are bizarre, and may actually merit some discussion. 

On the side of the city where I live, near the beach, it is pretty much perpetually gray and cold from June through August.  Meanwhile, only 15-20 blocks inland, it is sunny and warm.  Move even further east, and the temperature is likely to be at least ten degrees warmer, sun shining, you know, summer.

Tourists who visit San Francisco are always easy to spot on the beach as they are chronically underdressed (“But it was sunny and warm at my hotel!”)  So, OK, let’s jump in!  Because the reasons behind why these crazy weather patters occur is just one example of how to get your afterschool program participants excited about the wonderfully scientific world of weather.  Here is the San Francisco example played out:

1.     Start with a field trip that begins at Ocean Beach, and ends in the Mission - or vice-versa (a ride on the N-Judah would work great).  Have students get off of the train periodically to check the air temperature and make notes about the color of the sky, sun visibility, etc.

2.     Upon returning to the afterschool program, chart your findings on a map and ask your group to hypothesize why they think there were these variations.

3.     Help your group use the internet to find an explanation of San Francisco’s microclimates.  An article from 2001 in the SF Chronicle (our local newspaper) sums it all up nicely and is worth a read.

4.     Now see if your students can find other examples throughout the world where microclimates exist (i.e. Santiago, Chile).

Did you learn something?

There are many other weather phenomena that can generate enthusiasm.  Lightening usually gets people’s pulses up quickly.  Again, the internet is your friend as there are some really incredible videos on YouTube of lightening strikes that are worth watching.  This is one of my favorites.  Or check out the tornado videos (definitely screen these beforehand for younger students, as some of the videos are pretty scary).

After learning about the science of lightening or tornadoes, your students can research what to do to avoid getting hurt by these types of storms.  They may even want to do a service-learning project and create flyers or posters or a presentation for the larger afterschool program community about how to stay safe in dangerous weather situations.  Or, hey, maybe they want to make a brochure for tourists explaining how to dress in each neighborhood!

You really don’t need to spend a lot of time creating lessons.  The Weather Channel actually has a pretty awesome website with ideas, games, and lessons for learning about weather. 

Weather is such a cool place to start when studying dinosaurs, or cultures of the world, or, heck, even fashion.  Because, although it may make lame cocktail party talk, it really is one of the major influencers in our lives – so, go ahead, why not spend a little time trying to understand it?

Apr 09

Homework - HELP!

I am actually not a big advocate of homework.  In my experience, homework simply furthers the divide between the students who are understanding what is happening in class, and can therefore DO their homework, and those who do not understand the material and therefore CANNOT do their homework.  This might not be such a big deal, if it weren’t for the fact that successful homework completion often hinges on whether or not a student has someone around who can actually help with homework.  For many students, especially those students who do not have access to a quality afterschool program, there simply isn’t anyone around to answer questions or offer support.  In the end, homework becomes one more frustration and one more reason to dislike school.  Paper airplane and spitballs are flying.

For those of you who are in a position to help students with their homework, I would like to offer the following suggestions.  For those of you who are not currently in a position to offer homework help, I strongly encourage you to volunteer at a local afterschool program.  There are so many students who need just an hour of your time to help them understand the work!  Your impact could be revolutionary.

Homework Help Tips:

1.     Time it Right:  After a long day of school, the last thing children want to be doing is sitting still and concentrating.  Before starting homework time, make sure students have a solid 30-60 minutes of “running around” time (preferably in the fresh air), have a snack, and have a chance to chat and debrief their day with their friends.

2.     Create the Right Environment:  By the end of the day, even the most focused student may have trouble concentrating.  Insist on quiet in the homework room, and be conscious of where students are sitting – if a student is easily distracted, do not sit her near her friends, near an open window or door, or within reach of books, toys, or other items that could pull her off-task.

3.     Gather the Right Tools:  Create “homework kits” that include rulers, sharpened pencils, erasers, calculators, dictionaries, and anything else you think your students might need during homework time.  A lot of time and energy gets wasted looking for these items, so help your students be prepared.

4.     Create a “Help” System:  Students waste a lot of homework time waiting for someone to help them.  Teach to “skip” homework items they need help with and move on to those they can do on their own while they wait for help.  Develop a system for students to ask for your help without having to wait with their hand raised.  For example, you could put a card on each students’ desk that is green on one side (meaning, “I don’t need help”), which they can flip over to red (meaning, “I need help”) on the other side.  Then make sure to make your rounds to the red cards!

5.     Prepare Post-Homework Activities:  There is nothing more frustrating or distracting for a student struggling to finish homework than the students who have already finished their homework.  Either train these early-finishers to be tutors for their peers (or for a younger grade), or offer them quiet activities they can do while they wait for everyone else to finish such as reading, fun writing prompts, math games, etc.

6.     Get Help:  Some students benefit tremendously from one-on-one or small group help.  If you have a few students who consistently struggle to finish their homework, recruit a volunteer, college student, or parent to sit with those students in a separate area to offer more intensive assistance.  You may also consider contacting those students’ teachers to share your concerns about their homework and figure out the best way to help them.

There are a ton of websites dedicated to homework help!  Do a Google search and let us know what you come up with.  We’d love to hear your ideas.

And please let us know if using these tips help reduce the amount of soggy paper you are scraping off of the ceiling.


Mar 14

Reduce Test-Stress

Spring is just around the corner!  Peas have sprouted in my garden, the days are getting longer, and robins have been sighted in the yard.  It is a wonderful time of year when teachers, parents, and students look forward to that most joyful occasion of… testing.

