“Let me tell you an African proverb,” began Dr. Christopher Emdin, Columbia professor and author of the book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood...and the Rest of Y’all Too, “The child who is not initiated by the village will burn it down just to feel its warmth.”
On July 24th in New York City, the Partnership for Afterschool Education (PASE) hosted a conference at PACE University on afterschool leadership, partnership and impact. Celebrating its 25th year, there were over 400 leaders, staff, educators, capacity builders, resource providers and other stakeholders in attendance. Although attendees came from diverse backgrounds and programs, we were all unified in our vision of developing innovative programs in the afterschool world and providing rich and meaningful afterschool services to children and their families, schools and communities. Attending as a representative of Project Coach, I arrived by myself that morning but it wasn’t long before I spotted three other Smithies and sat at their table. Last January, I interned alongside Ruth, Sophia, and Leah as Urban Education Fellows in New York. They have spent this summer working as PASE Summer Teaching Fellows, and they were working the event.
As Dr. Emdin gave his keynote speech that morning, he strolled across the room so that he stood directly in the middle of the audience and repeated the proverb once more just to let it sink in: “The child who is not initiated by the village will burn it down just to feel its warmth.” He paused for effect. “Our children are not being embraced by our schools and that’s why they are metaphorically ‘burning’ them down.” What he said resonated with what I had seen in urban schools as both an urban education fellow and through working at Project Coach. I have witnessed the disconnect between students and the schools they attend, the resentment students feel towards schools which should be serving them but instead seem to work against them. Dr. Emdin went on to say that where schools have failed children, after-school programs have the opportunity to be spaces of initiation that make up the difference. This resonated with my experiences at Project Coach, having seen its powerful impact on the youth I work with. The teenagers who take part in our program find a family and a community, gaining a sort of initiation into young adulthood through leadership, coaching, and teambuilding.
That afternoon, a group of Project Coach teammates and I led our own workshop, about tracking data in Project Coach in an effort to improve student’s academic achievement. Jo Glading-Dilorenzo, the program director, Sam Intrator, the co-founder of Project Coach, and Alfred Kimani, a 2018-19 Project Coach Fellow led the workshop. We discussed how data helps us to establish connections between what we do and the outcomes we seek, whether in coaching, mentoring, or tutoring. Over the past year, we have developed a detailed database to organize information and create pictures of how our students are doing across multiple measures. This makes it possible for all staff to have access to the same data and give individualized attention to a particular student and their academic success.
Overall, taking part in the PASE@PACE conference was a very exciting opportunity which offered a wonderful space to both share our work with others as well as learn from other people in the afterschool world with similar visions. As I reflect on that day, my biggest takeaway is that it is essential to create places for youth where they feel connected and can grow and learn. If public schools are failing to offer that, then afterschool programs are more necessary than ever.