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Vote by April 29, 2019

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play / 2014

Connecting for Success

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by LA's BEST

At @LAsBEST, we're aware of how violence can negatively affect our city, but have you thought about how this affects our children?


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

LA’s BEST aims to implement and scale a cutting-edge approach to the cultivation of empathy, neighborhood safety, and conflict resolution.

Does your project impact Los Angeles County?

Yes (benefits a population of LA County)

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

  • Central LA
  • East LA
  • South LA
  • San Gabriel Valley
  • San Fernando Valley
  • Westside

What is your idea/project in more detail?

LA’s BEST has developed Connecting for Success (CFS): A Guide for Building Healthy After School Communities, an innovative curriculum designed to connected youth to others by building skills in empathy, self-control and both social and emotional self-awareness. By taking students on journeys addressing basic problems of violence, food shortages and environmental degradation, the curriculum supports development of an understanding of the origins of these social issues along with development of age-appropriate social actions.

LA’s BEST aims to execute critical elements of a business plan designed to bring CFS to scale in Los Angeles and beyond, and create an alternative revenue stream in benefit of Los Angeles families in need.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

Connecting for Success is an innovative, original LA’s BEST program that promotes constructive approaches to conflict resolution, social self-consciousness and an understanding of one’s place in the world, as well as global and civic awareness. CFS provides LA’s BEST field staff with comprehensive training and tools to help upper grade elementary school students make healthy life decisions, especially when they are dealing with stress or other mental and emotional challenges, and to reduce tolerance for violence within their own neighborhoods, all while promoting global and civic consciousness. The original curriculum uses the devastating problem of landmines and their impact on children in countries where they exist—particularly in Colombia—as an entry point and catalyst to encourage students to think and talk about similarities and differences between their lives in urban Los Angeles communities and the lives of their counterparts in Colombia. For example, local gangs use guns, violence and intimidation to establish their territory in Los Angeles, while drug cartels in Colombia use landmines to secure their cocaine fields. Both scenarios create climates of fear, and harm the innocent. As a result, children and families are not able to function freely within their own community. The latest version of CFS curriculum also incorporates the global issues of food security and justice in Haiti and the environment in China, which further facilitate the expansion of participants’ perspective and empathy.

As an LA2050 grantee, LA’s BEST will train field staff and high school students to implement CFS in benefit of children at three Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) elementary schools. Moreover, LA’s BEST will upgrade a learning environment at an LAUSD high school to make it more conducive to instruction. Finally, this project connects Los Angeles-area elementary school students, a Los Angeles high school, LA’s BEST field staff, LA’s BEST senior staff, as well as two other educational institutions through an online learning portal. The portal is a platform to train program workers to implement the Connecting for Success curriculum, which teaches children empathy, social awareness, global awareness, community connection, cross-generation connection, and demonstrates a clear path to a career in community service.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to PLAY today? In 2050?

Through the proposed project, children will have access to after school enrichment programming and LA’s BEST will help people of all ages residing in Los Angeles feel safe while in their homes, neighborhoods, and places to play. As a result, residents will be more likely to access public spaces and develop an overall sense of community and love for their neighborhoods.

Connecting for Success teaches “the village” surrounding our children how to process complex emotions associated with violence, which is persistent in the neighborhoods we serve. Rather than seeing their community as a threat, children will see their community as a source of relief and empathy. By scaling this training, CFS increases the levels of empathy, safety and reassurance in children – replacing the fear that keeps them from accessing public play spaces in the first place. These children need to heal before we can expect them to want to play.

Internal surveys reveal that each LA’s BEST site that has implemented Connecting for Success has experienced significant positive outcomes for staff and students. CFS has given once-shy youth a chance to speak up and take leadership roles, increased a sense of community and improved quality of relationships among participants and staff, as well as broadened participants’ worldview. Students have acquired life and leadership skills, particularly in making healthy, constructive decisions. Field staff report better competencies in responding to student needs, developing programs and leading activities, as well as improved abilities in active listening, patience, and connecting with children so that they feel comfortable seeking guidance through difficult situations.

