We are still sitting in the powerful energy of our Transition Years gathering on December 14th, and we've had many requests from folks for a recap of the meeting, both from those who couldn't be there and those who joined us. We had seventy - yes, 70 - folks show up to be part of the conversation. We (Annie Leavitt, Shawn Proctor and Nadia Davila) designed the conversation to be a cross-sector and cross-network conversation, as a joint meeting of the Elementary School OST Network (ESON), the Middle School Network (MSN) and Reaching All Youth (RAY), to address something we have known about for a long time. Naturally, young people and families face difficulties in the transitions between stages of schooling/life (between elementary school and middle school, to name one). Since the adults that work with them are often siloed into age groups, the support networks usually available in these difficult years are absent or incomplete, creating even more inequity at times that are already challenging and crucial for young people's development. The topic clearly hit a nerve - many people we talked to in our planning were so glad to hear someone was deciding to focus the conversation on these years. The energy was palpable, even on zoom, as everyone joined the conversation. Folks came to the gathering from across the spectrum of programs and school years, from birth and pre-K all the way to 12th grade and career transitions. Especially in the busy month of December, we are grateful that everyone took the time to join for the beginning of what will be a series of gatherings on this topic - and we hope you also felt the energy of the collective, of people who know that we can hold young people and families across these transition years with respect for the monumental transitions they are.
If you missed the meeting (or part of it) and want to catch up, check out the info below and feel free to contact us to make sure we include you on communications to each of the Transition Year small groups! Each of the small/grade band groups will be meeting again in Feb/March, and then we will gather again June 14th as a wider group to share out what we think can be improved right away (within our roles and control) and move forward in advocating for what may include larger policy/institutional changes. It's not too late to join the conversation!
Who was there?
We kicked things off with a "Who's in the Room?" set of questions, which told us a lot about the group:
What were the goals of the conversation?
As we often do in our network spaces, we wanted to combine a problem-solving approach with an equity frame focused on listening, checking assumptions and understanding gaps and challenges. We also set up the conversation to prioritize connecting across lines, and we hold firmly in our belief that new energy and possibilities can come from those conversations, even among people who have been doing their work for a very long time. We have found this to be true even in our own collaboration to plan this meeting - we have already learned so much about how we can align our efforts to create a continuum of care, especially for families and young people who face the most barriers and systematic oppression in our system. If you wan to hear more about these efforts, ask us about the future of the Community Partner Portal and Summer Program Pitch workshops (in Feb) we are also facilitating as Joint Network gatherings.
So, what did I miss?
For this first meeting, we grounded the conversation in stories from young people (alum Elijah Cheeks) and from caregivers (alum and caregiver Vanessa Bernard from the ESON/MSN Parent Advisory Board), and took some time to connect over relevant info in our Connection Groups. One group watched and reacted to this clip from Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which hit on many of the visceral feelings of moving into middle school, and another talked about their high school experiences, if they were to be summarized in the oh-so-popular "Spotify wrapped" format. Another group got to ask questions and dive deeper into Vanessa Bernard's experiences as an alum and a caregiver of multiple kids moving through transitions, and our last group was an opportunity to literally "meet the people" - a version of our usual "life catch-up" connection group, adapted for a space where so many folks were new to each other.
Breakouts: Focus on challenges first
After connecting, we moved into our 45min breakout groups to focus on the difficulties of each transition.It was important to us to dive into this topic by talking first about what we know are the challenges for young people and families - and not to jump too fast to solutions, to ideas, or to examples until we took a minute to see and hear what needed to be heard.
One of the other ways we sought to ground the conversation was in using data - in this case, using the example of chronic absenteeism data from Cambridge Public Schools - to spark the conversation and show how we could ask questions (and get some answers in the form of data) thanks to our partnership with Robert Emery, ICTS Data Manager for CPS. Check out the Transition Years slide deck (slides 16-19) to see some concrete data on how chronic absenteeism stats compare across the transition years. We are hoping these groups will come up with more questions we can explore using data - about the particulars of the transition, or about what might help in the transition.
Moving from challenges to collective action: what's the next step?
