Guide On The Side / all

In this episode of VOX ATL’s Guide on the Side podcast, a few community partners reunited in our virtual podcast studio (aka Zoom) to talk about working though a second spring during the Covid-19 pandemic and our plans for summer programming.
Thanks to the youth development professionals who joined in from Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, Girls on the Run, Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project, Moving in the Spirit, & Usher’s New Look.

Content produced by Mikael Trench, VOX ATL alumni

Podcast Reunion: Youth Development Pros Connect, Reflect & Look Ahead to Summer

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Welcome to the VOX ATL Guide on the Side podcast. In this series, we’ll talk to youth development professionals to spotlight their work and bring you behind-the-scenes stories from our community partners. We’ll also share experiences from our own nearly three-decade-long commitment to amplifying youth voice and leadership from across metro Atlanta.

Enjoy the recorded podcast here. The transcription and related video are below. 


Susan Landrum: Well, good morning everybody. It’s really great to be with you, and just wanted to say it’s exciting to get to touch base with this group again. This idea of “Guide on the Side” publications coming out of VOX digital media is really about lifting the bright spots in our fields.

Needless to say we’ve had an extraordinary year and are continuing to have an extraordinary year, so we really wanted to take this opportunity to share and to listen to one another, and to talk about what our plans are for the future.

So, we’re going to start out with an introduction VOX-style, we call it the Go-Around.

The Go-Around question for today is: Is there a memorable moment you want to share from your programming from the past six months? And I’ll model: I’m Susan, she/her pronouns, I work at VOX, I’m the Executive Director. At VOX I would name that I’m 38 years old.

I will lift up our year-end, semester-end showcase at the end of 2020, where we partnered with the Alliance Theater, [and] hosted a showcase of our teens’ incredible content and the content that the Alliance teens created. We did it all virtually, and during that time, not one adult spoke. It was completely teen-facilitated and teen-led — from the prep to the debrief. And I was just so in awe of the young people that showed up and expertly facilitated, as well as the adults that listened and participated. And Kellye I’m going to pass it to you, because you are next to me in my gallery. 

My name is Kellye Britton. I am the director of operations and programming for the Harvard Debate Council Diversity Project. I am 40 years old.

We are currently in our 4th cohort, and we do assessments during the program year just to, you know, gauge. This is the first program year where we’ve had the majority of our students present riveting, soul-shaking, core-touching presentations. So, they were to take a word and create a powerful message with it. It was a reminder of not only the pain that some young people are enduring particularly and specifically around this pandemic and the isolation it creates, but also the time and space it creates for these young people to think about their experiences and put them into words.

So, Caitlyn we’re touching, like the “Brady Bunch” (you know the grid at the beginning of the “Brady Bunch”) — we’re touching, so Caitlyn I’m going to pass it to you.

Hey, my name is Caitlyn BeattyI work with the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta as one of their teen services managers; my pronouns are she/her, and I’m 27 years old. And my memorable moment would have to be our culminating event for one of our premiere programs — it’s called Youth of the Year where our members go through eight weeks of public-speaking training but also advocacy training. And this past year, we didn’t have a big gala for them to go to because, of course, that wouldn’t have been safe. So, they had to deliver it on screen.

But seeing how these kids were able to adapt that new normal and deliver really, really powerful speeches, even though they were technically in their homes with the different distractions, and being able to really forceful, impactful speeches was really something special. And I will pass it to Erin. 

Hi, I’m Erin Weller-Dalton, and I am a teaching artist and communications director at Moving in the Spirit. I’m 38 years old, and my pronouns are she/hers. And a milestone from the past six months at Moving in the Spirit that really stands out to me is our show-and-tell that we did in December with our students.

So, usually at the end of every semester have some kind of culminating event. And with the show and tell, it was our first time ever producing a virtual event like that. … Some of the performances were pre-recorded and shared, and some were actually live from Zoom, which is the first time that we had done anything like that with students. And just their poise and just to stand and hold that space and keep that presence and not freak out — I mean, if the future is in their hands, it’s going to be OK. It was just so inspiring to see that, you know, this is their outlet; this is their home, where they come and they share their voices, and they’re going to find a way to keep participating and keep doing it. And I’m going to pass it to Geoff. 

