Archive by Author

Sunrise Mayor Champions Chess Program

22 Jun

The following blog is penned from Mayor Mike Ryan of Sunrise, Florida. Mayor Ryan is a dedicated public servant, a champion for afterschool programming, and a terrific mayor for children and families in Broward County:

When I was a PTA president, a motivated 5th grade teacher and I started an after school chess club in an elementary school.  From that experience, I took away an immediate understanding of the power of chess to unleash talented minds, particularly for those students where the expectations for excellence were sadly based upon preconceived notions of what it takes to play chess, vis-à-vis their academic performance measured by traditional testing.  The other take-away from that experience was that we could never reach all the students we needed to because after school chess clubs in Florida have three major problems.

First, and foremost, clubs held after the school day are often exclusionary.  Only those students with support structure resources independent of the school system are even able to participate.  Foregoing bus rides and arranged transportation is clearly not an option for far too many students.

Second, many after school chess clubs structured their “enrollment” based upon those preconceived notions that chess is best suited for those who have demonstrated laudable academic performance through testing and classroom performance.  Anecdotally, in my experience, we saw the most interesting gains amongst those who had not been performing well.  Nonetheless, limiting the after school club to gifted or certain segments of the student population denied access to those who may benefit the most from the positive impacts of chess and the afterschool experience.

Third, for the vast majority of after school chess clubs, the club was always one person away from extinction.  When the adviser had a conflict or moved on, or the principal had different priorities, few would step forward to take over in part due to the mystique of chess.

After being elected Mayor, I donated twenty chess sets to each of the eleven public schools in Sunrise to encourage them to initiate a chess club.  Many encountered the very challenges I faced back in my PTA days.

From that, I set out to develop a scholastic chess culture which extended beyond after school clubs and beyond the four corners of the “schoolhouse.”  With the astounding financial assistance of America’s Foundation for Chess and our Police Department, and enthusiastic support from three schools, we launched in Sunrise a pilot program to introduce chess in the classroom curriculum for every second and third grader.  The pilot program was so successful that, within months, the School Board of Broward County, which is the sixth largest in the United States, expanded the curriculum-based “First Move” program to all elementary schools.  As a result, this past academic year, an estimated 30,000 second and third graders learned chess in the classroom; the multiplier effect extended to siblings, younger and older, and family members.

Then, working with the National Scholastic Chess Foundation, we developed an innovative model to educate community mentors on how to teach and support scholastic chess.  We wanted to expand chess beyond second and third graders and tackle the problem that the afterschool clubs were one person away from extinction by developing chess advisors throughout the community.  Their workshop program, “Demystifying Chess” is now approaching 200 trained teachers, principals, parents, police officers, elected officials, park and rec staff, parents, afterschool providers, Broward CSC providers, summer camp providers and mentors.  The goal was not to develop student tournament or trophy winners, but to developed critical thinking skills, academic gains and new social skills.  Many teachers are now incorporating chess into the classroom lessons.  From this experience, we also developed a “template” for cities to start their own programs, which has even led to the mayors in Broward County sponsoring monthly county-wide fun chess events.

Paradoxically, through this process of expanding chess outside the “schoolhouse”, the afterschool clubs have become stronger, more sustainable and are in greater demand.  Now, one of our next steps is to make sure every child has the opportunity to participate in afterschool chess clubs.

That’s why the Florida Afterschool Network’s mission of overcoming the barriers for students and families to achieve the most from the educational experience through robust afterschool programs, which meld the power of socialization with program opportunities meant to diversify the experiences for our students, is so crucial.  Of course, my message is about chess, but we know this translates to the many other opportunities which paint the colorful tapestry of student achievement through a meaningful afterschool experience.


The Afterschool for All Challenge: 2014

22 May

Calling all Florida afterschool champions and partners!

On May 22, afterschool leaders from around the country are in Washington, D.C. to meet face to face with members of Congress, and to urge them to co-sponsor the Afterschool for America’s Children Act.  We need your help to amplify their voices.

Afterschool programs keep kids safe, inspire learning, and help working families.  All students should have access to these life changing opportunities.  Yet, 18 million children, roughly one million in Florida, who would like to participate don’t have a program available in their community.

The Afterschool for America’s Children Act will stregthen the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative – the only federal funding stream dedicated to supporting out-of-school programs nationwide.

Members of Congress need to hear from constituents like you who care about making afterschool for all a reality.  Help us make 535 calls to Congress – that’s one for every senator and representative on Capital Hill.

