Making Afterschool Cool Blog

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Looking and Moving Forward
by Dr. Lisa Caruthers, posted December 16, 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.

Check out our previous blog posts below.

Reflection: Transparency is the Key to Having Difficult Conversations with Kids - 10/28/2020

Reflection: Transparency is the Key to Having Difficult

Conversations with Kids

Making Afterschool Podcast Episode 39, posted October 28, 2020

I remember reading A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens when I was either in Jr. High or High School.  It was part of our English Language Arts reading of classical literature.  To this day, I often wondered what made this book a classic.  Did a judge of authored books annotate specific publications classics while others were just merely average or bad?  But, at that age, who was I to question if a book was a great work of literature.  So like most of my peers, I just read it and moved on.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch (time) of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.” 
Charles Dickens a Tale of Two Cities, 1842


Now, as an adult, I can at least relate to Dickens’s passage. Since COVID 19 first surfaced in the US, our daily routines have drastically changed. Simultaneously, the George Floyd incident brought racial issues to the forefront. Consequently, terms such as quarantine, infection rates, peaceful protest, riots, social justice, institutional racism, and much more now inundate our lives. Additionally with the divisiveness caused by the presidential election; some people may describe this as the worst of times. During this season of darkness, light is created by adults having knowledgeable conversations with young people regarding difficult subjects. So the topic for Episode 39 of The Making After School Cool podcast was how to facilitate difficult discussions with youth regarding diversity, equality, and social injustice.

Rann Miller, Sr. was my guest to discuss best practices for serious conversations with youth during this time of uncertainty. The thing that stood out to me during the discussion with Rann was how easy it was to talk to him. Prior to the podcast interview, I’ve never spoken to Rann beyond emails. Yet, his voice is calming and makes it easy to bring up subjects that can be viewed as sensitive topics.

The main thing I learned from our conversation was the idea that adults need to be transparent when speaking to youth concerning touchy subject matter. He stressed that if the adult does not feel comfortable discussing the issue, they should not have the conversation until they become comfortable with the topic. And if they truly are uncomfortable discussing difficult problems with youth, they should recruit another trusted adult to facilitate the conversation. Rann also advised adults to research the topic so their discussion could include valid points with limited bias. But ultimately, the conversation should be conducted with a spirit of honesty and trust.

The most crucial aspect when dealing with controversial topics is not to ignore what is going on. With the ease of social media, youth are receiving messages faster than ever before. If knowledgeable adults are not available to have an appropriate conversation with young people, their peers will have uninformed discussions. And that relates back to Charles Dickens and shows the difference between the spring of hope compared to the winter of despair.


Rann Miller Sr. is the Founder & Lead Writer for the Urban Education Mixtape, and has served as an afterschool director for a 21st Century Community Learning Center program, a  social studies teacher, facilitator of professional development,and author.  Most importantly, Rann is a husband and a father who is devoted to his family.

Michael Wilson is the Outreach Coordinator for Harris County Department of Education, CASE Program and hosts 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.


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

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



Image of Michael WilsonMichael 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.


Image of Roberto GermainRoberto 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.






Lights on Afterschool 2020 - 10/22/2020

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 lotof 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 tothe 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.

Reflections of Service from an AmeriCorps VISTA

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.

Summer Learning: Time to Relax without Learning Loss

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!

Social Emotional Learning is for Everyone

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:

Gender Specific Services

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.


Worlds Debate - CASE Debate

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

OST Symposium - Mindful Leadership

CASE for Kids hosted an Out-of-School-Time (OST) Symposium on Nov. 8. A variety of workshops were offered for OST professionals such as afterschool providers, teachers and managers of nonprofit organizations. Many workshops were offered in a variety of topics related to leadership development. The mindful leadership session was presented by Mitzi Henderson. She owns the only African American owned registered yoga school in Houston and is the owner of Namitzi Yoga; The Namitzi Yoga Institute of Health and Spirituality; and the Mindful Lotus.

Mitzi opened Namitzi Yoga in 2009 as one of the first visual and mobile yoga studios in Houston, yet that was only the beginning. Later, she integrated yoga as a daily practice at Hilliard Elementary School, emphasizing the calming benefits of yoga in the classroom environment. She noted how a peaceful, focused mind helps a teacher work more effectively with their students. To connect with the community around Hilliard, she taught free weekly public yoga classes. She is an example of how leaders such as teachers and managers must remain calm during conflict; the way they handle the situation can greatly affect its outcome.