Good morning everyone I’m Geoff Streat; I am the chief operating officer with Usher’s New Look, pronouns are he/him/his, and I am 47 years old. [It is] very difficult to choose a single moment. I’m going to point to two if I can break the mold.

In mid-January, our young folks decided that they wanted to have a session in response to the many police killings that we’ve been experiencing that have wreaked a lot of havoc on our mental health. Our young folks wanted to hold a conversation to just talk and check in on each other, and they wanted to lead, obviously. I was privileged enough that they asked me to serve as a moderator, but truly I wasn’t a moderator. I was just in the room, and I was in awe of the exchange of ideas. It just felt so good to see our young people come together and think through these complex issues that we adults really struggle with.

My second moment is we had a campaign that we relaunched called “I Can’t But You Can,” and the focus of the campaign was to help young people understand that even if they’re not of voting age that they’re able to impact elections. This last, I’ll say, two sets of elections — because we had the runoff here in Georgia — were so critical to the trajectory of the country, and our young people really leaned in.

We did 11 virtual sessions in total, where we covered a wide range of issues around voting. Guests such as the amazing Nsé Ufot from New Georgia Project, Cliff Albright from Black Voters Matter. But we also had several different text-banking parties, which was a really cool concept where our students reached out to prospective voters across the state to encourage them to show up for both elections. While we weren’t advocating for or against any candidate, it was really exciting to see them go to work. And in total, our students sent over 500,000 texts to people across the state. I’ll say that number again, 500,000. That’s remarkable to me. It was impactful, we could tell, as the voter turnout was extremely high. And I will pass it to Crystal. 

Good morning everyone, I am Crystal-Faison Mitchell. I am 40-plus, and at Moving in the Spirit I am the special projects manager, pronouns she/her/hers. We had a group of girls in what we call our Glow in Motion class, Girls Leading Our World. And they, on March 14, 2020, were supposed to do a culminating dance that reflects on their time, and then they get to graduate from that program and move on to the teen program. And it ended — just like that.

We’ve had these engagement activities, and we’ll meet outside and we’re socially distanced and we’re masked. But these kids have not been in the building; they have been dancing in boxes. And they’re getting all frustrated, because they’re still just trying to take this dance class in this box on this screen, right? And so, we had one long-term student say, “Hey, what happened to our piece? Are we going to do anything about it?” I took that as a call to action. We hadn’t circled back about their piece that got shut down on the day of. And so we welcomed her feedback, and then we did something about it.

We got the choreographer together and she started rehearsing with them on Monday evenings. And so, this past weekend, for the first time ever, one year to the day they were supposed to perform it, March 14, 2020 — and on March 14, 2021, they arrived at the building in their masks, and they walked in, and they got to do their senior piece together, in the [new] space. The moment she spoke up and voiced her concerns, I knew that we had created an environment where the truth could be told, and that’s what we need. And I believe I was the last person, so I will go back to Rachel. 

Rachel: I just had to write that down, “creating environments where the truth can be told.” To round out the Go-Around, I’m Rachel, I’m 51, my pronouns are she/her/hers, and I work at VOX. Y’all have shared these big, big moments. So, I think I’ll share a little bit about the tiny moments behind the scenes. So, one thing that comes to mind for me is that the preparation and the support for young people to then show up as these leaders that y’all are talking about in all of our big events.

So, the moments that come to me are: By request of the teens, we started creating Facilitators’ First Fridays, really thinking intentionally about how to bring our train-the-trainer curriculum — which used to be a multi-day, six-hours per day because it’s interspersed with meals and breaks and team-building in the space — how to bring this train-the-trainer curriculum to the digital space, where there’s no way we’re going to stay on Zoom for six hours at a time. So, I guess my moments that I’ll share are really these tiny moments when young people said, “Well, let’s brainstorm how to turn ‘Help Help’ or, “Let’s brainstorm how to turn the Big Wind Blows icebreaker into a digital community builder.”  

