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3 must-read articles from Connected Science Learning

By Leah Silverberg

Are you interested in collaborations that bridge out-of-school and in-school STEM learning? Check out the new peer-reviewed online journal, Connected Science Learning, a project from the National Science Teachers Association and the Association of Science-Technology Centers.

Connected Science Learning is a useful tool for educators and policy makers, as it highlights effective models of schools and teachers working together with afterschool and summer programs, along with informal science education instituations such as science centers, zoos, and museums. Each issue of Connected Science Learning features articles in four categories: “Research to Practice, Practice to Research,” “Diversity and Equity,” “Emerging Connections,” and “Connected Science Learning Briefs.” The recently-released second issue focuses on professional development. 

Check out a few of our favorite articles from the first two issues.

New evaluation data from a school-university-afterschool partnership: Science Club, a partnership between Northwestern University, Chicago Public School teachers, and the Boys & Girls Club of Chicago, uses long-term mentoring relationships to engage low-income urban youth in science. We’ve profiled Science Club before, and they even won our 2014 Afterschool STEM Impact Award!

In the first issue of Connected Science Learning, they reveal impressive evaluation data showing that students that participated in Science Club improved their science fair project grades across the board. Read more about Science Club in issue one of Connected Science Learning.

An explainer on STEM learning ecologies: You may have heard the phrases “STEM learning ecosystem” or “ecology of learning.” This article parses out exactly what that means, and how connected learning can assist in accomplishing the same goals. Through the framework of STEM learning ecologies, we understand that learning takes place in all environments (school, home, afterschool, and more), all of the time, and is influenced by the people and the opportunities surrounding a student. Connected learning refers to effective and intentional ways of connecting students to external resources, and in turn expanding a student’s learning ecology. Read more about how these two concepts are linked in issue one of Connected Science Learning.

Supporting girls in career and technical education with SciGirls: In an initiative to increase the number of girls in STEM career pathways, SciGirls, a PBS media education initiative, is working on a new project that provides teachers with professional development in career and technical education (CTE), gender-equitable teaching strategies, and trainings on the importance of female STEM role models. The course emphasizes their original “SciGirls Seven,” which provides concrete, research-based strategies to engage girls in STEM.

Over the next two years, SciGirls Strategies will train 48 more teachers and reach more than 400 girls in Twin Cities-area schools. For afterschool providers interested in the CTE space, the findings are likely to be applicable. Read more about SciGirls Strategies and the research that they are conducting in issue two of Connected Science Learning.

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What to expect from the budget & appropriations processes (and how to make an impact)

By Jillian Luchner

It’s February, which technically means it's time for the release of the president’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year. Under new administrations, the budget proposal release date is often pushed back to give the incoming president time to put together a cabinet first. Meanwhile, the budget and appropriations process hasn’t operated as it technically should for years. Adding to the confusion, Congress still needs to finalize FY2017 spending, which currently expires April 28. 

All of this brings us to where we are today. Here's what we know so far about how the fiscal year 2018 (FY2018) budget and appropriations process may roll out in the coming year. 

The president’s budget

With the president’s budget director nominee Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) narrowly confirmed this week, publications like The Hill and conversations around the halls of government suggest that the President is expected to release a “skinny budget”—a condensed list of major budget priorities—within the next month.

A complete budget request detailing the president’s desired expenditures and funding levels for all government departments and programs may be released late in the spring, but timing for the release is very much up in the air.

Congressional appropriations

Last September and again last December, Congress passed continuing resolutions (CRs) to keep the government operating because they could not complete a final FY17 budget. After the election in November, a decision was made to “kick the can down the road” to the new Congress to finalize spending levels for the fiscal year that began on October 1, 2016. These CRs have maintained federal spending at FY16 levels.

The CR passed last December is set to expire on April 28, when Congress will again decide whether to complete spending bills for FY17 by passing individual spending measures or passing an omnibus bill, or to simply continue the CR through the end of the fiscal year on September 30.

If Congress does decide to extend the CR—which currently appears most likely—they will need to consider how to handle recently passed legislation that authorizes funding changes. For example, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which passed in December 2015, consolidates certain education programs that formerly had independent funding streams, and it creates new programs as well. As the law goes into full force in the FY18-19 school year, the government will allocate funding on July 1 and will need to know how much to allocate to which programs. For this reason, Congress must include in a full year CR a number of “anomalies” or changes that reallocate funds.

