“Teaching reading is rocket science. People don’t understand just how much you need to know to help kids of this age who haven’t had much success in traditional settings,” stated a participant at the 2005 Summit on Supporting Adolescent Literacy Development in Out-of-School-Time Programs. In fact, teaching literacy requires extensive, quality professional development for all staff working with adolescents. In the out-of-school-time field, the workforce is often characterized by high turnover and minimal formal education certification. Any training needs are generally met through coaching and on-the-job training in order for staff to acquire new instructional skills and facilitation methods.
Currently, access to quality literacy training is somewhat limited for out-of-school-time staff. According to a survey conducted by the Center for Summer Learning following their 2006 National Conference, about half of the summer program providers surveyed considered building young people’s literacy skills a primary focus of their program; and 65% of those programs provided staff less than one week of training prior to the beginning of the program. While some of those program providers utilized a particular literacy curriculum, about half did not. The types of curriculum used included Camelot Learning, Great Source, KidzLit, Rigby Guided Reading, Voyager, or a curriculum developed by the program staff.
However, there are several efforts underway to increase the training and professional development options available to out-of-school-time staff. Two- and four-year universities and graduate schools are beginning to offer degrees and certificates in out-of-school-time learning and youth development; national organizations are beginning to standardize the training they make available or require of staff; coaching is becoming more common, particularly in the afterschool setting; and providers are becoming more cognizant of the training needs of seasonal and volunteer staff.
“We need to have professionals put their life in this program,” stated another Summit participant. To create a viable career path, afterschool and summer program staff must have access to professional development, in particular, certification programs that will validate their work experience and reduce the turnover rate. Although some critics argue that certifications will not increase legitimacy of the profession, others feel that the out-of-school-time workforce would gain respect as a profession.
Several institutions of higher education have already begun to validate youth development and out-of-school-time learning as important components of students’ growth by offering degree programs. Undergraduate majors in youth development are available through universities such as Arizona State University, Charter Oak College, Wheelock College, and University of Wisconsin, River Falls, while others are creating graduate courses and tracks to support the demand (e.g., Harvard University, University of California Berkeley and Irvine campuses, and University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Johns Hopkins University). In addition, higher education institutions are forming consortia to provide online learning opportunities. For example, the Great Plains Interactive Distance Education Alliance (IDEA) is a consortium of ten universities that recently began offering an online graduate degree in youth development.
Professional organizations, such as Boys and Girls Clubs, for example, have begun to standardize training for out-of-school-time staff. Family Lit, a city-based training that provides certification of knowledge, is available to Boys and Girls Club staff. To reach more paraprofessionals, the program is also available online, allowing staff increased access to training, including instructional videos and assessments.
As the field moves toward professionalization, organizations and individuals at all levels must continue to build partnerships with higher education institutions, changing the culture of how education professionals view out-of-school-time professionals. These partnerships will encourage younger members of the workforce to obtain certification. Consequently, these certified professionals would view a career in the field as a long-term opportunity. Certification programs also have the potential to build more equitable staff, allowing students from diverse communities to all benefit from quality providers.
National Teaching Fellowship at Citizen Schools University
The National Teaching Fellowship at Citizen Schools is a two-year leadership development program offering experience and the opportunity to work within two leading educational institutions: a Citizen Schools campus and a partner organization. The Fellowship, created in 1997, is designed to provide hands-on leadership development to recent graduate and mid-career professionals who want to engage in out-of-school time. The Fellowship provides full tuition and health benefits. On average, sixty-three fellows in eleven communities are served.
Language Arts Homework Zone Program at Foundations, Inc.
The Language Arts Zone, a subset of the Homework Zone Program, is designed to address adolescent literacy in out-of-school time through reading, writing, and activities for English Language Learners. To train staff in this area, Foundations, Inc. provides extensive professional development for both learning coaches and teachers. The professional development includes training materials, supplemental resources, tools to manage operations of the program, and pre-implementation meetings with afterschool program and school officials. Periodic operations meetings are also conducted among administrative staff to assess the implementation of the program, and a formal evaluation is conducted at the conclusion of each the program.
In regards to adolescent literacy, professional development can be best provided through literacy coaches. Skilled coaches can provide the core knowledge staff needs to work with adolescents, including delivery systems, teaching methods, curriculum, and learning assessments. Literacy coaches help build knowledge through effective approaches and strategies that can translate to adolescent reading engagement. Quality engagement among the students creates internal motivation to understand, confidence, strategic thinking, an increased knowledge base, and a greater desire for leisure reading.
Literacy coaches are the essential link between the student and the staff leader, and between the staff and the organization. A report on literacy coaches by the Alliance for Excellent Education finds that literacy coaches not only help students improve their literacy skills, but also assist school and out-of-school-time leaders in refining their approaches to working with young people. The release of Standards for Middle and High School Students by the International Reading Association pushes out-of-school time coaching standards further toward the reality of No Child Left Behind. The standards focus on elements such as leadership, skillful collaboration, job-embedded coaching, evaluation of literacy needs, and instructional strategies within the content areas.
Unique to the out-of-school time field, a large percentage of program staff are volunteers, part-time workers, high school students, and college interns. For summer programs in particular, a large portion of staff may also be seasonal. Due to the lack of a traditional career path and small paychecks with few to no benefits, the number of out-of-school-time professionals is relatively small in comparison to paraprofessionals. To retain staff, programs must provide continuous professional development through both formal (as mentioned above) and informal settings. Such developments might include: building a collective program mission, energizing staff through strategic planning, providing opportunities for learning content knowledge, making supplemental tools and resources readily available, and forming a learning culture that fosters individual skills and interests. Programs such as KidzLit require all paraprofessional and youth staff to have a fluent reading ability, small group facilitation skills, and a basic knowledge of education, program management, health, and safety. To acquire such skills, all program staff need access to continuous training for skill development and strong buy-in.
Respondents to the Center for Summer Learning’s post-conference survey also suggested informal learning opportunities they find beneficial, including networking, attending conferences and workshops, participating in site visits of other programs, and reading newsletters and informational materials. With respect to literacy in particular, providers indicated that they need increased access to professional development opportunities, book lists, reviews of curriculum, and research, in that order.
Opportunities for the Future: A Professional Development Agenda
Professional development opportunities for out-of-school-time staff are slowly emerging, including certification programs, pilot professional development opportunities, and content-rich resources. The field is still in its formative stages with tremendous opportunity for growth. Three primary challenges lie ahead: 1) building and sustaining partnerships with higher education and organizations providing professional development; 2) finding common ground among the educational and developmental organizations that serve youth during out-of-school time; and 3) professionalizing the field to be a viable career option for educators and youth development workers.
The Center for Summer Learning recommends the following agenda for action:
- Increase out-of-school-time staff access to professional development opportunities where they can build new skill sets, gain valuable research and practice information, and learn additional instructional practices.
- Establish sustainable partnerships between institutions of higher education and training centers to offer out-of-school-time-focused training opportunities.
- Encourage increased collaboration among the complementary learning organizations that work together to support youth learning and development.
- Show a viable career ladder for out-of-school-time professionals and solidify the opportunity for upward mobility within the field.