The other day we finished facilitating a Zoom-based listening session about summer for the Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network, and in our debrief, facilitators were talking about what worked and what they would do differently next time and how they have grown as facilitators. This whole session was created by young people who were new to VOX in 2021 — we’ve never met them in person, but they have built community within each other through their own skills, through the kind of atmosphere y’all are talking about.

Welcome Ruben, we just finished our Go-Around. I want to invite to you share one milestone or memorable moment from the last six months. 

OK, so I am Ruben Royster, I am the regional director for studios and production for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta. A memorable moment in the last six months was when we were able to have kids back in our Clubs, and I was able to have a small pod of eight kids and we were able to do some really amazing things pertaining to music and studio production. 

Susan: Always such a gift to be with people who care so deeply about this work. As we look toward summer, I really want to have a conversation with folks. We [at VOX ATL] have made the decision to stay virtual for the summer so we can do the thing that went well last summer, make some tweaks, improve upon a few things that went really well. And we are also in the process of thinking of what it will look like to return to some in-person programming in the fall, with the recognition that we might make a plan and have to tear it up. 

Rachel: So, I wanted to bring Lea into the conversation to do a little intro. And the question that we’ve been  What is your status of programming right now, are you virtual, are you in-person, are you both? And what are you doing to plan for summer? 

Lea: Hi, I’m Lea Rolfes, I am the executive director for Girls on the Run. This year, we’ve learned the hard way our reliance on partnering with schools. We are 99% after-school. Girls get out and go to the field for practice. So, we transitioned our curriculum into a virtual program, so girls are doing their jumping jacks and their lunges in their living rooms, as well as the social, emotional discussions. So, lessons are shorter in the virtual space.

But we tried really hard to find safe outdoor spaces for our girls to meet. We are about a quarter of the size that we normally are, which is pretty heartbreaking because we know how badly kids need us right now. If it’s virtual, it’s another Zoom, although we’re not your average Zoom, it’s still staring at a screen for another hour and 90 minutes a day. At the ramp up of the spring season we thought we were going to be a little bit bigger than fall; we have more girls participating than there were in the fall season. I really think we did everything that we possibly could. We’re still small and spring season is what it is.

We are staying close to our partners, our schools, to see what we could do for the summer. We have a camp curriculum. For fall, I’m sure we’ll still be in the same boat, with some virtual teams, as well as continuing to increase our percentage of in-person teams. 

Rachel: One thing I’ll just say out loud to reiterate, something we shared at the very beginning of this conversation, is you are in community. So, just know that you are in good care, good company. Can we maybe toss it over to Geoff? 

Geoff: Our plan now is to stay in the virtual space, just as a safety precaution. There’s so much that’s still unsettled and unknown. We were fortunate in making the virtual pivot right before the lockdowns happened. Now, I don’t want to imply that it wasn’t a big change, because it really was. Our services, like most of you all, are really predicated on relationships. So, we have looked at some opportunities and have had some community-service opportunities that were socially distanced and small numbers.

As far as summer programming goes, last year we launched our virtual summer academy. We delivered content several days a week, sometimes three to five sessions a week, on a wide range of topics that we thought were exciting and interesting to students. It’s tough, you know; it’s very unsettling. You kind of want to have a solid plan, but this is part of the work we do. I think that we have all learned to be adaptive in spaces and sometimes, as you all know, something always go wrong. I look forward to the days when we can have everyone in the same space and give somebody a pound or a hug, but for now, it’s gotta be in this virtual. 

Caitlyn: Yeah, so for Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, we are operating with members in the Club at a limited capacity, very much smaller numbers than what we are used to having in our Clubs. Our Clubs are following the school system based on reopening plans, so some of our Clubs are operating as distanced learning sites, meaning that they are open 8-4 as a place for kids who don’t have access to technology, don’t have access to WiFi, can come in and do their virtual learning from the Club. Other Clubs who follow school systems — I don’t know if you guys know this, but metro Atlanta has like eight-plus school systems — so we have a big reach, about 10 counties. So, if the school is open or going back to school, then the Clubs are doing their regular after-school model.

We have opted for pods, which means that one staff stays with that pod of eight to 10 youth in a room. And we’re not shuffling in; kids aren’t coming into different spaces. They stay with their same 10 people in that same room. Our staff have gotten really creative on how to make those spaces really feel like home, really feel like their space.

