Afterschool & Youth Program Advocacy Day

I wanted to write a reflection on my experience today at the Statehouse.  The Advocacy Day was organized by the Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership (MAP).  Gwynn Hughs, the executive director introduced the event in the Great Hall of Flags, which is a pretty cool room in the Statehouse.  She then brought us through a program that included speakers who work in different afterschool programs and performances by youth from those programs.  The overall idea was to all gather in the great hall, in a rally-the-troops sort of way.  Then, we were each to go and meet with our local legislators to discuss the importance of our prorgrams and why they should be thought of when the budget was being created.  We were even given handouts citing line items of the budget related to the ASOST quality grant program and other items related to early education and care and prevention programs.

It feels good to advocate right?  It’s motivating to gather with like-minded individuals and work together on common issues.  Well, this is true, but I couldn’t help but think about recent topics from Ronald Ferguson’s class I’m taking at the Harvard Kennedy School. There were two particular issues that arose for me.  First, the concept of framing when presenting information to the public.  Even in this case, when the audience is largely made up of people who all agree on some overarching issues related to youth.  Second is the concept of creating and Afterschool and Out-of-School Time Coordinating Council.

Frames are extremely important.  I must admit that I have started to cringe when I hear people say that a program is important because it keeps kids off the streets, or prevents them from getting into trouble, or getting pregnant.  I know the intention but I think we need to strategically think about framing messages that portray youth as inherintly bad or savage.  We know that we are talking about the dangers of the streets, but that isn’t how it might be interpreted.  I think it’s important frame messages such that opportunities are offered and not that tragedies are avoided.  Then there is no question about what we are talking about.  We all want opportunities.  We recognize that we probably would’t be where we are without the opportunities that we’ve had.  Representative Wolf probably did the best job in using this kind of frame. Talking about her personal experience,  she emphasized the importance of needing to create new opportunities for youth and not once mentioned the kinds of trouble that youth can get into or the troubled world that youth today live in.

About the council.  Let’s do it.  Let’s have young people involved and let’s have representation from around the state.