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From the Desk of Saskia Traill: On My Mind

March 2, 2020

Saskia Traill

Saskia Traill is President & CEO at ExpandED Schools.

We have come a great distance over the last few decades in institutionalizing afterschool as a place where kids can find new passions and hone their skills. Today, afterschool programs are enriching the lives of hundreds of thousands of young people with stimulating programming and eye-opening activities.

Yet, there is so much more to do to strengthen and expand afterschool programs to reach the majority of New York City’s 1.1 million school children, 75% of whom live below the poverty line. Currently, only 25% of students have access to afterschool. I spend a lot of time thinking about the challenges and opportunities ahead, and I wanted to share my thoughts in the hopes of generating more conversation and collaboration.

  1. Civics in Afterschool: All children should unlock the power they have to be engaged in their communities and society. The city’s afterschool funding agency, the Department of Youth and Community Development, has been innovative in this area, building civics opportunities into summer youth employment and afterschool programs. I wonder how we can transform existing curricula so that all K-12 children take an active role in their communities to build community and social justice. The afterschool hours offer the time and space for creativity to flow.
  2. Afterschool as a Vehicle for Career Exploration: Work-based learning opportunities are cropping up all around us. ExpandED’s Options Program allows high school students to gain skills in afterschool that they then put to work as summer camp instructors. This is a paid, credit-bearing opportunity that connects young adults with organizations and professionals who can become life-long connections. But there is more we need to do on this front. Companies in varied industries recognize that they need problem-solvers, creative thinkers, and people who are great working in teams. Through work-based learning programs, students can an array of skills that they can take with them into careers of the future. ExpandED Schools is at work on an exciting work-based learning project through which we seek to bring many new resources to the field, so please stay tuned. I would love to see more programs like our Pathways Fellowship that provides an opportunity for people working in afterschool to pursue a career in teaching.
  3. Social-Emotional Learning for Educators: There has been a groundswell of understanding about the importance of holistic social, emotional, and academic development for young people. We know that social and emotional competencies enable people to get through college and continue to advance their personal and professional lives. These competencies have huge implications for physical health and chronic illness throughout life as well. We’re working with school day and after-school educators to bring the best of these practices to all educators and bring educators together to support kids in common ways throughout the entire day.
  4. Brain Science and the Magic of Adolescence: If you are a teacher, educator, or parent familiar with an adolescent, you have likely wondered about what goes on in their minds. Fortunately, great neuroscience research is emerging to help us understand how adolescent brains work, particularly when it comes to decision-making and learning. The adolescent brain goes through an amazing transformation as the cognitive and emotional systems that once operated independently start to function as a complex, interconnected cognitive-emotional unit with dynamic hormone systems that affect learning, social interactions, emotions, leadership skills, self-awareness, and so much more. As ExpandED plans for the future, we are taking into account the current research to design programs that best support adolescents.
  5. Afterschool as a Vehicle for Career Development and Upward Mobility: Afterschool educators are the city’s catalytic fertilizer, nurturing the next generation of leaders to grow in healthy ways. With a stable afterschool system like never before, we need to develop our afterschool talent. With so many college students and young adults working in afterschool, these programs offer a gateway to careers in youth services, teaching, and many other professions. I would love to see more programs like our Pathways Fellowship that provide those working in afterschool opportunities to build their careers.
  6. Improving Behind-the-Scenes Systems: When people think of afterschool, they are not likely to consider system mechanics, which have a huge effect on quality learning for kids. For example, when community-based organizations need to fight for administrative funds to keep the lights on and get an audit done, they spend precious time and resources. For example, this year’s sudden rule changes regarding staff hiring procedures made it especially difficult to staff up. As a systems builder, I would like ExpandED Schools to be a part of the solution to ensure that community-based organizations do not encounter unnecessary headaches as they work to run quality afterschool program.