And we are still evaluating summer. As I’m sure you guys know, things are changing very quickly for us. We’re still monitoring the situation before we really make a decision about summer. 

Crystal: At Moving in the Spirit, we have primarily, as I mentioned before, been online since April of last year. But we are hoping to move into the fullness of what our hybrid block schedule is. All the kids online are in these pods of 10, and so we actually had to cut our enrollment in half for each class. And then, hopefully, they’ll be able to come on site. Some kids are Block A; some kids are Block B, and obviously we’ve had a big learning curve with technology, and technology will remain a part of us.

We sent permission slips to parents, asking what would make you feel comfortable with your child moving in person? So, the kids that are comfortable coming in from their group of 10, they’ll come in, and those that are not comfortable will stay home. Then it’s on the teacher to learn how to teach both equally and equitably.

Moving forward to the summer, we are still planning our dance camp. Last year we did it completely digitally, and this year we are going to have some in-person elements to that camp as well. And in the fall, we’re going to continue hybrids. We’re not going to look to change that formula until we talk about September 2022. 

Kellye: I’ll jump in here. Super exciting to hear about the different models that exist. What we are planning to do, our summer programming has always been remote in nature, because we bring our new class in between April and June. We’re currently in our admissions process. So our admissions process has even changed, because we were an organization that was really big on rubbing elbows, like we need to meet. And so we have had to adjust our admissions process.

This is now going into our second year of having students who start this program not having had physical proximity to one another. So, we’re working on how we do that effectively — from admissions, moving them into summer enrichment. So, we’ve got to look at ways — whether that’s break-out rooms on Zoom, whether it’s scheduling these Zoom calls intermittently between the big sessions — having mini sessions has been very effective for us with small groups so that the conversation can be more balanced.

And then we will be face-to-face in the fall. Our classroom is small enough in ratio where we can have them all in the room, spaced, obviously, socially distanced, but it has worked. And we hope to be able to continue that going into the fall. 

Rachel: That’s a nice segue to Ruben, too, in thinking about how to adjust what we’re learning in this virtual space into hybrid programming. Ruben, you have the good fortune to bring together that small pod of young people to create some online offerings. Will you tell us a little more about the way that your music program has created a hybrid approach?

Ruben: I really want to approach it from a couple of different angles: What have been the challenges, and what have been the successes. So the successes, I’ll start there. In the virtual space, we’ve been able to touch more of our kids and community, as opposed to just being in your Club. So, me now operating from an organizational level, I can operate programming and I can reach the kids across all the organization, as opposed to me having to go to a Club and then go to another Club and then go to this Club. I’m able to reach more of the kids — that has been a great success for me.

One of the challenges has been creating a hands-on, technical experience for them. In music and in the studio, you have to be hands-on. So, one of the things I did create was called the Out of the Studio workshop series. And in that I wanted to be low tech but high quality., where we were all getting al the elements in quality and teachings and techniques of the studio, but bringing it outside the studio. And the key of what I did was that I captured everything, low tech, on my cell phone, on my iPhone…

And we were able to create a video that we published on YouTube that was called the Virtual Out of Studio Series Culminating Event. That was good, and then we were able to use applications on the phone because most kids have cellphones or access to a phone, so we won’t have to worry about having all these grandiose programs like Pro Tools, Logic, and all this stuff that costs hundreds of dollars. We just used simple apps from Garage Band to iMovie to create these things. So, you see, it can be done, low-tech, but can still be a high-quality experience where you still can learn.

We’re going to have some in-person learning, but we’re going to take that in-person learning and livestream it to the rest of the organization so that the instructors can facilitate the same thing we’re doing. So, I really don’t feel like we’re going to go back to anything; we’re just going to take things we’re learning now and adapt or adopt them.

Again I do like the interaction as it pertains to events and as it pertains to being able to have performances or productions, where people can come in and see. That’s a rewarding experience for our young people; like, how do we get back to a place where we can have high-level, public culminating events? That’s one of the things I’m working through, like how we can do that, like even having a drive-in performance where people drive in, of course, and we have it on the parking lots on one of our Clubs. And they can still perform in person and still get to see them live, even if it’s through a windshield. But just thinking about things that we can do that become a part of our new normal that can still give us those culminating performances, because that’s a principal in arts: We have to perform, if we’re creating things, you have to see — I mean, what am I doing it for, right? 