I am not here to pontificate on the pros and cons of testing (because I would be hard-pressed to muster up any pros), but, rather, to offer some suggestions to those of you working in out-of-school-time programs about how to make this time of year less stressful for the young people in your programs.

For those of you in school-based afterschool programs, you may be feeling pressure from the administration to do test prep in your program.  If you have no choice, then, by all means, help your students feel more confident through direct practice. 

If, however, you have some sway in the matter, I am here to recommend some alternative activities and some of the research to back those activities up.

Play Strategy Games
This is like sneaking vegetables into ice cream.  Help your students build skills and exercise their brains without even knowing it!  Anything from Connect Four to Chess; Apples to Apples, to Pictionary…  these games build great social skills, too!  Set up a tournament day to raise the stakes a little if you want.

Make Music
Karaoke, anyone?  Drum circle?  Check out this research shared at a symposium at Stanford University:

“Harold Russell, a clinical psychologist and adjunct research professor in the Department of Gerontology and Health Promotion at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, used rhythmic light and sound stimulation to treat ADD (attention deficit disorder) in elementary and middle school boys. His studies found that rhythmic stimuli that sped up brainwaves in subjects increased concentration in ways similar to ADD medications such as Ritalin and Adderall. Following a series of 20-minute treatment sessions administered over several months, the children made lasting gains in concentration and performance on IQ tests and had a notable reduction in behavioral problems compared to the control group, Russell said.”

Burn Off Some Steam (BOSS!)
Make sure your students are getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity each afternoon when they arrive.  Relay races, dancing, jump rope… try to choose activities that require students to break into a sweat, not just stand around and wait for a ball.  Here’s an article on some research on the benefits of intensive exercise.

Focus on Nutrients
Been wanting to start a cooking club?  Now is the time!  Up the ante on your healthy snacks by introducing unusual fruits, lots of fresh vegetables, and whole-grain breads and crackers.  Watch this slideshow on WebMD for more suggestions.

Tackle Stress Head-On
What do YOU like to do to reduce stress?  Introduce the same techniques to your students.  Maybe you like to do a few yoga stretches, deep breathing, or positive visualization (ah, that vacation in Hawaii sure sounds good).  Practice these strategies with your students so that they can benefit from them, too!  And research shows that doing deep breathing reduces stress just as much as getting a massage – so practice it more in your own life, too!

Have more ideas or know of some great research on stress-reduction and brain power?  Please share them!

Mar 08

Minding the Gap

Leslie Bennetts wrote a highly informative article on “ Women and the Leadership Gap ,” for this week’s edition of Newsweek.  In honor of International Women’s Day, I strongly recommend you take five minutes to read it.

In the article, Bennetts quotes an array of statistics that absolutely shocked me. (Do they shock you?)  For example:

Bennetts quotes Mary Quist-Newins, an assistant professor at The American College, “In the financial services industry, 57 percent of the workers are women—but only 1.5 percent of the CEO’s are female.” 


And how about this zinger of a paragraph of statistics from Bennetts:  “Among this year’s Academy Award nominations, 98 percent were given to movies directed by men, 84 percent went to movies written by men, and 70 percent to movies starring men. In the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, as elsewhere in American society, the important decisions continue to be made by men: 77 percent of Oscar voters are male.”

Of course, the situation is ubiquitous, and not limited to who is CEO and who wins an Academy Award, as anyone who works with children or youth will tell you.

Let’s talk about math for a minute, since STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is getting a lot of attention (and funding) these days.  There have been a myriad of studies done that show that stereotyping about who is good at math (boys) begins in elementary school – often before the test score gap between boys and girls in math even presents itself (upper elementary/middle school).  Likewise, there has been a great deal of research done on why the math gap starts and persists.  Do a quick Google search on “girls math research” and read a few of the studies.  Just don’t do it right after eating lunch.  The statistics will make you queasy.

Let me challenge you to think about your daily contact with the girls in your life, program, or class.  Are there any things going on that may, subtly or overtly, be passing along math gender stereotypes.  For example:

-       If you are a woman, do you ever let slip to your students that you are not very good at math? 

-       What gender are your math tutors? 

-       Which gender gets the most attention/time with a tutor during homework time?  (I’m guessing it’s the boys, based on the research).  Seriously, take a day or two and keep track of this, just to make sure you’re not missing something obvious.

Now, what are you doing in your program to actively undo the gender gap?  Not sure where to start?  Here are a few ideas!

-       Check out Expanding Your Horizons, a non-profit organization whose networking mission is to, “Encourage young women to pursue science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers,” and get your girls involved.

-       Jump in with Girls, Inc., to provide programming and learning opportunities directed specifically at empowering girls.

-       If you need a little inspiration to start a discussion, watch some of the videos posted on SheHeroes’ website with your youth or staff.

Have more ideas or resources?  Please share them with us! 

There is no better time than now.  As Bennetts points out, “In an era when health insurance plans reimburse men for Viagra while denying women coverage for birth control, it’s anyone’s guess when women will finally decide to mobilize their numbers and their networks to demand an equal voice, instead of continuing to tolerate their relative disenfranchisement.”  Case in point, the current debate regarding Federal funding to women’s health services (in case you haven’t been following that debate, here’s a recent New York Times article for you).

This is not history; this is now.  This is not going to just “work itself out” unless we actively do something to address it.

Use this post as an excuse to make a resolution to make a change in your behavior, your program, or your life to support and promote equality for girls so that International Women’s Day can really be an occasion to celebrate.