Each of our small groups planned a date to meet again in February/March, as a midpoint before another joint network gathering on June 14th, by which point we hope to have more clarity on what we can actively do in our own locus of control to improve the experiences of young people and families right now (like this year) and what we will advocate for from the larger systems and institutions that impact these transitions. The mandate between now and the Feb/March meetings, for each small group, was to use that time to:
This sounds like a huge and complex topic....
True. We ended our meeting with a debrief focused on two strength and asset-based questions related to young people, families and programs:
I missed the meeting but I want to join one of the four small groups (preK-K, 5/6th, 8/9th, 12th-postsecondary) for the future conversations and planning
Great! Here are the dates for Feb/March meetings and the facilitators for each group - send us an email and we will add you in!
I missed it - did you record the meeting?
Yes, we did - at least the section not in breakout groups. We are editing it down to make it easily watchable - stay tuned!
In our Middle School Network meeting on Nov, 3rd, 2021, we focused on an often-overlooked part of the equity landscape in Cambridge: access to after school for young people with disabilities and their families. Maya Gonzalez, retired educator, grandmother, Equity Fellow, and longtime Cambridge caregiver to her granddaughter Annalise (see pictures above!) talked to us about her experience trying to navigate the few options available in Cambridge, and how she has ended up leading an organizing effort to bring the call for equity (which is also mandated in several state/federal laws) to Cambridge's institutions and leaders.
Since everyone comes to the conversation from different places, we used a few media pieces as 'sparks' for the conversation and discussed them in connection groups:
Inclusion is belonging, not a program:
Watch the recording here of Maya telling her own story and detailing her own journey to this place. She also covered where we are as a city (Cambridge) and what she wants OST providers to know about this issue, how it affects their families and how it affect you. The meeting slides also have some detailed bullet points on where we are now, and where we want to go.
In the end, Maya asked us as a network to help move the work forward by completing and spreading her Needs Assessment survey for folks working in after school programs in Cambridge. They (Maya and SEPAC, the Special Education Parent Advisory Council) will be doing a similar assessment with families, but for now the important move is to know what is happening on the ground. How prepared do you feel to have disabled youth in your programs? What would change that? What kind of PD do you already receive? What communication do you have from schools about IEP plans, etc.? What keeps families from registering when they have children with disabilities?
Want to be involved in next steps? Maya is hoping to form an After School Equity "workign group" that includes stakeholders from families, students, OST program staff and city and school department reps. For more info, email Annie (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Maya (email@example.com ).
To see the full Nov newsletter click here!
Has a parent ever asked you: "Hey do you know of a program for......?" Have you ever noticed a talented young person and wanted to know where to send them to hone that skill?
Check out the landscape of programs offered to young people and families this fall in our ESON and MSN Resource Guides.
If you run a program: Read your entry and look at the other options - part of being in this network is knowing more than just your own offerings. Also, send us pictures (or edits) from your programs that we can add to the Guide!
If you work with families and young people right now, tell them about this resource. They can be shared in multiple ways:
To see the full newsletter with follow up from the September meeting click here!
Community Announcements from the MSN/ESON Kickoff
See our MSN September Newsletter here!
Come join for the May MSN Meeting this Wednesday, May 5th!
We will be looking at the programs we offer to young people across the city (what is available for each grade?) and considering what we need to do as a network of providers to help young people build connections, support healing, and build something accessible for all. Come to think together about your own program, to help others brainstorm, and to weigh in on an exciting new project for the summer that has the potential to bring together providers and young people in new ways.
Meeting info: Wed, May 5th from 10am-12pm (come for all or some, whatever you can!)
Photo credits for above photo, going clockwise: East End House, Parkour Generations Boston, City Sprouts, Maud Morgan Arts, Innovators for Purpose, Community Art Center
MSN Community Announcements (from our March meeting):
We have had many requests for the slides from our September meeting - especially those on the Upper School student schedules and summarizing the status for CPS schools and reopening. Here they are - please also feel free to email us with questions. Do you see an opening where you could serve young people within their virtual school schedules? Let us know and we can help you connect and explore the possibility of working with school staff on complementary programming or structure during asynchronous periods. Also, here are links to the specific schools' remote learning websites:
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