Susan: Ruben, you’ve definitely got my wheels turning and ideas flowing. It segues really nicely to our closing question, which is: What is a workshop you would want to host for your colleagues around something you’ve experienced or learned or want to impart? I will start and say that it is so vitally important that we give the care to one another that we give to our young people. So, taking the time to check in every day and touch base around the things that are affecting us as people, too.

Kellye: The one I would teach would be entitled “Tech is Your Friend, There is No Turning Back.” So. I just want all of us to jump this hurdle. There are several educators who are still resistant to using tech, and it is not an option. What is your goal? To remain the teacher using the overhead projector in the classroom and that when you are challenged to reach beyond the tech that you are comfortable with, your willingness to do because it says a number of different things. One: it says you understand the needs of 21st century students. Now that the box is open, we’ve got to continue to take the things out of the box and process and perfect as we move through.  

Caitlyn: One of my expertise is graduation and college readiness. I think the workshop that I would want to teach is how to … how to prepare your kids for the virtual workspace. And it has been really critical for us to talk through with our kids what is proper etiquette when you’re on a virtual meeting. 

Ruben: So what I would want to teach and share is how to properly execute virtual events, because there’s a proper way that we can do this, even on Zoom, where we are creating live-streaming events and not live-streaming meetings. We want to create events that are still high level. 

Crystal: I remember someone saying, “Well, kids don’t really want to take dance online,” but I’m like, but they TikTok all day! So, what you mean is, they don’t want to dance for dancing sake; they are about learning. So, it’s like an immediate gratification; it’s goal-driven. You’re working toward these little, short 20-second goals. I think I would call it “Virtual Agreement in Dance,” but looking at how to adjust what it is, how kids lead, what is the choreography, so when kids do have the opportunity to self record, we can put it together in iMovie, that everyone starts to look like it’s choreography and what we can do with technology to create digital choreography. 

Erin: I think a workshop I would love to share with my youth development colleagues is actually one that I took as a teaching artist at Moving in the Spirit. We had monthly teacher trainings, so about two teacher trainings ago they facilitated a whole workshop about keeping students engaged in the virtual space. There were so many things about the workshop that I really appreciated ,and we were learning from each other as teachers, so the whole approach to the workshop is that the answers were in the room. How do we facilitate so that we all are sharing the things that we’ve been learning throughout this time? So, it felt organic, but it was also very purposeful and intentional, like, I actually forgot for a while that I was doing this through a screen with someone and that’s the best kind of virtual workshop. I really appreciated that experience, and it’s something I’d love to share with other educators. 

Lea: One of the things that we spent a ton of time and energy on at the beginning of Covid was online safety, and we talked a lot about: we’re going to be in girls’ living rooms. It’s OK that their cameras aren’t on. Training our coaches on delivering trauma-informed lessons and how to process the many things our girls are processing. Not everyone is doing that, and engaging with students online has always been scary, and we need to take that seriously. Self-care sounds kind of trendy these days, but how can we nurture ourselves to be better for ourselves, for our families, and the organizations and the kids that we serve? 

Geoff: I think I would want to talk about self-care also and just the importance of being kind to yourselves. This is very difficult space that we’re operating in, and we’re under a lot of stress. It’s important that you take stock of that and check it as much as you can. It’s definitely around being kind to yourselves and making sure you maintain both your mental and physical health.

Rachel: I was gonna appreciate all of these offerings, guess what I, you can’t tell because of my virtual background, but I wrote them all down and I’m going to follow up with each of you because these are brilliant. So maybe mine would be about, the importance and power of holding space and co-creating offerings, using the incredible wisdom in the room. Having the privilege of being peer-to-peer with you all is life-giving, so thank you very much. 

Thanks for joining us on this episode of VOX ATL’s Guide on the Side podcast series. Other episodes can be found on our SoundCloud page and in the Apple Podcast store.  

Let us know if you’d like to grab the mic with us and join in our virtual podcast studio. 

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