Leaders that practice mindfulness are more in-tune with their emotions and can recognize if someone is reacting based on an immediate emotional response. Mindful leaders understand that to make the best decision, they need to analyze the problem from the point of view of those involved. This strategy applies to the classroom since “mindfulness promotes positive social connections in the workplace through… empathy and response flexibility” (Glomb et. al, 2012). By fostering a mindful environment, youth become more aware of how their emotions affect decision-making. They realize that empathizing with another person can change their beliefs and will understand the value of active listening to others and their experiences.

Glomb, T. M., Duffy, M. K., Bono, J. E., & Yang, T. (2012). Mindfulness at work. Research in Personnel and Human Resource Management

Community Circle SEL

At Mahanay Elementary School, an afterschool class of 10 students gathered to make a circle, sitting crisscross for their weekly community circle. As their teacher called everyone to silence, one of the students read the guidelines that were written on a sheet of paper. These guidelines emphasized the values of honesty, listening skills and silence while the person with the talking piece spoke.

The teacher put together a list of questions that increased in difficulty each round. A colorful stuffed monkey (the talking piece) was gently passed when it was someone else’s turn to speak. The first question was simple: “What is your favorite holiday food?” Answers varied, but most students preferred sweets. Next, “Who are you thankful for during the holiday season?” Most students were thankful for their parents supporting them financially. Then came the final question: “How do you show someone you care for them?” It took the students awhile to come up with an answer, so the teacher gave them more time to think about it. Then the group brainstormed together about how they could show their care for someone by hugging them or telling them “thank you” often for the thoughtful things they do.

The community circle at Mahanay Elementary is a prime example of how relationships are built among students in an afterschool program. As a SEL-based activity, “… participants develop and practice skills in communication, relationship-building, empathy, democratic decision-making, conflict resolution, and problem-solving” according to the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. Due to the positive outcomes of SEL education, CASE for Kids focuses on the child development of emotional intelligence by training afterschool staff on how to use it with their students. There are many elements to SEL. Leading a community circle is one way to introduce SEL into the afterschool curriculum.


Food Insecurity in Afterschool

Food Insecurity in Afterschool

Food insecurity is a nationwide concern, and afterschool programs are doing their part to tackle the problem by providing healthy meals for their students. The Food Research & Action Center (FRAC)’s 2019 Afterschool Nutrition Report studied the rate of afterschool student hunger based on how many students use free-and-reduced lunch during the school day.

According to FRAC’s report: “Nationally, for every 16 children who received a free or reduced-price school lunch on an average school day in October 2018, only one child received an afterschool supper” (2019). To address this gap in service, the federal government enacted the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Since then, afterschool hunger has steadily decreased nationally.

This is also due to organization programs in local communities such as the Houston Food Bank. To help reduce hunger in Houston, the Backpack Buddy Program was implemented. Through this program, at-risk students are provided with a bag of nutritious meals to eat over the weekend.

Students that show signs of consistent hunger are privately identified by school staff who recommend the students for the program. The success of the Backpack Buddy Program depends on school staff members successfully identifying the signs of a student who lives in a food insecure household. To do this, teachers must build a strong bond with their students and monitor their behaviors towards meals.

It takes an adult to advocate for youth that don’t know how to voice their struggle or who to ask for help. To further develop strong teacher-student relationships, CASE for Kids offers weekly trainings for afterschool professionals. Many trainings focus on building healthy relationships between staff and students. A strong teacher-student relationship makes it more likely that the teacher will be in tune with the student’s needs and can find resources to help them.



CASE Debates Mentorship Project

CASE Debates is excited to announce a new program that it’s heading: its mentorship project. Alumni that were once high school debaters return to classrooms to mentor other students that participate in CASE Debates. As one of the first mentors to volunteer their time and as a former CASE Debates student, Riley Hardwick is enjoying mentoring debate students at Harmony High School.

She started debating in eighth grade and continued throughout high school. She notes that once you join debate, you become a part of a network of young intellectuals who become your
friends through teamwork and competitive spirit. According to Riley, being a mentor comes with challenges as well as successes. The biggest challenge has been the transition from student all
her life to now, an educator. She’s learned that a mentor must accommodate a fostering environment for different opinions and viewpoints. She also recognizes that each debater has
their own unique style, but she can help them further develop the technical aspects of their delivery such as the research component.

Mentorship is an integral component within the growing CASE Debates program. “Dappen and Iserhagen (2005) and Ahrens et al. (2010 ) all agreed that improved grades, better
attendance, and a reduction in dropout rates result from effective mentoring.” This is because students have one-on-one coaching with a mentor that knows how it feels to be in their place as a
high school debater. The mentor can offer personalized advice based on their experiences. We are thankful for CASE Debates mentors that are willing to help a new generation of developing debaters find their voice within the classroom and the world at large.

