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Guest blog: Help kids reach for the stars with YouthAstroNet

By Rachel Clark

Written by Erika Wright, Science Education Specialist at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory.

How do we translate young people’s intrinsic curiosity about space science into increased interest in STEM careers, particularly among girls and those from underserved communities? That is exactly what the Science Education Department at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics intends to learn through our YouthAstroNet Program and accompanying research project. You can apply to host your own YouthAstroNet program, and receive free training, curriculum, and access to the experts on the YouthAstroNet Team!

What is YouthAstroNet?

The Harvard-Smithsonian Youth Astronomy Network (YouthAstroNet) is an online community of youth, educators, and scientists that aims to help youth typically underrepresented in the sciences gain confidence and identity as someone who can do science through unique access to the resources of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. YouthAstroNet engages youth in grades 5-8 in a number of hands-on STEAM-related activities from image processing to engineering/design challenges. As a member of the YouthAstroNet community youth can take their own images using remotely controlled robotic telescopes, process those images using a professional-grade image-processing tool to learn more about space, and even speak directly with scientist mentors from the Center for Astrophysics. 

Contribute to the research

In addition to being a diverse online community, YouthAstroNet is an NSF-funded research project that aims to determine what strategies have the highest impact when it comes to turning interest in space into belonging and career aspirations in the STEM fields. By participating in the program, and utilizing the online portal with your youth, you and your students will provide valuable data about program factors that lead to positive outcomes for youth.

Join the network!

Educators from every style of learning institution—from afterschool programs to museums to traditional classrooms—are invited to join the network with their youth and utilize resources in a way that best suits their learning environment. No prior astronomy knowledge is required. Through a 3-week asynchronous online workshop, educators are trained to use robotic telescopes, image processing software, and the interactive portal itself, as well as given access to a proven set of hands-on curriculum. Following participation in the training, educators will have ongoing access to the wide array of learning resources, as well as support from YouthAstroNet staff.

Important Dates

Application Deadline: August 24, 2016 is the formal deadline, but applications will be continue to be reviewed for the following week.

Informational Webinars: August 29 at 3:30pm ET and 6:30pmET and August 30 at 1:00pm ET and 4:30pm ET

Asynchronous Training: September 7th–21st

If you are interested in participating, please complete this brief survey. For more information, check out our Recruitment Flyer.

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US Senator praises Afterschool Ambassador named 2016 Champion for Kids

By Robert Abare

From L to R, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) with Afterschool Ambassador Julie Wild-Curry at the 2016 Afterschool for All Challenge in Washington, D.C.

Current chair of the Alaska Afterschool Network and Afterschool Ambassador Julie Wild-Curry has been recognized for her advocacy for Alaska's youth and out-of-school time programming by being named a 2016 Champion for Kids by the Alaska Children’s Trust. Wild-Curry is the Director of Afterschool Programs for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District and a White-Riley-Peterson Fellow.

Throughout her 25 year career, Wild-Curry has advocated for increased out-of-school time opportunities for children and working families, both in Alaska and across the country. Her work helped create a strong out-of-school time network in Fairbanks, AK, which has ensured families have the support they need, and that more children have access to safe and enriching environments during the after school hours.

A letter from Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was read at a reception celebrating Wild-Curry’s receipt of the Champion for Kids award on Wednesday, August 17. “What many people here this evening may not know about you is that, in addition to being an outstanding program director and mentor, you are a national leader for after school programs,” said the Senator of Wild-Curry.

The Senator went on to praise Wild-Curry’s work, in partnership with the Afterschool Alliance, in drafting and advocating for the Afterschool for America’s Children Act, which sought to strengthen the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative (21st CCLC). “The bill reflected your many years of experience and your commitment to ensuring that children have the most enriching, safest after school and summer experiences possible,” she said.

Senator Murkowski added, “I was proud to sponsor that bill because I know that whatever you recommend is worth supporting. That bill became law with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act this past December.”

Indeed, the Every Student Succeeds Act preserved and strengthened 21st CCLC despite significant challenges, an accomplishment that would not have been possible without the support of champions in Congress like Senator Murkowski and advocates like Wild-Curry.

Through the Champion for Kids award, the Alaska Children’s Trust annually recognizes an individual that has demonstrated dedication and commitment in working toward eliminating child abuse and neglect by ensuring that children are living in safe, supportive, and nurturing communities. 



