We are so proud of the young people of the #MeToo, #TimesUp, #BlackLivesMatter & #NeverAgain movements. We are inspired by their actions and know that Out-of-School Time programs are in a unique position to support young people in their demands for safer schools, equity and justice.
For many of us, a social justice lens is at the core of our work with children and teens. Helping them develop their voice and providing opportunity for them to develop leadership skills is key to our approach in support of their moral, social, emotional and cognitive developmental needs. Whether it is through a project based learning (PBL) approach, through service learning, in support of their social & emotional learning (SEL) or through college and career preparation with an emphasis on 21st Century Skills like communication, problem solving and team work. It's one of the things we do best.
As youth are finding their voice and establishing their demands, we must continue to offer safe spaces for them.
This includes spaces where participants are looking out for each other and empower them to look for signs of depression, anxiety and trauma. Do you have a process whereby youth can get help when they think something is 'wrong' and a peer might be depressed or acting differently?
Does your program encourage and embrace mistakes? Do you look for teachable moments as opportunities for growth? Life is an iterative process and sometimes we learn the most when a caring adult or peer is there to help us reflect on our experiences. Include young people in the rules- making; and include them in the process for establishing and upholding the consequences.
Do participants know it's OK to be 'different'? Safety also means being able to make mistakes or to be different without fear or ridicule. Is your space decorated with artifacts that represent the people you work with? Are you using language that is inclusive and culturally appropriate?
Are there mechanisms in place for everyone to come together as a community? Some programs start and each day collectively, others come together for special occasions or other traditions. The more we can come together as a whole, the more we can take care of each other. Provide time for your staff to come together to get support and for training if they need it or ask for it.
While there are many other things you already do to keep youth safe, remember: always be honest. Because we work with children and youth of all ages, do it in a way that meets them where they are at. You don't have to have all of the answers or be right. Go back to the suggestion about creating teachable moments; when we show youth that we are learning too, and often learning FROM them, it is empowering. If we have a different opinion than a colleague or our agency or a difference in politics, it's an opportunity to learn and connect.
Something to keep in mind during this time: Schools may have a harder time doing some of the things that we do so well; what ways can you partner with schools during these times? Can youth provide peer to peer support? Workshops or training? Can your staff mentor or work on a project alongside a school teacher?
While the OST field plays an important role is supporting and empowering youth, we must also take seriously their demands and put pressure on the systems and policy makers to meet those demands. When we do, everyone can be more safe, and our world more equitable and just.
Read this statement from the National Afterschool Association on their stance on the #PowerOfAfterschool and their commitment to supporting the filed.