First, make the call.  Call one of Florida’s 29 senators or representatives on Capital Hill today.  Use these links to find the contact information for our Senators and Representatives.

Use this script to help guide your call:

“Hello, my name is (name), and I’m a constituent from (city, state).

“I’m calling to ask for (Congress person’s name) to co-sponsor the Afterschool for America’s Children Act.  This bill would support afterschool programs that keep kids safe, inspire learning, and help working families in our community be strengthening the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative.

“As a (educator, parent, concerned citizen, etc.), I am asking that (Congress person’s name) support our young people, and champion high-quality afterschool and summer learning opportunities for our kids by signing on as a co-sponsor to this bill.

“Would you please pass my message along to (Congress person’s name)?

“Thank you!”

Second, log your calls with the Afterschool Alliance here.

Lastly, spread the word to help us reach our goal of 535 calls to Capital Hill!

Thank you,

Joe Davis, CEO, Florida Afterschool Network

FAN awarded a STEM System Building grant

5 May

From the new Florida Afterschool Network STEM Policy Director, Samantha Thorstensen:

Through a grant awarded to the Florida Afterschool Network in 2014 by the NOYCE Foundation, FAN has begun to build a quality STEM system for afterschool programs in the state of Florida.  We are excited to already be working with regional partners in Jacksonville, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, and Tallahassee.  These partners will host existing afterschool programs to help them to build quality STEM activities within their programs.  The first to do so is the Museum of Science and History (MOSH) in Jacksonville, which is hosting a STEM Afterschool Workshop on September 20, 2014.  This workshop will feature additional FAN STEM partners, such as NASA STEM educators, MOSH educators, the National Magentic Laboratory, CPALMS, and Click2Science representatives.

Workshops of this nature with all of our regional partners are in the works, with the goals of :

  1. Increasing the percentage of students successful at conducting real-world STEM projects and inquiry, capable of authentic and collaborative problem solving, proficient in applying multidisciplinary knowledge and skills through STEM, and knowledgeable about and interested in STEM careers;
  2. Increasing the quality and quantity of STEM educators;
  3. Creating a statewide sustainable STEM leadership organization to align existing and emerging STEM initiatives and represent Florida as one voice in meeting STEM demands.

If programs are committed to prioritizing quality STEM learning, they must also apply the resolve needed to provide quality support to their staff.  Professional development is absolutely vital to advancing quality STEM learning.  Programs must also commit to quality STEM learning beyond training.  Quality STEM learning activities offer time for student reflection.  The plan should focus on increasing student interest and engagement, ensuring that each of their activities are purposeful in support of their plan, and links cohesviely to what students are learning in the core instructional day.  Program leaders must seek the resources, tools and partnerships necessary to make such a plan successful.  These workshops will help build quality STEM plans for programs, as well as guide and support them with resources to accomplish this.

Support of FAN’s work to help infuse STEM into afterschool is overflowing across Florida.  This support was evident at the Midwest Afterschool Science Academy held in Kansas City in April 2014. where Florida stood out as a shining example of community and state support.

FAN’s staff has also bee working together with other exciting projects and partners, which include:

  • The National Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program,
  • the Florida Institute of Technology TEDx event,
  • Prime Time of West Palm Beach Afterschool Symposium, and
  • NASA Days with Florida program.

Look form more amazing STEM-ulating projects in the near future for Florida afterschool programs!

The Importance of Strengthening Afterschool Partnerships 2014

25 Feb


For the next featured article from the compendium, Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success, FAN Board Member and retired Superintendent of St. Lucie County, Florida Public Schools, Michael Lannon, provides insight into the collaborative partnership that is essential between school principals and afterschool and summer learning program directors to achieve positive school/afterschool outcomes for children and youth. Michael Lannon, Florida Afterschool Network CEO Joe Davis, and USD 500/Kansas City Public Schools Superintendent Cynthia Lane, recently presented to the American Association of School Administrators national conference attendees in Nashville, Tennessee on the topic of “Leveraging the Power of After School and Summer Learning for Student Success”.

High quality education is everyone’s business. If we believe that all children and youth can learn and indeed that all children and youth can learn more than they previously have, then we must accept that in order for that to happen all of us must play the appropriate 21st century collaborative roles with all the appropriate players. We are all accountable to our children and youth-school and after school educators, students, parents, communities, and businesses.

School and after school educators include preschool, extended day/week/year, and traditional pre K-12 professionals and staff alike. As adults accountable to our children and youth, shouldn’t we be expected to bring forward all of the resources available for the benefit of each child?

