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Inside the Dot is a podcast dedicated to exploring the transformative power of education and the pursuit of college, leadership, and life for all students. In this episode we interview our Coordinator of Expanded Learning and Student programs. Read the transcription below to learn how we serve our students through this dynamic program—even through distance learning.

Eric: Welcome to "Inside the Dot," a podcast dedicated to exploring the transformative power of education in the pursuit of college, leadership, and life for all students. My name is Eric Craig, and I'm the digital content associate for Green Dot Public Schools. Today, we're diving into Green Dot's Expanded Learning Program that provides students with a space for additional support and academic enrichment. In this episode, we'll be joined by David Nunez, the expanded learning coordinator for Green Dot since 2015. David, how are you doing today?

David: I'm great, Eric. Thanks for having me.

Eric: Let's just jump into it. So, expanded learning, this is something that's new to me and maybe new to some of the listeners. What is expanded learning?

David: The term expanded learning is relatively new to the field, really what it's referencing is afterschool programs. Our programs really are not limited to just after school. Our programs can happen before school, obviously, after school, but they also can happen on weekends, holidays, really any time outside of the school day.

Eric: What kind of activities do you guys coordinate? I've read that expanded learning can involve volunteerism, athletic programs, internships, can you tell us a bit about what you do for our families and our students?

David: Yeah. Absolutely. So, I think I'll start with just kind of the bedrock, the foundation of our programs. So, our programs really are based on the learning and afterschool and summer principles is an initiative brought by Temescal Associates that has been adopted statewide. It's really like five principles centered around how kids learn not what they learn. And what we did is we took these principles and we kind of boiled them down into three buckets. And that's kind of like been our motto of the think, play, serve. So, we want activities that are going to cause students to really think, obviously really expand their horizons, develop mastery. Like we want kids to really learn something, to learn a skill, to learn a way to just be better people. What we were seeing in some of our programs early on was, you know, these "sports clubs" that were run were really were just kind of free play.

And we said, "That's great, but that's not really pushing any learning." So, we really started moving towards like a skill-based model. And that kind of culminated last fall when we did our skills and drills basketball tournament. We wanted something that was going to be different than the traditional kind of basketball tournament where teams play. So, we borrowed an idea actually from the NBA during All-Star weekend, they do like skills competitions. So, in the fall we had...So we wanted to focus around that. It's like, if you have basketball clubs on your program, like are you teaching kids to dribble, and shoot, and pass, and the fundamentals of basketball? Or are you just rolling a ball out on the yard and letting them go at it? And that's when we wanted to go for.

And then lastly is the serve component where we wanted to provide students with opportunities to give back to their communities. You know, every fall/winter we do our season of giving, which lasts from November to December where each program partners with a community-based organization to do some kind of community outreach, community service portion. Each program has an afterschool leadership council, which kind of in many ways serves as like an afterschool ASB. Put on events, they recruit students into the programs, we get feedback from them. So, you know, under the think, play, serve, we feel like we encapsulated a lot of what we want to do. Now, we're not limiting it to that because there's also just some good old fashioned fun stuff that we like to do that maybe doesn't fit in one of those buckets. But we wanted to make sure that there was a foundation to our programs that, you know, help bring kids in and keep them.

Eric: Interesting. So, how would you say this expanded learning program is different from Arc or EduCare?

David: Well, I wouldn't say they're different because we work in partnership with them. So we offer guidance to our partners like Arc and EduCare. We provide PD for their staff. We really want their staff and their teams to feel like they are part of the Green Dot family, so we try to keep them in the loop as much as possible. We meet with them at least once a month as a group, share updates from Green Dot, any initiatives that we're launching.

We've done org-wide events with multiple schools and multiple programs participating. So, really we're just trying to do some really cool, innovative stuff.

Eric: Based on what you've seen, how would you say that expanded learning builds communities?

David: I love that question and I love it because a lot of what brought me into expanded learning, to afterschool is really this sense of relationship-building. You know, our staff, they're mostly young, either recent college grads or in college, they're young enough to have understood what like it meant to be a young student in these crazy times that we're in. So, they definitely are really great about building a connection with students. I've always said this, anybody that goes into education in any form or capacity has a big heart because you need to have a big heart to do what we do. And so, it starts with relationships between the staff and the students and then taking them another step further between expanded learning program staff with school-day staff, parents, community members. We also encourage our programs and our partners to reach out to the community and bring on those resources to our campus. So, you know, in the past we've had relationships with like, you know, the local dance studio that will bring an instructor and teach a Zumba class to students and parents alike. We've had partnerships with like local boxing gyms or fitness centers that allow students to go into their facilities and use them or come onto our campuses and use them.

