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Prioritizing youth voice in COVID-19 recovery strategies: An interview with Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation

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Prioritizing youth voice in COVID-19 recovery strategies: An interview with Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation

We spoke with Summer Haran, Chief Developmental Strategist of Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation to discuss how her organization adapted to meet youth needs throughout the pandemic, what aspects were most important when thinking about the future, and how Snider Hockey was able to expand critical resources with support from an Aim High grant from the New York Life Foundation. Aim High grants are awarded to afterschool, summer, or expanded learning programs that help economically disadvantaged middle school students successfully transition to high school. Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation was one of 36 out-of-school time programs that received 2021 Aim High grants.

What is Snider Hockey's Mission?

Snider Hockey is a nationally acclaimed non-profit that uses the sport of hockey to educate and empower under-resourced youth of Philadelphia to prosper in the game of life. Snider Hockey supports the overall development of students every step of the way, from crayons through college to careers and is delivered daily at seven rinks throughout Philadelphia and South Jersey. Our mission is to “build lives and unite communities.”

How were you able to support student’s transition to high school with support from the Aim High grant?

We build our programming based on the following evidence-based practices in afterschool. With support from the Aim High grant, we were able to build and strengthen these pillars in order to help our middle schoolers make the transition to high school throughout the pandemic.

Beginning in 6th grade, a counselor is assigned to each student/family for individualized support throughout middle school and their transition to 9th grade. Counselors are equipped to identify challenges and connect students with appropriate resources. When the pandemic hit, all in-person resources were halted. We immediately transitioned lessons to a real-time virtual format. 8th graders received extra support from advisors, ensuring no barriers to completing the high school selection process. They worked together in building out educational plans for the short/medium/long-term. Staff continues to keep tabs on students’ academic standing, virtual attendance, and emotional/social outlook.

How were you able to break down participation barriers that affected families during the pandemic?

With support from the Aim High grant, we were able to deepen our virtual instruction options and break down barriers to participation that were present for many families. The option to provide virtual instruction really allowed us to be more creative then we would have initially imagined. For example, in July, we started a healthy cooking session for our students. We pushed to host this class virtually, even though we were reaching a point when in-person learning was returning, because we were able to reach so many more families and weave in different aspects like social-emotional learning (SEL) and other skill-building curricula. We also offered a virtual workout club once a week for our older hockey players and created a virtual on-demand library of tutoring videos for our students to use at home. The option to provide virtual instruction really allowed us to be more creative then we would have initially imagined.

How did you empower youth throughout this past year and half?

Taking youth voice into consideration was very important to us, and our youth really took the lead throughout the pandemic. Our Leadership Council, which is our youth-led advisory board, was able to switch to a fully virtual model and offer many different virtual activities for their peers, including a reading club, mentorship program, and an investment competition. Had we not gone through the challenges of the pandemic, we would not have the experience and knowledge to make these activities accessible virtually. As it was, we were able to expand the reach of these activities. The pandemic opened our program to creativity, uniqueness, and two-way communication with our youth.

What is important when thinking about making the transition back to in-person learning?

Having our kids back in person and having them in structured activities is crucial to getting youth back into a routine. We make sure to structure every part of our kids' days, including skating time, outdoor time, and activities focused on building life-skills and academic help. This year, we built in what we call “down time,” dedicated time for kids to interact and play, which is something they have been lacking the past year and a half.

Supporting our students as they make the transition from middle school to high school, and then also high school to college is critical in ordinary times, and even more so during these uncertain times where they are making huge transitions without access to their normal resources.

What can programs do to help youth recovery this fall?

Down time and interaction is important in getting kids back to normal, but engaging youth in structured activities and establishing a routine is key to getting back to learning. Snider Hockey distributes free books to every student, and by providing an activity that youth can take home, we are helping reinstate the routines that were disrupted throughout the pandemic. Establishing these habits now is critical in helping students stay on track this school year.

Giving youth a voice is critical in this transition back to in-person learning. We want to give them the opportunity to tell us what they need from our program. Our Leadership Council is one avenue for this communication.

We also make an effort to hire Snider Hockey alumni as coaches in order to give students someone to relate to. Creating these opportunities for meaningful relationships will prove critical in the social and emotional transition back to school.

We saw what a difference the mentorship that our coaches established with our students made during the pandemic. They fostered relationships and exercised the social and emotional skills that many others saw challenged by isolation.

What have you implemented this year to help expand the impact of Snider Hockey?

We have recently added a new position of Outreach Manager to Snider Hockey, which was born out of the need to help youth transition back to school and recruit new students this fall. This team member is reaching more families and broadening the impact of Snider Hockey’s program. We are very excited to see how that will materialize throughout the school year.

Our scholarship program is also growing, with new opportunities for our middle and high school students through the Breakaway Scholarship and Goals & Assists Scholarship, respectively. Each year, our scholarship programs naturally grow and more students age through the program, and that means that our list of scholar schools grows. This year we are excited to add Villanova University to our list! Our scholarship program provides a trajectory for students to access higher education and equal opportunities to thrive.

What advice do you have for other program providers?

I would advise any program to seek strategic planning when looking ahead to the long-term effects of the pandemic. Two years ago, we were selected to participate in a capacity building initiative that was hosted by Pew Charitable Trusts, which helps programs assess the effectiveness and strength of their impact. Through this, we were able to develop our theory of change. This is our organizational “north star;” we outlined our short-, medium-, and long-term outcomes for our three foundation pillars which are life-skills, education, and hockey. This plan guides the best choices about where we are best positioned to have the most impact on our youth. When considering how to best adapt to the challenges brought on by the pandemic, we were able to look at our program and best assess how to move forward in best serving our youth and families. We are thankful for the Aim High grant for everything we were able to accomplish for our youth, and we are ready to get back to normal.

Learn more about the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation program and their work in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Learn about Aim High and find updates on the next Aim High grant competition.

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