Weekly Media Roundup: August 17, 2016

By Luci Manning

Summer Program Helps Kids Learn, Volunteer (Grand Haven Tribune, Michigan)

About a dozen Grand Haven students are building relationships with their community and stemming the summer slide at Grand Haven Area Public Schools’ Eastown Community Completing Homework in a Learning Lab (C.H.I.L.L.) program. The group meets twice a week to read, play math games, go on field trips and participate in a number of community service projects. The students have had a chance to serve meals at the Salvation Army, work in a community garden, help out at a food pantry and blow up basketballs for another summer recreation program. Coordinator Cathy Hegedus told the Grand Haven Tribune that the program teaches students to give back without it feeling like a chore.

A Few Swipes Swoop Youths into a New World (USA Today, California)

Low-income youths in Oakland often have little access to technology at home, so the East Oakland Youth Development Center is trying to build their digital literacy over the summer and after school. Apple recently donated 40 iPads to the Center, allowing students in the six-week summer program to go on virtual scavenger hunts, research life in other countries and mix music on GarageBand. “This is bringing a whole new world inside their backyard in a way that’s safe for them to explore,” Center president Regina Jackson told USA Today. The Center also holds afterschool tutoring, college preparation courses, music and art lessons and health and wellness programs.

For the Love of Running (The Garden Island, Hawaii)

An afterschool running and community service program is keeping students active and building supportive relationships among them and their peers. The program, which is put on by the Kauai Marathon and Half Marathon, held a fun relay activity last week for second and third graders at Kalaheo Elementary School. According to Robin Jumper, who runs the Kauai Marathon Youth Running Program, the group works with schools around the island to get kids up and moving. “We just want to inspire kids to get outside and have fresh air,” she told the Garden Island. “They don’t have to win races. They don’t have to be the best. It’s more about participation and just getting outside and getting some exercise.”

Students Create Pavilion for School (Thermopolis Independent Record, California)

Students in the Lights On Afterschool Green Construction Academy spent three weeks designing blueprints, hauling wood and building trusses to construct a new pavilion at Thermopolis Middle School. The Academy’s summer course tries to mimic a regular construction workweek – four ten-hour days every week – and even has students clock in and fill out time sheets. In addition to learning important entry-level construction skills, the youths also earn a $300 stipend and get to take home their own fully-stocked tool belt. Student Ashley Brawley said she’s glad to have spent her summer in the program. “I am not really the type to woodwork or build, to be honest,” she told the Thermopolis Independent Record. “This was a huge step outside my comfort zone, and I don’t regret it.” 



August Congressional recess is great time for site visits

By Jen Rinehart

Amanda Colecio, 13, shows off a robot that she helped build through the SHINE program. (AMY MILLER/TIMES NEWS Copyright, Zubek-Miller Photography.)

Every August, the Afterschool Alliance encourages afterschool providers to think about inviting Members of Congress, who are back in their home districts for much of the month, to come visit programs. The Afterschool Alliance offers tools to help plan a site visit, case studies of past site visits, and Q & A blogs with providers who have successfully hosted visits to make it easy to host a policy maker at a program.

Last week, I joined Congressman Lou Barletta (R-PA-11) along with his chief of staff, a staff member from Senator Casey’s office, numerous state legislators and legislative staff and local superintendents for a visit to the SHINE Afterschool Program in Jim Thorpe, PA. The SHINE Afterschool Program, funded in part by a grant from 21st Century Community Learning Centers, started in three centers that served 90 students across two counties. This year, it will serve 1,200 students from 16 centers in Carbon, Schuylkill and Luzerne counties.

Creativity and flexibility are key to a successful site visit

SHINE is no stranger to organizing site visits, but they faced a unique challenge that other providers might also face in mid-late August:  no students. SHINE offers summer programming, but it had ended by last week. In August, SHINE's model shifts to focus on home visits as they gear up for a new school year. So, SHINE did what they always do; they innovated. They invited a group of guests to Carbon Career & Technical Institute and arranged for staff, students and parents to give the invited guests a sample of what SHINE has to offer to students and families.