LA’s BEST anticipates these outcomes at the partner High School and the three elementary schools that will launch CFS as a direct result of the proposed project. Moreover, once CFS is available to a broader audience via the proposed training webinars, LA’s BEST expects other youth service providers, their constituents, and the communities surrounding them to experience the above-described benefits of Connecting for Success.

By capturing the training and distributing material via a digital portal, the potential to scale impact of the curriculum is immeasurable. Not only will the portal allow training to reach the entire 2,300 field staff of LA’s BEST, benefiting more than 28,000 children the organization serves daily, it also could easily be shared externally.

Whom will your project benefit?

Direct project beneficiaries include 20 local High School students, 60 children who attend three LAUSD elementary schools located in under-resourced communities, five LA’s BEST field staff, and one local high school counselor. Indirect project beneficiaries include the overall student body, staff, and faculty at local high school, as well as their families and the surrounding community, and the student bodies, staffs, and faculties at the three LAUSD elementary schools located in neighborhoods plagued by crime and poverty, as well as their families and residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. With the Connecting for Success training webinars, the proposed project has potential for exponential impact with infinite beneficiaries in Los Angeles and beyond.

LA’s BEST is in the process of implementing Connecting for Success at all 194 after school program sites. Since 1988, LA’s BEST has grown from operating at 10 elementary school sites to 194, and now serves 28,000 children each day during the after school hours. Since the organization’s inception, LA’s BEST has provided more than 362,000 elementary students with out-of-school time learning experiences within safe, stable and stimulating environments to ensure short-term and long-term academic and social success. Further, since 1988, LA’s BEST has brought more than $300 million in public and private dollars to the City of Los Angeles, with a significant percentage used for salaries of youth development community staff hired from neighborhoods in which the children served by the organization reside.

All LA’s BEST sites—Los Angeles Unified School District elementary schools—are located in high-crime, low-income communities throughout Central, East and South Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. Eighty percent (80%) of children served by LA’s BEST are Latino, 12% are African American, and about 4% are Asian. On average, 90% of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. While children from more affluent neighborhoods often spend out-of-school time partaking in activities that interest them, as well as help them to wholly learn and grow, like organized team sports, visual and performing arts, and digital learning experiences, children served by LA’s BEST generally lack these types of extracurricular opportunities within their homes, schools and communities.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Connecting for Success was developed specifically for children served by LA’s BEST by Development Without Limits (DWL), an organization led by the former Director of Staff Development at LA’s BEST, in collaboration with LA’s BEST stakeholders, and in consultation with renowned psychiatrist Dr. Mark Goulston. For the proposed project, LA’s BEST will again collaborate with Development Without Limits.

LA’s BEST has a confirmed collaboration with SunnyEd on the proposed project. SunnyEdwill help LA’s BEST design the CFS portal and bring Connecting for Success to scale. In addition, support from the LA2050 grant will permit LA’s BEST to partner with SunnyEdto test the implementation of Connecting for Success by extending the training in several ways:  We propose training an additional cadre of LA’s BEST staff members in the implementation of the CFS curriculum for 3 sites. Staff training will include an orientation session of 12 hours for 6 staff members and follow-on training of 3 sessions. Each follow-on session prepares staff to introduce and implement a specific journey with students.  Implementation of CFS would be carried out in moderninzed learning space e.g. the Incubator Hub on the campus of Locke High School in South Los Angeles. Through this project, LA’s BEST would partner with a local high school to update and use this space for instruction and for community needs. The updates would benefit the high school long after the conclusion of this project.  Through this grant, LA’s BEST in partnership with SunnyEd will extend the training to high school students at the high school in Los Angeles. These high school students will then form a mentoring group for the LA’s BEST elementary school students and would work alongside our staff in the implementation of CFS. Journeys would focus on those elements in the curriculum that foster positive connections and those that develop skills for facilitating conversations. The effort is aimed as much to connect younger and older youth as to extend the social action model to a new target (high school students). We propose to train 20 high school students in the CFS curriculum. Their work would support implementation of the program at each of three sites. High School youth would work with small groups of 4 to 5 LA’s BEST students and support the work of LA’s BEST staff debriefing experiences in small groups (checking for understanding, debriefing the journey).

How will your project impact the LA2050 “Play” metrics?

