Making Afterschool Cool Blog

  • Summer Learning Week 2021

    Posted by Dr. Lisa Caruthers on 7/12/2021

    Out-of-school time (OST) professionals know the importance of summer. It is something we live and breathe every year from the time the last school bell tolls until the ringing begins again at the start of another academic year. The research has already proven that 1) summer learning programs increase access to opportunities, 2) high attendance at summer programs improves scores in math and language arts, and 3) high attendance and consecutive attendance produce academic benefits for students, (McCombs et al., 2020). So how do we take what we know and put it into practice? A great place to start is participation in Summer Learning Week.

    This week dedicated to celebrating the richness of out-of-school time and the opportunity available during summer is a great time to showcase what your program has to offer! Consider opening this celebration of fun and learning experience to your local community as a means of promoting the great work of OST. As we move through this week, we should also take steps toward planning an OST future where programming is accessible to students and families regardless of their ability to pay. “Thirty-nine percent of parents who did not have a child in a structured summer experience report that they did not enroll their child in a summer program because programs were too expensive…For families with low incomes, the cost of programs was by far the most common reason for not enrolling their child in a summer program,” (Wallace Foundation, 2021, 9). Learn more about your community and additional barriers to accessing programming and commit to breaking them down, particularly in summer! Use this information to prioritize the students not yet reached by your amazing services. Learn more about Summer Learning Week and how it can be a great first step for a future of free to low-cost programming for more students within Harris County. This year, Summer Learning Week; next year, the entire summer!

    Visit the National Summer Learning Association website to learn more about Summer Learning Week and explore the available resources.


    McCombs, J. S., Augustine, C. H., Pane, J. F., & Schweig, J. (2020). Every Summer Counts: A Longitudinal   Analysis of Outcomes from the National Summer Learning Project. Wallace.

    Wallace Foundation. (2021, May). Time for a Game-Changing Summer, With Opportunity and Growth for All of America’s Youth. America After 3 PM, 37.               Changing-Summer-Report.pdf

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  • Joyfully Launching into Summer by Dr. Lisa Caruthers

    Posted by Dr. Lisa Caruthers on 6/16/2021

    As we enter the second pandemic summer, we are so excited to hear about all the activities that are becoming available across Houston/Harris County. A lot has changed since we last experienced this season. With guidelines loosening, and kids ready to have fun, it is important to acknowledge the ways the world has transformed, including the lives of programs staff and students. The excitement around more in-person programming can also bring some jitters around the unexpected. As we return to routines and each other, attempting to traverse this ever-changing world, practicing community care should be at the core of everything the OST community does. This includes seeking to provide relevant, responsive, and joyful summer services.

    With that in mind, there are a few bits of advice for leaders planning to seize the season:

    • Lean-in to new ideas and innovation to create fresh, exciting programming that meets evolving academic and enrichment needs,
    • Make time to listen to your kids and staff as they reconnect,
    • Explore creative ways to improve programming access for all students,
    • Make resources readily available to site staff, students and families (don’t forget to utilize the materials in the SMART Zone),
    • Collaborate with fellow OST professionals to make bigger and better programs, and above all else,
    • Have fun while bringing joy to your kids!
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  • Looking and Moving Forward

    Posted by Dr. Lisa Caruthers on 12/31/2020

    This time of year has a way of encouraging reflection. Looking back over the past twelve months, it’s disorienting to think about how much has happened. I and many others have been met with the odd feeling of time moving slowly, speeding up and stalling all at once. For this and so many other reasons, the year 2020 has become synonymous with a lot. These days, saying ‘2020’ is both an explanation and description of situations ranging from slightly humorous to almost unbelievable. It means something different to everyone, much like the actual year we have just experienced.

    In looking forward to the upcoming year, I want to acknowledge how much we’ve overcome to get to this point. Some have expressed the urge to “get it over with” as soon as possible and rush into 2021, eager for a fresh start. Of course, we should look forward to next year, but it is also important to take some time to sit with our experiences. It can be difficult to see it, because life has hit people in so many unexpected ways. At points, it was downright hard. Despite that, there is still much to celebrate. We are resilient, we are here, and I am so proud of us all.

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  • Reflections on Embracing A Multicultural Environment, Making Afterschool Cool Podcast Episode 37 - 10/28/2020

    Posted by HCDE Staff on 11/20/2020

    Multiculturalism is one of those terms which defines itself based on the component of the word. Simply put, it means the intersection of multiple lifestyles, backgrounds, and heritage. Likewise, my guest on episode 37 of the Making After School Cool podcast, Roberto Germán, is a person of many cultures. On the surface, he may appear as an African American male. But he is so much more than that. He is a man of Dominican descent, with a Spanish name, hair styled in-locks and a distinct East Coast dialect. While speaking to Roberto about multiculturalism, I soon discovered it was like talking to Webster about the dictionary. This topic is not only something he is versed in but also his passion and a significant part of his life. It’s also evident in his life’s work. Roberto is an educator, consultant, and co-creator of the multicultural classroom.