I actually saw a great one at Animo Watts, a local boxing center that we had a relationship with, was teaching a group of young ladies self-defense. And it was really cool. We were standing there watching them and it started with like three girls and then there was four. And then literally as the class was happening, like girls were just coming in because they were watching this and they were like, "What is this? I want to see this." So, just in that span of like 5, 10 minutes that we were watching them, the group doubled, tripled in size just from watching that. And we also love, love, love putting on events, school site-based programs do them, you know, on their own. They have like family nights, they celebrate, you know, different cultures and important dates, and they invite the parents and families. And really, we are big believers in like this program is for everyone. Everyone should have a say. They should see what we offer. The resources and supports that, you know, that our programs have aren't just for students, they're for parents, they're for siblings, family members, you know. We've had things like family Zumba mornings on Saturdays. You know, a couple of years ago we had English classes for parents. We had our high school knowledge bowl. We had our director of math and science out there judging our STEM portion of our program. We had our school culture specialists leading the super quiz portion. We had one of our college and persistence team members judging the performance piece. So, we like to bring anybody and everybody within the Green Dot universe onto our campuses and into our events to really start to strengthen those relationships that are already in place.

Eric: You know, it's really interesting that you bring up community because this is sort of a segue into my next set of questions. How would you say that COVID-19 has impacted expanded learning over these last couple of weeks?

David: Yeah. That's a tough one because it's definitely impacted us in a very heavy way. First and foremost, like I said, the cornerstone, that relationship-building. And so, for staff and students to not be able to see each other, to be able to be in the same space, to break out of that routine has been incredibly challenging for, you know, our young people as well as our staff. So, when that hit, we were just kinda like, okay, what's gonna happen? Like we can't just go away. So, we had an expanded learning programs webpage that really was just like some resources. It was a lot of, you know, the staff used it a lot because we would house information on org-wide events and, you know, best practices and resources for them. So, when we looked at it, you know, and talking to, you know, my supervisor and people at Green Dot and learning more about like what the plans were for distance learning for the school day, I said, well, let's not reinvent the wheel. Let's find something that is familiar, or that will be familiar for young people. I said, so let's take it virtual. So, you know, we met with our partners and we said, hey, look, this is an idea we have, like, you know, it's being able to still connect with young people, being able to still pay staff. So, we came up with the idea of creating a portal on our webpage that would be virtual expanded learning programs hub. Partners were on board, they were all very excited, so we had their staff create lessons, video lessons that we would put on the web page that students can access.

We've included academic resources and supports. We've created a little reading corner on there because we believe literacy is incredibly important. We've accessed free resources for students, eBooks, audiobooks, you know, other forms of digital media. And as well as the virtual field trips. I'm a huge proponent of field trips, I love taking kids offsite. I think it's really important. I think it breaks down some of these ideas of self that they have when they are on campus and all free of charge. Everything is totally completely free. We don't charge students for anything that we ever do. We believe that our programs offer a connection for our students to connect with the school.

Eric: Well, it's so great to hear how you guys have had the opportunity to rebound even with COVID-19 and distance learning. So, I guess my last question for you, what's been the most important lesson that you and Green Dot have learned from this moment?

David: Well, I think it definitely takes an innovative approach. I think we can't be scared in this moment to try something new. We also just, like I said earlier, we can't give up, you know. Young people depend on us. This is not a job where, you know, you can just kinda go about your business or shut down and not impact the lives of, you know, we're talking about young people here. So, I think it really is just that willingness to be innovative in the face of adversity.

Eric: Thank you so much for sharing your time with us today, David. We've learned how expanded learning has been affected by COVID-19 and how Green Dot will continue to move forward with this program ending on a note of willingness and not giving up in the face of adversity. So, I'd like to thank the audience for listening today, and to find more amazing stories around the Green Dot community, I'd like to invite you to visit us on our blog at blog.greendot.org. And you can also learn the latest from the network on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @GreenDotSchools. Thank you so much. And we'll see you next time "Inside the Dot."