If Congress decides instead to pass individual appropriations bills, rather than a final CR, it will require reconciling the funding differences between House and Senate funding bills passed by the Appropriations Committees in last year’s 114th Congress. The House appropriations bill maintained the current funding level for 21st Century Community Learning Centers; however, the Senate bill appropriated only $1.050 billion for the programs, a potential cut that would eliminate programming for hundreds to thousands of students in each state and more than 100,000 students across the nation. The new Congress and reconstructed committees in each Chamber may also require additional compromises if new bills are to be passed and reconciled.

As it completes its work on funding for FY17, Congress is also tasked to begin its work on the FY18 budget and appropriations bills, a process that usually begins early in the spring after the president’s State of the Union address. Since there is no baseline yet for FY17, beginning a new process will be challenging. However, one key decision has taken place: the selection of new committee members for the House (R and D) and Senate (R and D) Appropriations subcommittees for Labor, Health and Human Services (LHHS).

Recently, we have heard from advocates who have met with members of Congress that finding funding for the president’s expected priorities, such as increasing defense, building a border wall, and infrastructure, could make for a very tight funding landscape. In addition, sequestration will return in FY18 with about a three percent cut from FY17 in domestic discretionary spending caps. 

What will this mean for afterschool?

Because federal funding for afterschool programs is dispersed on July 1, prior CRs did not affect program funding levels. However, the competing priorities and uncertainty around the appropriations process this year make it an important time to reach out. Even those policy makers who have been avid supporters of afterschool in the past may feel stressed by other  funding priorities. Your work to thank supporters and garner new advocates will be essential to sustaining afterschool funding.

What can supporters do to help?

Friends of afterschool, advocates, program staff, parents, mayors, law enforcement officers, community members, and school board members can all let their members of Congress know how important these programs—and the federal supports for them—are to their students, families and communities.

Keeping afterschool at the front of your legislator’s mind and helping him or her understand the impact of this federal support in your community helps ensure they can’t easily make drastic funding cuts to programs when push comes to shove at the negotiating table. They will be able to envision your student, program, and story and the impact this funding has on their constituents and will be reluctant to cut funding—and be more likely to advocate for it to remain.

Write a letter to tell your story. Attend a town hall meeting scheduled to be led by your representative in your community. Make a phone call. Visit lawmakers' district offices or the Washington, D.C. offices of all your representatives. Invite them to visit an afterschool program. Then ask your friends and partners to do the same.

Keep the field and your community alert, too. Write to your local newspapers to showcase and highlight the benefits of afterschool programs in your area. Keep your networks strong and your voice heard. It is going to be a complicated year, but clear voices with a clear message will continue to be heard.



What is "The State of Girls" in 2017?

By Leah Silverberg

The Girl Scout Research Institute released "The State of Girls 2017" at a February briefing on Capitol Hill.

Since the Great Recession, the United States has experienced many demographic, social, economic, and technological changes. A new report from the Girl Scout Research Institute, "The State of Girls 2017: Emerging Truths and Troubling Trends," tracks resulting trends in girls’ economic, physical, and emotional health, as well as participation in extracurricular activities and education compared to results from ten years ago.

To launch the report, Girl Scouts of the USA partnered with Honorary Congressional Host Committee members Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), to host a briefing on Capitol Hill with speakers including Alice Hockenbury, Girl Scouts Vice President of Public Policy and Advocacy; Kamla Modi, Ph.D., Senior Researcher for the Girl Scout Research Institute; Makaa Ngwa-Suh, Program Services Manager for Girl Scouts of the Nation’s Capital; Rachel Tabakman, Girl Scouts Public Policy Manager; and Summer Berry, Girl Scout Ambassador from Martinsburg, West Virginia.

At the briefing, speakers discussed the results of the report, how the information provided can be used to influence policy, what Girl Scouts are doing with their STEM Education programming, and how their programming is helping girls. The "State of Girls" report series is the first of its kind to focus on the health and well-being of girls, and while some of the findings suggest positive trends for girls now, other results show that more needs to be done to help girls reach their full potential. 

Troubling trends

According to the report, more girls today are living in poverty and low-income households than in 2007, and more than half of black/African American (58 percent), Hispanic/Latina (61 percent), and American Indian (61 percent) girls are considered low-income. This is especially important considering that girls who live in poverty and low-income households face many challenges that affect their physical and emotional health, as well as their opportunities for academic achievement.

Furthermore, all girls are more at risk for obesity (17 percent) and suicidal ideation (23 percent of high school girls) than they were a decade ago (16 percent and 19 percent, respectively).

Positive shifts

Overall, girls are engaging in less risky behaviors than in 2007, with fewer girls having tried cigarettes and alcohol. Additionally, reading and math proficiency has improved. Finally, the high school dropout rate has decreased in recent years, with the largest decrease for Hispanic/Latina girls, for whom the dropout rate dropped from 18 percent to 9 percent.