During the visit, we heard about the philosophy and quality principles behind SHINE, we experienced a home visit with one of the SHINE home visit teachers, we observed students engaging in activities similar to the opportunities they have during the school year, and we heard from a grandmother who is raising her grandchildren and values what SHINE has offered her grandkids over the years.

Policy makers praise the benefits of afterschool

Reflecting on his first visit to SHINE in 2011, Rep. Barletta said, “This program is exactly what we need to change the direction and lives of our children… Changing the direction and lives of our children is the best thing we can do for America.”  Rep. Barletta views SHINE as not only a model program for Pennsylvania, but for our country. State Senator Yudichak talked about meeting children and parents who talked about how much SHINE empowered them and how impressed he was by the evidence based, data-driven program that has a success record spanning more than a decade. In his words, “SHINE is improving lives in the classroom, after school and in the community.”

After seeing students using computer design software to design and build cars, program robots and test out engineering skills by building bridges, it became clear why Barletta and Yudichak are such champions. In the end, it was a grandmother who stole the show, by revealing her heartfelt appreciation for SHINE and the help and safety it provides her grandchildren despite lots of challenges.

Congratulations to Rachel Strucko, Director of SHINE and the Pennsylvania Afterschool Network, PSAYDN, for getting state and federal policy makers and local media to see what SHINE is all about, and why state and federal investments in afterschool are so important.  



Guest blog: Spoken word gives youth a voice

By Robert Abare

Written by Chanelle Ignant, Youth Participation Coordinator at KQED, and Rachel Roberson, who leads the Letters to the Next President project for KQED. Also check out the Celebrate Youth Voices event idea for Lights On Afterschool 2016.

Sign up for the upcoming Lights On Afterschool webinar "Engaging Youth Voice & Letters to the Next President" next Thursday, August 25 at 1 PM ET.

Youth tap a deep vein of self-expression with spoken word performance. Whether they are speaking out against injustice or asserting an opinion, spoken word helps young people make their voices heard. 

With the election fast approaching, spoken word is one of many ways youth can express their views on issues that mean most to them. Teens can then publish their views on national platforms like Letters to the Next President 2.0, which launched in August.

But it takes time, patience and an open mind on the part of a mentor to help make spoken word happen.

“You can’t start with your own assumptions or preconceptions about what young people are interested in, what they’re into, what their cultural orientation is based on their appearance or on any demographic data that you have,” says M.C. K~Swift, a senior poet mentor with Youth Speaks Bay Area.  “You have to start really with who they are, and find out who they are from them not from anyone else.”

Once mentors discover what youth are interested in, it’s time to write. And write. And write some more. M.C. K~Swift recommends building trust by asking questions and keeping an open mind.

“When I’m talking to young people I find myself saying, “I don’t know about that, can you tell me more,” M.C. K~Swift says.

Mentors who are writers themselves can provide guidance. But it’s hard to teach what you don’t know.

“If you don’t love writing you can’t convince anyone else to. So be honest with yourself. If you don’t practice writing then you can’t be a guide in that practice,” M.C. K~Swift says. He recommends bringing in a writing instructor, creative artist or expert within your organization, if needed. 

M.C. K~Swift recently led a spoken word workshop at The Mix, San Francisco Public Library’s innovative teen space. The month-long series drew group of 12 young people interested in exploring the spoken word format.



Your community could win $25K through the Culture of Health Prize

By Robert Abare

Every year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) honors U.S. communities that are making strides and setting an example in the effort to lead more people to healthy lifestyles through the Culture of Health Prize. In 2017, up to 10 winners will receive a $25,000 prize, along with the opportunity to share their strategies and accomplishments with the nation through RWJF.

The Culture of Health prize recognizes and celebrates communities where businesses, nonprofits or civic organizations—including afterschool programs—law enforcement and schools have joined forces to improve the community's health and overall wellbeing. The deadline to apply for the 2017 Culture of Health Prize is November 2, 2016.

What are the judges looking for?

There are many ways a community can build a Culture of Health, including:  encouraging healthy behaviors, establishing clinical care, researching social and economic factors, and improving the physical environment. Judges will look to see that applicant communities are taking action across these areas. Judges will also look to see how a community responds to the unique needs of its citizens, and are particularly interested in seeing effective changes in education, employment/income, family and social support, and community safety.

Who is eligible to apply?