Ahrens, K., DuBois, D., Lozano, P., & Richardson, L. P. (2010). Naturally acquired mentoring relationships and young adult out- comes among adolescents with learning disabilities. Learning
Disabilities Research & Practice , 25(4), 207 – 216. doi: 10.1111/ j.1540-5826.2010.00318.x

Bluebonnet World Schools Debate International Tournament

CASE Debates high school students continue their education and sharpening their skills during the COVID-19 stay-at-home order through online tournaments. Drawing on philosophers like John Rawls and using cost-benefit analysis and setting up frameworks, these young people puzzle out the solutions to real-world problems. No, it isn’t happening in the United Nations, nor is it occurring in an office or classroom, it is all in kitchens, living rooms, bedrooms and any place quiet.

Currently, CASE Debates students are working on developing arguments for the third annual Bluebonnet World Schools Debate International Tournament. The competition started on April 4th and will continue to May 2nd, 2020. Thanks to debate organizer Audra Langston, Bluebonnet is one of the first international tournaments to go virtual as many in-person events were canceled, and high school debate students are excited to represent their schools in this international tournament.

CASE Debates students from Spring Early College Academy in Spring ISD and Elsik High School in Alief ISD participating in Bluebonnet had the opportunity to compete with debaters from around the world, from Romania, Denmark, India, Canada, Wales, Mexico to South Korea. The tournament is host to 48 teams from 23 countries and Spring Early College Academy - Team Alpha Silver placed as one of the top 16 teams, representing one of two U.S.A teams in the bracket during the Octo-Finalist round. In a time where some may feel isolated, online tournaments and online practices give students a chance to feel like they belong while providing academic support. Bluebonnet topics are based in real-world situations. Discussions include motions/topics around facial recognition privacy vs. security, taxes, environmental solutions, to support of Tiger parenting vs. other parenting styles.

Our students are not only experiencing a cross-cultural exchange through the Bluebonnet tournament; they are working to solve the problems around them. Through changing circumstances, CASE debaters have proved their resilience and flexibility. According to the Urban Debate League MPS Evaluation Report, “Debate programming … provided opportunities for academic risk-taking and was an additional venue for students to experience success (2015). In this case, students have embraced this new virtual debate format and the challenges that come with it. Now they have proven their talent at a global scale, representing CASE Debates, Houston, Texas, and the U.S.A. all in one.

For more information about the Bluebonnet International Online Tournament visit


Urban Debate League MPS Evaluation Report - 9.28.15 4&token=8b3407561490fa461a420c8404d1d7c5&preview=1

*We also thank the Houston Urban Debate League (HUDL) for their financial support for two of the teams’ entry fees.

Family Engagement Key to Students' Academic, Social Success

Family engagement is one of the most important factors in the academic and social success of a student. This is even more true during the more relaxed summer months. The greatest challenge of this time of year for many out-of-school time providers is finding innovative ways to engage families. Wading through the many options to connect to families and communities can be daunting, but it’s not impossible!

When students and families participate together, students are more likely to be excited about what they are learning. With youth eager to relax after completing the school year, bringing them back to learning is a priority. Involving families in the learning process and connecting with them through meaningful, holistic methods can be the deciding factor in a summer program that thrives (Ahmad, et. al, 2016).

As an out-of-school time provider planning for another summer of learning, remember to tap into the power of an effective family engagement strategy, (Ferlazzo & Hammond, 2009). This can mean the difference between a good summer program and a great one!

Student Voice in Afterschool

When Diane Guzman of GO Strategic implemented the garden program at Navarro Middle School, she was thrilled to see the way students engaged with the activities. As one of the more popular programs offered by GO Strategic, it was no surprise that students loved it. They were excited to plant food they’d ultimately take home and gain experience managing their garden space. Youth in this program took to the task immediately, except for one. Amaya was struggling with the purpose of the task.

Through some guided questioning and encouragement, Guzman learned that Amaya was interested in planting a memorial for former classmates which held meaning for her. From there Guzman adapted the gardening lessons to the needs of her students and purchased supplies for completing the memorial with the class. The formerly disengaged student quickly became a student leader, assisting her classmates with landscape design and planting flowers. Guzman encouraged this leadership seeing that Amaya found a way to make the activity collaborative. With the peer support, gardening became a fun and meaningful activity for everyone involved.