Useful resources

"The State of Girls 2017" focuses on national data, but for a closer look at the state of girls in your community, the Girl Scouts Research Institute has also published The United States of Girls, an interactive map illustrating your state's performance on the Index of Girls’ Well-Being as well as what Girl Scouts are doing within your state to advocate for girls.  The results from this report are not prescriptive, and do not dictate what the future may hold for girls in the United States.  Programs that operate in out-of-school time, like Girl Scouts and afterschool programs, currently and will continue to play an important role in supporting girls nationally.

Interested in learning more about The State of Girls? Read the full report, and for more discussion, join the Afterschool Alliance, lead researchers from the Girl Scout Research Institute, and speakers from Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas and Girls on the Run International for a webinar on February 23 at 1 p.m. ET to discuss the results and talk about what is being done to help girls thrive. 



What will House resolutions of disapproval mean for ESSA implementation?

By Jillian Luchner

By Ellen Fern, Managing Director at Washington Partners

On Tuesday, February 7, the House of Representatives voted to overturn Obama administration regulations regarding accountability under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) as well as regulations relating to teacher-preparation programs.

H.J.Res.57, which would overturn regulations regarding accountability under ESSA, passed by a vote of 234-190. A few more Democratic members signed on to pass the resolution overturning teacher-preparation regulations, H.J.Res. 58, by a vote of 240 – 181. Both regulations were subject to the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows lawmakers to overturn regulations from the previous administration within a certain period of time. 

The CRA has never been used on education regulations, so if the regulations are overturned via a similar vote in the Senate, it is unclear how the Department of Education would proceed as far as issuing guidance or new regulations. If the regulations are overturned, the Department will be barred from issuing "substantially similar" regulations on these two issues before lawmakers reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Higher Education Act, respectively. At the very least, if the accountability regulations are overturned, the deadlines of April 3 or September 8 for states to submit ESSA plans for Education Department approval, with implementation to start in the 2018–19 school year, would most likely disappear, too. 



The 2017 Lights On Afterschool poster contest is here!

By Shaun Gray

Grab your markers and sketchbooks, your digital art pads and pens and get ready for the 2017 Lights On Afterschool poster contest. This year, we’re adding a new twist to the competition: the afterschool artist who creates the winning masterpiece will take home $500 for their afterschool program!

As always, the winning artwork will be printed on more than 50,000 posters that will be displayed at more than 8,000 Lights On Afterschool events around the world. We encourage all of your program participants to submit artwork that celebrates afterschool programs and conveys the importance of keeping the lights on after school. We all know afterschool programs keep kids safe, help working families and inspire kids to learn. We want your students to tell the world what afterschool means to them!

The Lights On Afterschool poster contest is a great opportunity for an afterschool program to gain national recognition for the opportunities it offers. The winning artist will be featured on our website, blog, and a national press release, and their afterschool program will be credited on the poster in addition to receiving the grand prize of $500!  Not a bad deal!

Get your students’ creative juices flowing soon: the deadline for submissions is April 15, 2017.

Tips to create a winning design

Have your youth participants demonstrate artistically how afterschool program has benefited their lives.  Need some tips to help your students bring their compositions to life? Think about what happens in your afterschool program. Dancing, singing, robotics, reading, sports, learning how to play an instrument—these things can be portrayed in abstract or realistic renderings.

Encourage students to use bright, bold markers or paint to bring life to their images and make it possible for us to scan the artwork into a digital file. Or feel free to get your burgeoning graphic designers involved by encouraging them to submit their artwork in the digital form to

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Weekly Media Roundup: February 15, 2017

By Luci Manning

Aspire High Teaches Eager Middle Schoolers about College Life (The Signal: College of New Jersey, New Jersey)

An out-of-school time program in New Jersey is showing underprivileged students that college can be part of their future. Aspire High arranges college visits for middle schoolers, pairing them with mentors at each university who talk to them about college life and how to build the important social and academic skills that will put them on the path to higher education. Many of the students would be the first in their families to attend college and may not see it as a realistic option. “What people don’t realize is that this one Saturday can change the lives of so many kids,” Aspire High president and co-founder Lillian Perez told The Signal..

Teens Beat Goal for Book Drive (Daily Item, Pennsylvania)

A group of teenagers far surpassed their goal of collecting 150 books during a book drive meant to fill a new multigenerational community center that will open later this year. The Regional Engagement Center’s Teen Leadership Club has been meeting for months to plan programs and activities for the new recreation center, which will include study spaces, an afterschool café and exercise classes for people of all ages. “I hope it’s a place where kids who have difficulties can come and break some bad habits,” 17-year-old Brandy Inch, a member of the club, told the Daily Item.