    With the great diversity in our country and state, the need for creating a welcoming learning environment for all has never been greater. This is evident as we face a national call for equality, equity, and social justice. I recognized the need for an episode concerning these sensitive issues and was fortunate to located Roberto Germán. After a brief preliminary conversation with Roberto, I knew he would be the perfect person to discuss creating a multicultural environment in after school programs.

    The ability to accept everyone, no matter their background, is essential for anyone working in the out-of-school time field. However, in my experience with afterschool, spanning a career of over 25 years in the Houston area, this topic is seldom discussed. Roberto explained how he schedules ongoing Anti-Bias Anti-Racist (ABAR) meetings to ensure his team has ongoing discussions regarding multicultural issues. He stressed, “everybody has to be committed and buy-in.” The ABAR meetings are a series of training about handling problems that occur in a diverse setting. They are offered in short chunks, so no one is overwhelmed with the topics being discussed. During the ABAR meeting, time is always reserved for staff questions and feedback. German has found this to be an effective method.

    The world no longer operates in silos of them and us. It’s we, a group of people with all kinds of differences working together. To truly reach and teach in afterschool, we must create environments that are welcoming to all. Sessions such as ABAR meetings might be the first step in getting us there. Tune in to Episode 37 (Embracing a Multicultural Sensitive Environment) on the Making Afterschool Cool podcast at



    Michael Wilson is currently the Outreach Coordinator for Harris County Department of Education, CASE Program and host the Making After School Cool podcast. For over 25 years he has worked extensively to design and implement programs intended to make the educational experience for students and their families a positive one.


    Roberto Germán is the cofounder of the Multicultural Classroom an endeavor aimed to address the national issue of effectively teaching in multicultural and multilingual classrooms and communities. He and his wife Lorena are activists, educators, writers, speakers, trainers, and parents. Throughout the years, they have used their creative talents to create and inspire cultural diversity in communities across the State.

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  • Lights on Afterschool 2020 - 10/22/2020

    Posted by Dr. Lisa Caruthers on 11/18/2020

    By Dr. Lisa Caruthers, posted October 22, 2020

    No one could have prepared us for what 2020 had in store. On one hand, this year has brought with it a lot of obstacles. On the other hand, the OST community has been presented with opportunities to push forward. Many programs have been faced with the challenges of funding, staff retention and keeping students healthy and safe. At the tail end of the year, it is with a deep sense of pride that the resilience of the CASE for Kids community is highlighted. The educators that serve the youth of Harris County rose to the occasion to keep students engaged and learning during an unprecedented time in our lives.

    This Lights On Afterschool season, we are reminded once more of the importance of keeping the lights on. Though service providers are still dealing with the very real implications of the COVID-19 pandemic; through flexibility, determination and creativity students have been able to participate in debate tournaments, dance classes, concerts, musical theatre and much more virtually! Everything may have changed, but the commitment of the OST community to amplifying youth voice and experiences is unwavering.

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  • Reflections of Service from an AmeriCorps VISTA

    Posted by HCDE Staff on 11/18/2020

    My year as an AmeriCorps VISTA for CASE for Kids was wonderful. I truly have felt that in my short time with CASE Debates that I have made a positive difference for the 300 students that we serve. I have learned so much about community engagement, leveraging resources, and more about how school districts within Harris County operate. It was rewarding to organize tournaments and help oversee the administrative aspects of this incredible debate program. As a former high school debater, it made me smile to see students questioning the world around them. I’m happy to have had part in their education and keeping them safe.

    CASE Debates provides the skills for students to live more fulfilling lives and the education to rise above poverty. Despite the challenges, COVID-19, the living stipend, and others I would do this year all over again, exactly the same way.

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  • Summer Learning: Time to Relax without Learning Loss

    Posted by HCDE Staff on 11/17/2020

    Summertime is synonymous with the end of school and three months to unwind. As school day academics come to a close, summer programs keep the doors open for the learning to continue. For out-of-school time (OST) professionals around the country, summertime is a continuation of the variety of enrichment opportunities for youth offered in afterschool spaces.

    Enrichment is proven to have a positive impact on academic outcomes with research stating: “The breadth, quality, intensity, and duration of expanded learning programs make a difference in both short-term and enduring effects on student academic, social, and behavioral outcomes,” (Mahoney, Vandell, Simpkins, & Zarrett, 2009; Vandell, 2012). These outcomes are especially important during the summer months when students have more time to learn in the unique OST environment.