This is one of the many examples of how CASE for Kids providers incorporate student voice into the fabric of their programming. When students feel heard and can take ownership of their out-of-school time activities, the benefits are endless, (Fox, 2016).

Brain Drain

It’s back-to-school season across Harris County. With students returning to classes, many educators are encountering the effects of brain drain in their classrooms. Brain drain is a by-product of summer slide, a decline in reading ability and other academic skills that can occur over the summer months when school isn’t in session.

With so much information learned during the school year being lost in the summer months, students can start falling behind at the beginning of the year. Many teachers spend the first few weeks re-teaching last year’s information as a review. This can result in as much as a three-week delay on new curriculum.

The question becomes: How do we challenge this loss? Dr. Lisa Caruthers, director of CASE for Kids shared helpful tips with Brandi Smith of KHOU 11 News to answer that very question. She shared that consistency is key when it comes to helping youth retain information they’ve learned. Reinforcing routine is helpful. When youth return to school, they are already adjusted to the structure of the learning environment. Other tips included identifying students’ interests to keep them invested in those early days of learning. Educators and parents can ease students back into actively learning for a smoother transition. Incentivizing learning to encourage engagement also works.

Summer learning loss adds up and can delay youths’ academic growth (Augustine, et al. 2011). It’s up to parents, school-day educators, and out-of-school time providers to help bridge those gaps for students!

View the video:

CASE Debates Mentorship Project

CASE Debates is excited to announce a new program that it’s heading: its mentorship project. Alumni that were once high school debaters return to classrooms to mentor other students that participate in CASE Debates. As one of the first mentors to volunteer their time and as a former CASE Debates student, Riley Hardwick is enjoying mentoring debate students at Harmony High School.

She started debating in eighth grade and continued throughout high school. She notes that once you join debate, you become a part of a network of young intellectuals who become your friends through teamwork and competitive spirit. According to Riley, being a mentor comes with challenges as well as successes. The biggest challenge has been the transition from student all her life to now, an educator. She’s learned that a mentor must accommodate a fostering environment for different opinions and viewpoints. She also recognizes that each debater has their own unique style, but she can help them further develop the technical aspects of their delivery such as the research component.

Mentorship is an integral component within the growing CASE Debates program. “Dappen and Iserhagen (2005) and Ahrens et al. (2010 ) all agreed that improved grades, better attendance, and a reduction in dropout rates result from effective mentoring.” This is because students have one-on-one coaching with a mentor that knows how it feels to be in their place as a high school debater. The mentor can offer personalized advice based on their experiences. We are thankful for CASE Debates mentors that are willing to help a new generation of developing debaters find their voice within the classroom and the world at large.

Ahrens, K., DuBois, D., Lozano, P., & Richardson, L. P. (2010). Naturally acquired mentoring relationships and young adult out- comes among adolescents with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice , 25(4), 207 – 216. doi: 10.1111/ j.1540-5826.2010.00318.x

Creativity Shell Provider

CASE for Kids works with a little over 100 afterschool providers that offer a diverse range of services for youth. One of its providers, Creativity Shell, focuses on the visual arts and vocational aspect of education. Teachers guide students through the process of designing and sewing costumes into creation.

Teachers facilitate their students’ natural curiosity by teaching them hands-on skills such as sewing, glass fusing and pyrography. There are many elements that can be added to a costume to explore all elements of STEAM: science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics. Sometimes students choose to add elements such as LED lights to their costume designs.

Shelancia Daniel, the creative director of Creativity Shell, says that students enjoy seeing a project to completion and showing it off at the annual “Creativity Rocks! Fashion Show” where youth in the program design and create clothes for the runway. They also host the Munchkin Market where students sell items they created. Students may keep the money or donate it to a nonprofit of their choice.

Creativity Shell is an organization built by professional artists that bring out the creativity in each student. The benefit of arts programs is documented by a case study done by Arts Victoria. It shows that “school/arts programs improved student attention spans and had a positive impact on student persistence and motivation” (Arts Victoria 2011). When a student can work on their vision from start to finish, that process builds patience as well. All these skills are essential components of a well-rounded individual.


Asset Limited, Income Restrained, Employed (ALICE)

In the age of information, there is a lot of data collected and distributed on families and communities. As leaders and change-makers, we make attempts to pick through these numbers to understand them and develop relevant solutions. Even with this commitment to creating a better reality, the research outcomes are met with the questions about relevance.