McKinley Boys & Girls Club Offers Homework Help for Students Who Need It Most (Billings Gazette, Montana)

The Boys & Girls Club of Yellowstone County has expanded its outreach to homeless students, providing more struggling youth with academic assistance, a free dinner and a safe place to spend time after school. The club’s Power Hour homework help program gives students a chance to build academic self-confidence and complete their work, something they may not be able to do if they don’t have a structured home life. “They can be the example in class instead of feeling bad that they don’t have their homework done,” McKinley Elementary School principal Nikki Trahan told the Billings Gazette.

IWU Prof Starts The Brain Kitchen (Chronicle-Tribune, Indiana)

Students are developing healthy habits and academic discipline at The Brain Kitchen, a new afterschool program developed by Indiana Wesleyan University professor Amanda Drury, the Chronicle Tribune reports. Throughout the week, students receive homework help and cooking lessons and participate in guided exercise activities, with the aim of stimulating their brain development and learning important life skills in a fun, engaging environment. 



Parents share why they love their kids' afterschool programs

By Rachel Clark

A West Virginia parent (L) and Alaska student (R) share why they love their afterschool programs. Photos via @WVSAN and @AKAfterschool.

As we celebrate Valentine’s Day with loved ones, family, and friends, many afterschool students, staff, and supporters are sharing from the heart why they love afterschool.

In addition to sharing on social media, parents from communities across the country have written heartwarming love letters to the afterschool programs they and their children rely on every day. The reasons afterschool is close to their hearts are as diverse as the afterschool field itself.

Afterschool supports working parents

For Pennsylvania mom Tami Reichman, the LifeSpan afterschool program offers job security and the priceless peace of mind of knowing her kids are safe and learning while she’s at work.

“As a single mom of two who is working full time while earning her bachelor’s degree, it’s important for me to have someplace safe for my children to go after school,” Tami shared with The Morning Call.

“With my job as a shipping manager, I can’t afford to miss days of work because of inclement weather or school holidays. LifeSpan offers care right at the school so my children have somewhere safe and supervised to go.”

Afterschool gives students the tools to achieve

Amanda Owens of West Valley City, Utah, loves her son’s afterschool program because it’s given him more confidence in school.

“For years my son struggled with reading. The help and tutoring he's received from the afterschool teachers has been immense,” Amanda wrote in The Salt Lake Tribune. “I cannot imagine how far behind in reading he would be without the afterschool program. Now he's no longer embarrassed to read. He even gets excited to read to his younger siblings!”



Apply for a two-day summit on engaging Latinos in STEM

By Melissa Ballard

GENIAL, Generating Engagement and New Initiatives for All Latinos, is a new National Science Foundation project focusing on increasing Latino participation in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) within informal or out-of-school time environments. The goal is to bring together practitioners, community leaders, diversity-focused organizations, researchers, and media/marketing specialists from across the country to identify field-wide best practices, opportunities, emerging research questions, and gaps.

If you're passionate about engaging Latinos in out-of-school STEM, apply by Tuesday, February 28 to attend a two-day summit on June 5 and 6, 2017 at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, Calif. Participants will hear from dynamic keynote speakers and engage in conversations, panel discussions, breakout sessions, and networking to contribute knowledge and experience that will inform future research and practice in and advancement of the field.

Goals of the summit

  • Assess the current state of the field in providing effective informal STEM experiences for Latinos
  • Identify needs and gaps in informal STEM environments
  • Identify emerging research questions with an outlook toward the future
  • Contribute to a more informed informal STEM field

Who should apply?

GENIAL is seeking professionals with diverse perspectives of and experiences with engaging Latino communities in STEM learning. Leaders of community-based organizations, including afterschool and summer learning programs; cultural organization practitioners; researchers; policy-makers; and media, marketing, and technology professionals who:

  • Have at least two years’ experience and are currently employed in the United States in informal learning, nonprofit media or community-based organizations that serve Latino and/or other diverse and underserved communities
  • Are involved in and/or interested in applying best practices to engaging Latino audiences in informal learning environments
  • Are committed to sharing and implementing ideas from the GENIAL summit with colleagues and providing feedback


The cost for the two-day summit is $250. Selected applicants will receive a stipend ranging from partial to full coverage of travel expenses and the registration fee.

To apply

Submit this quick application by midnight PST on Tuesday, February 28, 2017.



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