    According to National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), without summer learning opportunities “the cumulative effect is a crisis in the making: by the fifth grade, summer learning loss can leave low-income students two-and-a-half to three years behind their peers.” It is up to OST professionals to create space for youth to grow academically, regardless of the season. National initiatives like Summer Learning Week (July 8-13) empower programs to explore new subjects with the youth they serve.

    At CASE for Kids, it is a foundational belief that students should have access to experiences that are as diverse as they are. As we enter the season of summer programming, focus on the types of activities that will nurture students’ natural creativity and openness to new experiences, but above all else have fun!

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  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is for Everyone

    Posted by HCDE Staff on 11/16/2020

    Recently, CASE for Kids staff convened for a lunch-and-learn with an educational webinar from the National Afterschool Association. The webinar, SEL For Kids Starts with Adults, highlighted best practices of social emotional learning (SEL) within afterschool programs. CASE for Kids staff were eager to discuss how they could practice SEL within the office and quickly made those connections to the programs that they work with every day.

    This discussion produced a valid conclusion: Students can only learn and practice SEL if they see it demonstrated around them. In many instances, SEL starts with the adults that work with students every day. Youth can only see the value of SEL if it is modeled between program staff, not solely with their peers. Challenges with things like acknowledging others and using empathy during conflict will naturally arise within the workplace. However, the benefits of observing trusted adults practicing what they encourage brings student buy-in.

    Improving program quality is an ongoing process. Implementing SEL from the top down is the best way to ensure students are learning from modeled behaviors. When adults practice SEL, it creates a supportive culture for students to do the same, (Newman & Warner 2019).


    Webinar Location:

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  • Gender Specific Services

    Posted by HCDE Staff on 11/15/2020

    Each gender faces challenges from many directions as they grow up. It’s easy for girls and boys to feel alone as they try to find identity in a society that has strict gender norms. Ashanti Branch and Lynn Johnson have recognized the need for a safe space for students and have created gender-specific services for afterschool.

    Branch grew up in the inner city of Oakland and decided to start a teaching career to give back to his community. In his math class, he noticed that many boys weren’t performing to the best of their ability. To help these boys, he founded an afterschool program called Ever Forward in 2004. It encourages young men to take off the mask they wear so that they can express their emotions in a healthy way. Hawley and Reichert have “discovered that boys want good relationships with their teachers,” (2014) but are afraid that doing so will ruin their social status in school and compromise their masculinity.

    Meanwhile, Lynn Johnson first recognized girls’ need for a safe space by running a summer camp in Oakland, California. She discovered that girls need support from female peers and mentors to become successful leaders. In fact, the KPMG Women’s Leadership study revealed that, “ … 67% percent of women reported that they’d learned the most important lessons about leadership from other women,” (Doughtie & Veihmeyer 2015). In 2008, “GoGirls!” was born. It runs in afterschool programs and girls create girl-powered media that increases their self-confidence.

    CASE for Kids afterschool programs integrate these SEL practices to reach each gender of students so that they feel comfortable with their peers and secure in their abilities. A variety of activities are offered that not only teach literacy and numeracy skills, but also cater to different interests.


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  • Worlds Debate - CASE Debate

    Posted by HCDE Staff on 11/14/2020

    World Schools Debate is a relatively new type of debate. Introduced in 1988, it is a combination of international debate formats. Worlds is practiced in the U.S., although debate programs that use it are still quite rare. This is what sets CASE Debates apart from any other debate league in the country. When CASE for Kids was developing CASE Debates in 2017, they decided that the World Schools format would be offered as well as the more common, Policy format. In fact, CASE Debates has hosted one of the largest World Schools Debate Tournaments this season. Students are excited to learn and implement this cutting-edge type of debate. Worlds gains their interest because it is based on real-world and applicable situations that has real global effects.

    As a result, Worlds requires that debaters focus on their delivery of the argument instead of only presenting research that was compiled beforehand. To be a successful Worlds Debater, participants must consider the practical consequences of the motions that they propose. Brainstorming these types of situations builds critical thinking skills which includes an expanded worldview while also giving the students valuable public speaking experience. Alumni of CASE Debates have found this essential in their career and college journeys.

    College-readiness is a key goal of CASE Debates, and the ability to pursue valuable research and present it to an audience is a critical skill needed for university work. Results from a ten-year long study of high school debaters in Chicago also prove that, “high school students who debate have higher 12th grade [GPAs], are more likely to graduate high school, and are more likely to be college-ready…” (Mezuck, 2009; Mezuck, Bondarenko, Smith, & Tucker, 2011). By contesting a researched point, students learn how to listen to their peers and absorb more about the world around them.



    The BUDL Effect: Examining Academic Achievement and Engagement Outcomes of Preadolescent Baltimore Urban Debate League Participants
    by Daniel Shackelford

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