Name: Jeff Davis
AmeriCorps Member: 1999-2000, Project SCHOLARS Tutor at Kawana Elementary
Current Position: Executive Director, California AfterSchool Network
Tell me about the California AfterSchool Network and the work you do there.
The mission of the California AfterSchool Network (CAN) is to provide practitioners, advocates, and community members with the resources and tools to build high-quality out-of-school-time programs in California. We are a state-wide intermediary, advancing effective polices and catalyzing quality for expanded learning programs.
CAN is like a big tent. We bring together many individual organizations to advance expanded learning in California. A lot of our work is to advance the continuous quality improvement in expanded learning programs. And we provide some training and resources to all the regions of the state, helping them to advance quality. Here are some of the examples of ways we’ve met the needs of the expanded learning community:
- When the need of the field was asking the question, “I have a compliant program – how would I know if I had a good program?” Our quality committee implemented a field informed, data-and-research-driven process to create the California After-School Program Quality Self-Assessment Tool (QSA). Once this was complete the field wanted to learn about high-quality practices, so we created our Campaign for Quality Resources.
- Here is the link you can use for both of those – http://www.afterschoolnetwork.org/post/free-can-tools-and-resources-support-continuous-quality-improvement
- Our Quality Committee implemented a similar process (as described above) to create the Quality Standards for Expanded Learning in California.
- When STEM learning became a hot topic, we helped the field answer questions like “What is STEM?” and “What is good STEM learning in expanded learning programs?” Through three years of advancing STEM learning, through the Power of Discovery (powerofdiscovery.org ) Initiative we now have created a suite of resources to support STEM learning. and partnering with K-12
- Link for STEM resources – http://www.afterschoolnetwork.org/post/free-resources-support-stem-learning-expanded-learning-programs
- Without effective policies, quality can be difficult to attain. Through our field based committees we have surfaced policy issues of providing after school meals, minimum funding for small rural schools, and surfacing rural transportation needs. These efforts ultimately resulted in positive policy changes allowing programs to more easily serve meals, and for rural programs to operate a high-quality program.
What led you to AmeriCorps? Why did you join?
I was pretty intimidated to join the AmeriCorps Program when I first heard about it. I knew about the CalSERVES AmeriCorps opportunity since starting at Sonoma State. I was a young college student, and I didn’t know if I really had what it took to be a good youth worker. After an opportunity to work at a summer camp, and once I discovered I had both talent and passion for youth engagement, I was really inspired.
But here’s what really drives me, and caused me to pursue the AmeriCorps opportunity. I had no problem getting good grades in school, but realized I didn’t know why I was learning what I was learning. Though I had no problem jumping through the hoops, it wasn’t relevant to me. I didn’t see how it was going to lead to my future success. I wanted the opportunity to offer a different learning experience to youth, something that might switch them on, to encourage them to imagine a potential future, and pursue things that interested them. I wanted to help students that needed help, those “at risk” students, those that were disengaged in school and those that were not necessarily succeeding.
What stands out in the lessons you learned as an AmeriCorps member?
Joining AmeriCorps was an empowering turning point in my professional growth. Early on in my AmeriCorps service, I lost my transportation, my car. It was no longer operable. I lived in Cotati, and my service site, Kawana Elementary, was in Santa Rosa (approximately 9 miles away). I had only been serving about a month, and I loved the work we were doing. So I decided to commit, even though I didn’t have a car. So for the rest of my AmeriCorps term, I rode my bike 4 days a week (18+ miles each day). I did it because I was committed, it mattered to me, and I was always on time, rain or shine. I did it because I had youth and team members that were depending on me being there.
I learned a lot about persistence during my AmeriCorps service, and about youth development and the relationships adults create with youth in the learning environment. We had access to really high quality trainers and professional development. I really enjoyed the Saturday workshops and later in my current role I have met and worked with people who trained me there, like Jim Nevill (http://www.goadventure.org/index.php) and Tracy Nevill. We were provided professional development with high level professionals.
What advice do you have for those serving currently?
Take advantage of professional development opportunities, because it’s really quality. I know Julie McClure has a lot to do with that. She has such a great perspective on the entire expanded learning field, and I feel it’s a real privilege to be a CalSERVES AmeriCorps member and receive that level of support and professional development. It was an absolutely phenomenal experience for me.
How did serving in AmeriCorps impact your life path?
I was struggling to find my pathway forward through higher education. I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. It was difficult to find a pathway forward. It wasn’t until I had REAL experiences in internships and my AmeriCorps service that I understood a lot of what I was learning in an education course or a psychology course, and why it mattered. I became switched on out of the classroom with real learn-by-doing, experiential, hands-on types of experiences. It made me realize the value of real experience outside of academic learning, and how it can motivate academic learning. I discovered my passion and purpose, and I wanted to advance that in my work. I have done this in many ways throughout my career, including leading outdoor leadership experiences, team building and leadership training, outdoor environmental science, service learning, restoration projects, and expanded learning, school-based after school.
My experience in AmeriCorps helped me realize that it’s more than a degree that motivates one into their future. We need to be able to give kids, as young as elementary and middle school, and idea of what a potential future looks like. That’s what I got from my AmeriCorps service. For me, it was hands on, experiential learning that helped me realize there could be a career in informal learning and expanded learning.
What benefit do you see programs like CalSERVES and AmeriCorps having in our communities?
The benefits are beyond what I can even describe.
CalSERVES is engaging some of the highest needs, highest risk youth in their communities. And by keeping them safe and engaged, CalSERVES is making the community a safer, more engaging place. Without positively engaging in expanded learning programs, youth might make other choices to participate in riskier activities and/or be a victim of crime. So safety is huge.
- FAMILY SUPPORT
There are a lot of families that for whatever reason are having to work very hard to make sure they keep a roof over their heads and put food on the table. CalSERVES and other expanded learning programs provide essential support to parents so they can be at work and know their children and youth are safe, positively engaged, and progressing academically.
- MEETING CRITICAL YOUTH DEVELOPMENT NEEDS
There are critical youth development needs that all people have. Bonnie Bernard broke it down in her book Resiliency: What We Have Learned, that really the critical needs come down to: “1) caring relationships, 2) high expectations, and 3) opportunities for meaningful participation”. And for some of these youth, programs like CalSERVES may be where they are getting a lot of those critical needs met. When these protective factors are present, it meets youth needs for safety, belonging, mastery, and challenge, and results in more autonomy and social competence. And these expanded learning programs might be one of the only places they are experiencing it.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Current AmeriCorps members, this experience is something to set you on a trajectory. It did with me. I’ve had really great opportunities to go on and take leadership in variety of organizations. I never thought I’d be sitting where I am sitting today, as an executive director of a state-wide organization that advances youth development and after school. I never thought that to be possible. AmeriCorps is one of those foundational elements that gives you tools and building blocks to take your next step. There is a career here. Being a mentor in CalSERVES is the first step in what is likely a long and lucrative career in youth development, education, and expanded learning.
I wanted to also give a shout out to Kathy Chosa, the amazing AmeriCorps VISTA who will forever hold a place in my heart as a woman of integrity, strength, high expectations, and caring positivity. She lived for all the right reasons, to brighten the lives of others and to make the world a better place. I will forever be blessed that our paths crossed in service to our community.