Guest Blogger

National Summer Learning Association Conference: Dare to Disrupt!

It’s been a jam-packed ride so far at the National Conference on Afterschool and Summer Learning, taking place right now from October 24-26, 2016 in Seattle, Washington. A joint venture of the National Summer Learning Association and School’s Out Washington, it’s the stuff that FOMO dreams are made of with just 1.5 days and over 60 workshops about summer learning — and that doesn’t even include the general sessions and exhibits! This sold-out event brings together 1,000 teachers, afterschool providers, policymakers, consultants, vendors, and of course, librarians.

It’s my first time at this conference, and it’s been so enlightening to be amongst such dedicated practitioners focused on those 3 precious months that can make the difference in closing the achievement gap for our young people. And it’s been a neat opportunity to advocate for libraries as key summer learning partners with colleagues from different fields. Somewhere in my conversations, I have found myself saying, “That sounds great…AND have you worked with your public library yet?”

The theme of the conference is Dare to Disrupt! The Pathway to Equity and Excellent in Education. In the opening session, NSLA CEO Sarah Pitcock translated the theme into a “What do we have to lose” attitude — and I agree! The workshops I’ve attended have been excellent with lots of hands-on interaction and an easy linkage to my work as one of the program planners for Summer Stride, the summer learning program at San Francisco Public Library. Two workshops that have been particular salient:

  • Summer STEM PD: Bridging NGSS and SEL to Prepare Staff to Work with Youth: Presented by the Providence After School Alliance in Providence, RI, the speakers focused on how successful STEM programs aren’t just about teaching science and engineering content, but about helping youth develop identities that foster interest, engagement and the desire to become a competent learner. We dove deeply into how Social Emotional Learning (SEL) skills such as collaboration, self-regulation, and persistence are crucial to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) such as developing and using models. At SFPL, STEM programming is one of our strategic goals for youth services and we have been lining up STEM and growth mindset trainings in preparation for the 2017 summer learning program, and this session emphasized even more for me how I want to empower and teach our staff to understand how SEL and STEM go hand-in-hand.
  • Creating a Family Summer Camp to Build Capacity: Presented by Scholastic, Inc., This workshop left me with some clear criteria for developing family engagement programs at the library. The presenter spoke about how we can use “process criteria” for building capacity for schools and families based on research by Dr. Karen L. Mapp. I easily translated to term schools to libraries. The 5 criteria are 1) linked to learning, 2) relational, 3) development vs. service orientation, 4) collaborative, and 5) interactive.

As the Family Engagement Coordinator in my library system, I’m passionate about making the library a safe and welcoming opportunities for families in addition to storytime. We do a great job of that already, but I know we can do more. I remembered what is so innate, but also sometimes hard to remember: Relationship-building is the most important part of family engagement. Because I coordinate professional development for SFPL’s frontline youth-serving librarians, the session inspired me to emphasize the important of relational work with families. We can send all the resources we want to families, but we won’t successfully influence or make real impact without mutual trust and respect. And it takes time, empathy, and patience to build that. I am inspired to go back to my colleagues and brainstorm how we can elevate the “family voice” (just how we talk about honoring the “youth voice”) so that we are providing the most relevant programs in collaboration with families.

With another half-day left, I can’t wait to see what else I learn from the incredible colleagues gathered here. I know that getting time away from our libraries is a privilege and there is much competition for our precious time, but if you can work it out, I highly recommend coming to this conference — especially if you’re trying to figure out that transition from summer reading to summer learning and want to think about innovative ways to partner with colleagues from OST (out of school time). Follow #DareOST for updates and I hope to see you next year!

Today’s guest blogger is Cristina E. Mitra. Cristina is the Family Engagement Coordinator at the San Francisco Public Library.

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