Episode 14: Blog – The LA’s BEST Approach: Get to Know Each Child as an Individual

By Ronnie Cavalluzzi, Director of Student Support ServicesLA’s BEST After School Enrichment Program

ronnie-cavalluzzi“Because we know that young people are motivated by different things, our goal is to help them find the motivation to pursue balanced and fulfilled lives. Our strategies reflect our values that everything should be measured by the impact it has on a young person.”
– Ronnie Cavalluzzi

Mark Manella, CEO of KIPP Philadelphia Schools, part of the national KIPP network, and Please Speak Freely host Eric Gurna pinpoint the key questions that deep thinking, passionate, committed people in the field of education reflect on when they develop goals and strategies for young people both in and out of the classroom. After goals are identified, we must decide what strategies to use to help youth achieve their goals. For KIPP, goals are specific and include college completion and living a happy, independent life. In this podcast, Eric and Mark discuss to what degree children are motivated by concrete rewards and consequences for meeting or falling short of expectations. If KIPP’s token economy system is successful for motivating many but not all middle school students, what motivates the others? Is there a point at which concrete rewards are transformed into internal values?

My perspective comes from the afterschool point of view. At LA’s BEST After School Enrichment Program, we adhere to youth development principles while providing a balance of academics, enrichment, recreation, and nutrition. As an afterschool provider in 187 elementary schools, LA’s BEST supports the academic development of our youth, but is not accountable for improving test scores. We train our community-based staff in five principles of connecting to children. We strive to assure young people’s emotional and physical safety, develop positive relationships with youth, guide young people to make their own choices, connect youth to their communities, and build skills and knowledge.

Mark Manella’s goals for the students at KIPP Philadelphia are clear: college completion and a happy, independent life. The goal of college completion can be measured and compels educators to think in concrete terms about what children need to attend and graduate from college.  Test scores are a measurement relevant to college acceptance. That is a reality. Access to college provides opportunities for young people to develop critical thinking skills and independence.

As an afterschool program, LA’s BEST plays an important role. We work with schools, committing our resources to youth development, both socially and academically. Our daily commitment is to the individual child’s development as a happy and critically thinking citizen of the world.  Because we know that young people are motivated by different things, our goal is to help them find themotivation to pursue balanced and fulfilled lives. Our strategies reflect our values that everything should be measured by the impact it has on a young person.

In keeping with our Youth Development Principles, the children take the initiative to come up with how their class and activities should go throughout their LA’s BEST day. Staff are trained to ask students the kind of questions that would help them to make their own agreements.  How  do they want to be treated by each other and their coaches? What kind of rewards and recognition would they like when they follow their agreements?  And what kind of consequences do they think they should have if they stray from their agreement. The only consequence the organization expects is that the staff will redirect the child back to the agreement before any other consequence. The organization spent considerable time discussing the words we use for guiding the children. Recognition was given equal value with rewards as some children thrive with praise not with access to playing video games. Consequences was chosen over punishment because our goal is redirection and recommitment to the group agreement.

Knowing the youth we serve as individuals and understanding what motivates them is our goal. Developing them as individuals has been a core value of LA’s Best since the organization was founded.

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Please Speak Freely

On Please Speak Freely, Eric Gurna, founder of Development Without Limits interviews leading thinkers, artists and others to shed light on key issues and explore different perspectives about youth development and education. The idea is to get past the platitudes and institutional positions, and have honest, nuanced conversations about things that really matter to young people and communities. Please Speak Freely guests include:

  • Raffi, Children’s Troubadour and Founder of the Centre for Child Honouring
  • Alfie Kohn, Author of several books including Punished By Rewards and The Schools Our Children Deserve
  • Dr. Pedro Noguera, Professor of Education at New York University
  • Karen Pittman, President & CEO of the Forum for Youth Investment
  • Tony Smith, Former Superintendent of the Oakland Unified School District
  • Lenore Skenazy, “America’s Worst Mom” and Author of Free-Range Kids

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