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To elevate equity, diversity, and inclusion, go deeper into your quality standards

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To elevate equity, diversity, and inclusion, go deeper into your quality standards

By Femi Vance, researcher at American Institutes for Research, Board President for the California School-Age Consortium, Field Consultant for the National Summer Learning Association, and editor of Changemakers! Equity and Access in Out-of-School Time Programs.

Implementing high-quality afterschool programming at scale requires a well-designed and well-built infrastructure for programs, afterschool professionals, families, and youth. Quality standards are the cornerstone of the system because they create a shared vision of and establish a common language to discuss quality. While nearly all states have developed quality standards1, that is just the first step. Quality standards are meant to guide implementation for all stakeholders: afterschool practitioners have to be aware of and understand the standards, the field needs ways to measure quality as it relates to the standards, and programs and staff needed training, tools, and resources to improve practice and programming.

Equity, diversity, and inclusion is one standard shared by many of the existing quality standards2. Equity, diversity, and inclusion practices show up in core competencies for practitioners3, 4, a resource that defines the knowledge skills and resources of a skilled afterschool professional (e.g., National Afterschool Association Core Competencies, Charles Stewart Mott Core Competencies for Afterschool Educators). Much of the language about equity, diversity, and inclusion in these foundational tools describes how programs and practitioners can learn about their own and others’ cultural beliefs and traditions, show and maintain respect for different cultures, and create environments where everyone feels safe, welcomed, and can participate. That’s a really good start.

Infusing equity, diversity, and inclusion practices into programs can require complex problem-solving. Recently, I was privy to a critique of an afterschool curriculum. The reviewer noted that the curriculum used research-based best practices but also tacitly endorsed a dominant set of cultural values and practices by not engaging young people in the work of examining and exploring why and how institutional practices, beliefs, and values can marginalize and oppress individuals and communities, including themselves. When the curriculum simply asked youth to persist and try harder despite dominant practices that perpetuate systemic racism, sexism, ableism, and more—it inadvertently legitimized those practices and the underlying beliefs and values. It also positioned dominant practices as unchangeable obstacles to overcome.

We can take equity, diversity, and inclusion a step further by acknowledging the need for practitioners, youth, and families to identify when and how behaviors, activities, materials, and processes marginalize specific groups of people. In my experience, we rarely give young people (or adults for that matter) opportunities to express their experience with being or witnessing marginalization, and even fewer opportunities to discover how the “norm” negates the voices of those who stand outside of those boundaries.

The critique was illuminating because it showed how even the frameworks we use to help youth develop new skills can unintentionally reinforce the status quo – and offered insight into how to apply equity, diversity, and inclusion standards in a more expansive and thoughtful way.

Having high-quality afterschool programming means we must investigate, reimagine, and revise quality standards about equity, diversity, and inclusion, especially as we incorporate staff and youth’s development of an equity lens. Frequent critical engagement around equity, diversity, and inclusion will foster much-needed dialogue about the resistance we encounter to achieving our ideals—indeed, the very act of critically and deeply engaging with each facet of these issues will open up the path for our field to meet our own standards.

 

References

1 Singer, J., Newman, J., & Moroney, D. (2017). Chapter 14. Building Quality in Out-of-School Time. In The Growing Out-of-School Time Field: Past, Present, and Future. Information Age Publishing.

2 Ibid.

3 Starr, B., Yohalem, N., & Gannett, E. (2009). Youth work core competencies: A review of existing frameworks and purposes. Seattle, Washington: Next Generation Youth Work Coalition.

4 Vance, F. (2010). A comparative analysis of competency frameworks for youth workers in the out-of-school time field. Child & Youth Care Forum, 39(6), 421-441. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10566-010-9116-4

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