  • Access to open space and park facilities
  • Number of children enrolled in afterschool programs
  • Per capita crime rates
  • Percentage of residents that feel safe in their neighborhoods
  • Number (and quality) of informal spaces for play (Dream Metric)

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

Youth who know how to connect to others, and have strategies for minimizing their social isolation and maximizing their sense of connection to others will be more likely to care for their community and advocate for services to improve the situation for all of them. LA’s BEST can measure youth levels of social isolation and levels of safety as much in school as in their communities. Also, we will track the types of social actions they engage in to promote safety in their communities. Finally, 80 youth will be involved in the proposed project through the after school programs at the elementary school and high school levels.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

For the proposed project, LA’s BEST will track:

1) The number of field staff and number of high school students trained to implement Connecting for Success.

2) Change in levels of perceived social isolation among elementary school and high school students engaged in the project.

3) Changes in levels of self-efficacy towards engaging in social action.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Connecting for Success was developed specifically for children served by LA’s BEST by Development Without Limits (DWL), an organization led by the former Director of Staff Development at LA’s BEST, in collaboration with LA’s BEST stakeholders, and in consultation with renowned psychiatrist Dr. Mark Goulston. CFS provides LA’s BEST field staff with comprehensive training and tools to help upper grade elementary school students make healthy life decisions, especially when they are dealing with stress or other mental and emotional challenges, and to reduce tolerance for violence within their own neighborhoods, all while promoting global and civic consciousness. The original curriculum uses the devastating problem of landmines and their impact on children in countries where they exist—particularly in Colombia—as an entry point and catalyst to encourage students to think and talk about similarities and differences between their lives in urban Los Angeles communities and the lives of their counterparts in Colombia. For example, local gangs use guns, violence and intimidation to establish their territory in Los Angeles, while drug cartels in Colombia use landmines to secure their cocaine fields. Both scenarios create climates of fear, and harm the innocent. As a result, children and families are not able to function freely within their own community. The latest version of CFS curriculum also incorporates the global issues of food security and justice in Haiti and the environment in China, which further facilitate the expansion of participants’ perspective and empathy.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

LA’s BEST has experience in implementing not only this curriculum but others designed to foster socioemotional development in youth at the elementary school level. We have a cadre of trained staff ready to begin the work with this particular set of elementary schools. We have already begun to establish relationships with staff from the high school and are ready to begin talks to recruit high school participants. Thus, with experienced trainers, a curriculum in hand, sites for implementation, we believe that the goal is clearly achievable.

Overall, an LA2050 Initiative grant would allow for a five-week orientation, follow-on training, and implementation of the CFS program with 60 Los Angeles elementary school students. Training would include the following:  3 four-hour training sessions for LA’s BEST staff; 1 six-hour monitoring session; and 1 four-hour reunion session.  1 four-hour training session for high school students; 1 four-hour training in conjunction with LA’s BEST staff and high school students; 1 eight-hour joint training of all participants; and 1 four-hour reunion session and debrief. Stipends would be offered to the high school students during training. Their participation in the implementation would fulfill their community service requirement.  Training of 1 high school counselor in the CFS curriculum for 1 four-hour session and compensation for the counselor for 2 hours per week to provide a resource to high school students to help them process the experience emotionally and psychologically; connect with the elementary school students; develop facilitation and mentoring skills; and reflect upon their own lives. The training would be focus on team building, move to introducing the topics of the week including units exposing the children to the journeys related to the landmines in Colombia then end with a reunion session.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

Because Connecting for Success curriculum addresses serious global issues that are not generally discussed with children, LA’s BEST will combat perceptions that the program is too “heavy” for elementary school students. In addition, implementation of the proposed project will require dedication of significant internal resources, including staff time. Since LA’s BEST delivers a wide array of out-of-school-time education, enrichment, and recreation programming in benefit of more than 28,000 children in need each day, the organization faces challenges related to competing priorities. An LA2050 Initiative grant will help LA’s BEST overcome this challenge by allowing us to dedicate financial and human resources to effectively execute the proposed project.

What resources does your project need?

  • Money (financial capital)
  • Volunteers/staff (human capital)
  • Publicity/awareness (social capital)
  • Education/training