Staff benefit most when professional development challenges them to develop their skills and competencies in a collaborative and consistent way, where they can integrate new tools and practices. Professional Learning Communities offer this kind of learning opportunity, where professionals are asked to be engaged on an ongoing basis.
January 2019 through May 2019, Ramapo for Children and Maryland Out of School Time Network (MOST) worked together to co-facilitate a Professional Learning Community in Baltimore City.
The Baltimore OST Inclusion Collaborative is a Professional Learning Community initiative intended to increase disability equity and provide inclusion training, technical assistance, and coaching for out-of-school time (OST) programs that wish to make their services and environments more welcoming and effective for youth of all abilities. The Inclusion Collaborative provided a network-based approach to deepen practice and accelerate learning.
Founded in 1922, Ramapo for Children is a nonprofit agency committed to creating inclusive environments through direct service and training. By equipping adults with the tools they need to successfully support youth, Ramapo helps them promote positive behavioral change, foster social and emotional skill development, and support learning within their communities.
MOST is a statewide youth development organization, dedicated to more and better opportunities in out-of-school hours for all of Maryland's young people. MOST is one of 50 statewide afterschool networks made possible by the generous support of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and local matching investment.
MOST and Ramapo began collaborating in 2015, through a partnership with Disability Rights Maryland and a project to reduce chronic absenteeism for youth with disabilities. Afterschool participation is one effective strategy for increasing school-day attendance and engagement. Unfortunately, youth with disabilities are too often excluded from these opportunities. Students with disabilities are more likely to attend and be retained by programs that both know their responsibilities under the law and have participated in training and coaching opportunities that build understanding for how accommodating students with disabilities will support overall program quality.
The intended goal of the Inclusion Collaborative is to equip agency staff and supervisors with specific tools and strategies to create robust programs serving young adults and youth with disabilities in OST programs, fostering a culture of learning and improvement. Core program topics include developing inclusive programs, meeting sensory needs, understanding Disability Rights Activism, understanding triggers, and de-escalating conflict.
The learning community began with a three-part series around inclusion, followed by rich, monthly workshops February through May that provided opportunities for interactive, hands-on learning. Additionally, each OST program in the cohort received on-site coaching from Alika Hope and Nathan Paluzzi, OST coaches from Ramapo for Children. Elyse Preston from MOST Network worked to facilitate the relationships between the OST programs and the coaches.
This collaborative was made possible by a generous investment of the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation.
"I love the perspective that the unique learning environment gives. All of the activities led to our organization coming together and reflecting on how we can improve."
—Anthony Avery, Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Center
"The one-on-one coaching experiences have been so valuable. This is something that Access Art has been wanting to do for a very long time. The direct support from Ramapo has allowed us to create more connection and alignment between students, staff and the administration of our organization."
—Sara Kaltwasser, Access Art
Participants had a variety of takeaways. Some of the most resonant outcomes:
- Everyone benefits from inclusion, whether they have an identified disability or not.
- Workshops provide grounding in theory. Coaching helps put the theory into practice.
- The Baltimore Inclusion Collaborative has provided the opportunity for a variety of agencies to come together to create a shared vision for afterschool in the city.
- A program like this provides access to experts in the field and allows participants to share their best practices with one another.
Art with a Heart
Baltimore City Dept of Recreation and Parks
Digital Harbor Foundation
Leaders of Tomorrow Youth Center, Inc
Safe Alternative Foundation for Education, Inc.
Soccer Without Borders
The Webb Group, Inc. Educational Learning Center
U.S. Dream Academy
Written by Alika Hope, OST Coach, Ramapo for Children; Elyse Preston, Associate Director, MOST Network; Ellie Mitchell, Director, MOST Network. Photos courtesy of Elyse Preston.
This article originally appeared in AfterSchool Today.