With this challenge in mind, the concept of Asset Limited, Income Restrained, Employed (ALICE) was developed. ALICE refers to, “families with income above the Federal Poverty Level (FPL), but not high enough to afford basic household necessities” (United Way of Greater Houston, 2019). Data about ALICE provides an understanding of how communities live when they are not able to access the most basic means of survival. This is further contextualized with the ALICE Household Survival Budget which “calculates the actual costs of basic necessities in Texas” (United Way of Greater Houston, 2019). ALICE challenges what many understand about poverty and its faces, in a relevant look at the local landscape.

This valuable resource provides the research backing to build a data-driven grant proposal; write a compelling case for support; or construct any number of presentations to the public about the needs of communities served. With supporting evidence compiled from the American Community Survey, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and many more, this report will serve to strengthen narratives for diverse audiences.

Read the full ALICE Report.

Barbara Jordan Black History Month

During Black History Month, teachers can remind students of the sacrifices others have made in the past for a better future. “The curriculum [used] will need to balance the narratives of victimhood, perseverance, and resistance… it should contextualize issues that connect with the present” (Dagbovie 2010) so that students understand that they, too can make a difference in their communities.

In February, we celebrate the contributions and achievements of African Americans to history. Barbara Jordan was a native Houstonian who had a tremendous impact on the local community. During high school and college, she was a member of debate teams which helped prepare her for a career in American politics.

At Phyllis Wheatley High School, Jordan was an active member of the debate team. Through debate, she learned how powerful her voice could be and discovered a passion for politics. She helped the debate team win numerous competitions and was recognized for her contributions. Due to her success in high school debate, Jordan joined Texas Southern University’s debate team and led them to victory as well.

Once she earned a law degree from Boston University in 1959, she became a Texas senator in 1966. She was the first African-American state senator in the U.S. since 1883. She was also the first African American woman to become a state senator. Years later in 1974, her impeachment speech helped lead to President Nixon’s resignation over the Watergate Scandal.

Jordan’s prowess in public speaking and research were likely developed by her involvement in debate; it is how her commitment to American politics began. In this way, CASE Debates aims to develop Houston-area students’ critical thinking skills such as speaking and research skills so that they can excel in any career they choose. The debate city championships will be held at the county courthouse on Feb. 22, and we will celebrate the final season of the CASE Debates season at the Impact Awards in March.

Pero G. Dagbovie, African American History Reconsidered (Champagne: University of Illinois Press, 2010).

Park Place Recycling Program

We are so proud of students at our Partnership Project site, Park Place Elementary in Houston ISD! Beginning in the fall semester, the students were preparing to participate in our annual robotics program, the All-Earth Ecobot Challenge. In the Park Place afterschool program students learned how to build and program robots from LEGO ® kits during robotics club.

This year, participating teams were asked to create a recycling program as part of the Ecobot Challenge. Through a school-wide competition, Park Place recycled 23,000 pounds of material. By working so hard and making a video about their experience, these self-named “RoboTigers” won the All-Earth Ecobot Challenge 2020 Grand Challenge: Ready, Set… Recycle for the year.

Students enjoyed this recycling program so much that they even got their parents involved! Now parents bring trash bags full of recyclable material to the school to be recycled. Principal Dr. Leal says, “When you see the students being motivated, when you see teachers being excited about this and then you see parents taking part in that, the impact of it is amazing.”

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that when “schools are committed to reaching out to engage parents in meaningful ways, parents are committed to actively supporting their children’s learning and development” (2012). By participating in Park Place’s recycling program, parents can support their child’s education in a fun way, bridging the gap between home and school.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2012). Parent Engagement: Strategies for Involving Parents in School Health. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Making Decisions with Data

Making sound decisions is a must in education. These decisions can have far reaching implications for the organization. Beyond that, and more importantly, as an entity providing services these decisions directly impact people’s lives. It is imperative that organizations can collect qualitative and quantitative data from their clients to create programming that matches the need of the community. This is even more true now as we face the ripple effect of a global pandemic. In a time where connecting with others is complicated, it becomes even more important to connect with constituents.

Following the example of organizations like the Houston Endowment and the United Way of Greater Houston, CASE for Kids is looking to collect data from the community they serve with a series of surveys. Without the time and dedication of out-of-school time service (OST) providers, the CASE for Kids team would not be able to do the work of being champions for quality support. It is with this in mind that CASE for Kids has developed the COVID-19 Impact Survey. With these results, solutions for new challenges and opportunities to provide relevant support to the OST community can be deeper understood and developed.

The future may be full of uncertainty, but CASE for Kids strives to continue to be the constant that the OST community can depend on.

If your organization has not received a survey, but would like to be included, contact Kathy Evans at kevans@hcde-texas.

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