As the Culture of Health Prize is intended to honor U.S. communities at large, submissions representing the work of a single organization will not be considered. However, afterschool programs are doing their part to improve the health of kids, families and communities across the country. Your program could play a key role in the application process, and could stand to benefit if your community wins the Culture of Health Prize.

Applications to the Culture of Health Prize may represent any of the following:

  • City, town, village, borough, and other local incorporated places.
  • County or parish.
  • Federally-recognized tribe.
  • Native Hawaiian organization serving and representing the interests of Native Hawaiians in Hawaii.
  • Region (such as contiguous towns, cities, or counties). 
  • Neighborhoods, states and unincorporated local communities are not eligible to apply. 


Registration is open for Lights On Afterschool 2016!

By Robert Abare

The new look of Lights On Afterschool

Registration is now open for the nation’s only celebration of afterschool programs! Mark your calendars for Lights On Afterschool: October 20, 2016, and then start preparing for your event by registering today.

Last year’s Lights On Afterschool saw more than 1 million Americans celebrate at 8,200 events across the country. This year, we’re launching a redesigned logo and website along with updated resources to make Lights On Afterschool bigger and brighter than ever.

Top reasons to register today

  • If you register before August 18, you’ll be entered to win a Lights On Afterschool gift pack full of fun swag to hand out to kids and visitors at your event.
  • Receive 10 free copies of this year’s poster to help spread the word about your event. (Stay tuned to the Afterschool Snack learn this year’s winner of the poster design contest!)
  • Get priority registration for our Lights On Afterschool webinar series.
  • Place your event on our national map of Lights On Afterschool events.
  • Start receiving Lights On Afterschool emails that walk you through our redesigned resources, this year’s top event themes and ideas, and more.

More things to check out on the new Lights On Afterschool website

Start getting the word out today! Share your plans for this year's #LightsOnAfterschool on social media and you could get highlighted by the official Afterschool Alliance accounts on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram



Weekly Media Roundup: August 10, 2016

By Luci Manning

Police Mentorship Program Pairs Officers with City Youth (Jersey Journal, New Jersey)

Students at the Bayonne Youth Center are being given the chance to build self-confidence thanks to a new partnership with the Bayonne Police Department. Several police officers volunteered to mentor the youths for a year, participating in community service opportunities, field trips and educational lectures. “The officers and children have face to face interactions within the community a minimum of one hour per week and act as role models, friends and a support system for them,” Police Lt. Juan Carlos Betancourth told Jersey Journal.

Students Tackle Prejudice in Va. Leadership Retreat (Daily Press, Virginia)

A five-day leadership retreat has armed some 60 students with the knowledge needed to implement new initiatives to support diversity and inclusiveness in their schools this fall. The Emerging Student Leaders Institute program helps students to confront ingrained stereotypes and prejudices. Upon completing the program, the students built action plans to create clubs, workshops, assemblies and awareness campaigns to foster diversity appreciation among their classmates. “When we experience the cycle of prejudice, most times we don’t realize it’s there,” 17-year-old Chanel Rodriguez told the Daily Press. “But when we break down the word and examples, you notice that it happens in everyday life, so it can be definitely implemented into our school system to make safe and open places for people to be themselves.”

Allentown Students Meet Geek Squad (Morning Call, Pennsylvania)

Best Buy employees spent two days teaching middle and high school students how to compose and produce their own music, create digital films and develop designs for 3-D printing at the Geek Squad Academy summer computer camp. The camp received a special visit last week from U.S. Rep. Charlie Dent, who praised the program, telling the Morning Call that it’s good to see “young people are taking time out of their summer holiday to learn, to develop skills that will serve them well in life.” Best Buy runs 30 such camps around the country, aiming to connect with low-income students especially.

Police, Vets Get Thank-You Bags (Norwich Bulletin, Connecticut)

About 30 Norwich middle school students gave special gifts showing their appreciation to the city’s police officers and veterans last week. The youths assembled brown paper bags filled with sweet treats for the officers as part of the Acts of Kindness Project, a six-week summer learning camp focused on service learning projects. According to the Norwich Bulletin, camper Zarya Neal presented the “survival kits” to the officers at a special assembly, describing what was in each bag—candies like Life Savers, “to remind you of the many times you’ve been a life-saver,” Paydays, “because you are not doing it for the money” and Tootsie Rolls, “to help you roll with the punches.”