Q&A with Celina
We sat down with our co-founder and VP of Programs, Celina de Sola, to discuss the results of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile’s study on our programs. In our conversation, Celina reflects on the importance of evaluating our programs through independent and highly respected institutions and the components that make our Community Schools model successful.
1.Why is it so important for Glasswing’s Community Schools to be evaluated independently?
It is our responsibility, as organizations, to constantly evaluate our programs and make sure we are having the positive impact on kids that we seek. We want to know what works and – most importantly – change and improve what doesn’t.
But the best way to really evaluate what you are doing is for someone independent (outside your organization) to do it. Although it can be a bit scary – since the results are published regardless of whether they are good or bad – this is the best way to really know if you are achieving your goals.
This randomized control trial conducted by the Pontifical University of Chile is the first study of its kind to evaluate after school programs in Latin America. The kind of evidence generated through this study is critically important if we want to work with Ministries of Education, and other partners, to scale these programs across the country and region.
2.How do all of the Community School components come into play day-to-day?
Community Schools combine year-round, daily, exciting and enriching after-school programs that respond directly to students’ interests and build their core life skills. Students develop skills such as teamwork and leadership, and often volunteer to lead programs for their younger peers.
The extra-curricular programs are led by trained and committed volunteer mentors, from both the community and nearby companies.
Our school coordinators are not only the liaison between the schools and Glasswing, but also a key resource for students throughout the day, coordinating the after-school programs, helping students with classwork or homework, and engaging them as volunteer leaders.
School faculty receive coaching on topics that they request, including restorative practices, self-care, and stress management, often becoming volunteers themselves in the program. Parents and other members of the community not only become more involved in kids’ lives, but many also become volunteers and lead program activities throughout the year.
Community Schools bring people together to action, engendering hope and pride in communities that are stigmatized, and change the lives of students and volunteers alike.
3.Why are these programs particularly relevant in this regional context?
El Salvador – and Central America – have some of the highest rates of violence and homicide worldwide. More specifically, the propensity of violence level among youth in El Salvador is 4%, as compared to 1.5% in some of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
This study demonstrated that students that enrolled in our programs heightened their academic performance (math, science and reading), improved their conduct and relationships with peers and family, and engendered in them a greater sense of control over their environment. These are all considered ‘protective factors’ that reduce kids’ exposure to violence and risk.
Furthermore, it found that the students who benefit the most from our programs are actually those who had the highest propensity for violence before enrolling. This study confirmed that the Community Schools model is transformative, reducing risks, mitigating violence, enabling kids to thrive despite extreme adversity.
4.What makes GW´s after-school programs different from similar programs?
What us unique about this program is that it is student-centered and community-based. It also focuses on providing opportunities to develop social and emotional skills, as well as self-esteem and leadership abilities, which are critical for them to navigate the contexts of poverty and violence in which they live.
The program is not only holistic in its approach to youth development, but also maintains high levels of community engagement at its core, ensuring greater ownership and sustainability.
5.Talk to us a little about emotional resilience, of all the findings this one is the least tangible (making it difficult to understand). What does it mean and why is it important?
Emotional resilience is what helps students feel more in control of their environment; they begin to recognize that they actually have the power to shape their own present and their own future. This finding is perhaps one of the most critical, in terms of youth violence prevention.
6.How does community pride play a role?
The community becomes involved when they see their children and youth around engaged in activities that develop their skills and help them become the best version of themselves. Different competitions and initiatives bring the community together and the school becomes the center of community and a source of identity and pride. These competitions are also unique opportunities for students to meet peers from other communities that they are normally not able to interact with due to violence.
7.Why are volunteers so important to the success of this program?
The power of volunteerism is immense. For students, knowing that a caring adult is there, voluntarily, to spend time with them – week after week – is deeply impactful. They feel ‘seen’ and deserving, and through their constant presence, become role models.
Volunteers are not only employees of our corporate partners, and university students, but also community members and older students that want to ‘pay forward’ with their younger peers what they received from the program. These volunteers dedicate 2 hours each week, year-round, to lead an after-school program. Their commitment is extraordinary and they truly change lives.
8.Anything else to add?
Both the beauty and the challenge of the Community Schools program lie in the fact that everyone can play an active role in transforming the educational and developmental experience kids have in the public school system. The results of this study help reaffirm that kids’ lives are indeed changed by what we are doing, and that they are much better equipped to deal with – and overcome – the extreme challenges they face. We couldn’t be prouder of them, and more grateful of everyone who makes this work possible.