Strengthening Youth Empowerment through Community

The School’s Out Washington (SOWA) office was full of discussion, laughter, and the sounds of Beyonce’s latest hit, “Texas Hold ‘Em,” on Thursday, March 7, for the Best Starts for Kids (BSK) Initiative’s first initiative-wide Learning Community Meeting (LCM).  

Youth in a conference room mingling and chatting.
Yesenia Beltran, Targeted Academic and Behavior Support with Dick Scobee Elementary and Cascade Middle School, connects with a
fellow BSK grantee as one of many pairs who discussed recent happenings in programming during one round of Mingle to the Music.

“The LCM was a fun and great opportunity to connect with peers who are passionate about youth work and are willing to discover and talk about ways to advocate and uplift our youth,” shared Yesenia Beltran, Targeted Academic and Behavior Support for BSK grantees Dick Scobee Elementary and Cascade Middle School.  

LCMs are cohort-based peer learning opportunities where all members of a Youth Program Quality Initiative (YPQI) cohort come together to share their thoughts and ideas as they relate to particular youth development topics. For the first All-BSK LCM, members of each of the 56 BSK grantees paired up with multiple partners to discuss recent programming highlights, challenges, and useful resources by playing several rounds of Mingle to the Music. During this activity, grantees had the chance to meet other grantees, swap ideas for programming, and even build new partnerships.  

One new partnership that arose out of this activity was between AMT Up 3D and Student and Family Support Program, who not only built a connection with each other, but collaborated quickly and found a way to bring AMT Up 3D’s fun and playful double-dutch programming to the children in Student and Family Support Program’s after school program on Fridays.  

Student and Family Support Program’s Executive Director Jimmy Hurd and AMT Up 3D’s CEO Angie Mosley talked excitedly with the BSK Program Quality Manager about their quickly developed newfound partnership during Mingle to the Music.

“The LCM gave me the opportunity to meet Angie Mosley. I learned of the great work that she is doing for young people in the community with Double Dutch Divas. We were able to develop a plan for her to come and work with the students at The Learning Place,” shared Jimmy Hurd, Executive Director at Student and Family Support Program.  

Following a short break, participants then had the choice to self-select into one of seven breakout groups on relevant topics such as Fun with SEL Practices, Self-Care for Staff, STEM Programming, and Staff Turnover. These breakout groups were peer-led by members of the “Teal Cohort,” which is a portion of BSK Grantees who self-identified at the start of the initiative as having had multiple rounds of seasoned, successful participation in a YPQI Cohort and who were looking to deepen their quality practices. Grantees were deeply engaged in their discussions and activities, with the Self-Care for Staff group even participating in a mindful meditation together. Many people also walked away from the breakout discussion groups with new thoughts and learnings.   

Young people sitting in a circle in a conference room in front of a window.
The Lesson Plans and Curriculum Development breakout discussion group was one of seven peer-led discussion group options offered during the All-BSK LCM.

“One of my favorite things about SOWA is being able to actually connect with other practitioners, especially in curriculum development,” shared Roberto Ascalon, Program Manager with BSK grantee The Bureau of Fearless Ideas, who participated in the breakout discussion group focused on lesson plans and curriculum development. “In a very short time we talked about the little details [from] time slots and scheduling, to transitions, to activating student voice. I tend to cringe at standardized forms, but I realized I learned something new this year when I found myself making the case for standardized curriculum in our small group. I realized the importance of a through line from program to program – which helps young folks feel at home wherever they land in your org.”  

The All-BSK LCM closed with a share-out of highlights from the breakout discussion groups, and then a full-group photo. Ultimately the All-BSK LCM was a huge success, bringing together over 50 staff from BSK grantee organizations together for peer-learning and community building. With this event being such a success, SOWA’s BSK team is excited to bring everyone together again in the next school year for another engaging All-BSK LCM.  

Group photo of youth and sowa staff all lined up and smiling
Attendees at the All-BSK LCM gathered for a group photo at the end of the session.