Traditional pre K-12 educators have their plates piled high already. Simply adding to that plate over burdens them and diminishes their effectiveness as principals and teachers. Using after school and extended year programming in partnership with traditional pre K-12, each partner focusing on the common goal of greater, enriched, and deeper learning for each child, is the 21st century highway to maximizing time and effort for children and youth across a community. Consider that the children of Florida are awake approximately 6,000 hours annually and that students in traditional pre K-12 programs receive approximately 1,000 hours of instructional learning time annually. This leaves an astounding 5,000 hours or 80% more of the child’s awake time to be used to further enrich and engage each child in high quality, aligned and yet distinct, learning opportunities designed for success.

Student learning and development is no longer the sole province of Pre K-12 schools. New relationships must be initiated among school boards, superintendents, local politicians and experienced principals and after school leaders in order to fully utilize the resources which are available during the 5,000 awake hours when children are not in traditional pre K-12 education settings.

This collaboration is the exciting cornerstone to achieving positive after school outcomes for children and youth and will serve to enhance learning and achievement for all students. It is critical that our network work hard to get this message out to traditional pre-K-12 and after school educators across Florida.

Read the article More Than Just Another “To-Do” on the List: The Benefits of Strong School, Principal, and Afterschool/Community Relationships here.

FAN CEO Larry Pintacuda Retires 2013

12 Dec

Florida Afterschool Network (FAN) announced December 5th, with bittersweet emotions, that the organization’s Chief Executive Officer Larry Pintacuda has decided to retire at the end of the year.  Pintacuda has served as the CEO of the Florida Afterschool Network since 2007.

For the past seven years, Pintacuda has worked tirelessly to promote the mission of FAN and develop a network of community leaders to serve on the Board of Directors and Panel of Champions.  With his leadership, Pintacuda has created an organization that advocates for the development, enhancement and sustainability of innovative, high quality afterschool programs and policies statewide.

For nearly 45 years, he devoted his carerr to children’s services programs.  Prior to joining FAN, he spent 33 years with the State Department of Children and Families (DCF).  At DCF, he served as the Assistant Secretary of Operations, as well as the State Child Care Coordinator.

“It has been a pleasure to serve as FAN’s CEO,” said Pintacuda.  “The past seven years have been incredibly rewarding, and also challenging.  I am proud of all that we accomplished.  There is still much to be done, but I know I am leaving FAN in good hands.”

Linda Lanier, Board Chair for the Network, said, “I have witnessed firsthand the growth of FAN over the years, and it is an organization that I am proud to be part of; Larry is leaving behind a great legacy, and he will be missed.”

Following Pintacuda’s retirement, Joe Davis will assume the role of CEO.  Currently serving as COO, Davis joined FAN in 2011 following a career as the Chief of Bureau of Family and Community Outreach at the Florida Department of Education.  He also previously served as Chair of the FAN Board.

Pintacuda will retire on December 31, 2013.  He will spend his retirement volunteering, traveling with his wife, and visiting his two children and four grandchildren.

Larry Pintacuda (1)

FAN, NASA, MIT Wrap Up 2013 Zero Robotics Summer Program

4 Sep


Check out the blog below from Laura Colville, Education Specialist for CASIS, the organization that operates the International Space Station.  Florida Afterschool Network was excited to lead this program in the state of Florida, and looks to be able to offer the program statewide next year.  FAN would also like to congratulate the teams from Southern Oaks Middle School, in St. Lucie County, and Ralph Williams Elementary School, of Brevard County, for coming in first and second, respectively, in the national Final Competition!

“On Tuesday, August 13, approximately 350 middle school students gathered at universities and NASA centers across the country for the Zero Robotics Middle School Competition. Zero Robotics is a robotics competition where students have the opportunity to utilize the International Space Station as a laboratory to test programming codes from the ground using “SPHERES” (Synchronized, Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient Experimental Satellites) satellites.

Led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Space Systems Laboratory, which originally designed SPHERES, along with its partners (Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership, Top Coder, and Aurora Flight Sciences) and generous sponsorships from CASIS, DARPA, and NASA, this program is aimed at engaging students in innovative, complementary learning opportunities during the summer, as well as increasing student interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

During the five-week Zero Robotics Middle School Program, middle school students in California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, and Massachusetts worked collaboratively with program staff to learn physics, mathematics, and computer programming through interactive activities and hands-on experience programming their SPHERES satellite. SPHERES are bowling ball-sized spherical satellites used inside the ISS to perform test flight formation and docking maneuvers. Students spent much of the summer learning to write computer programs and formulating strategies for their SPHERES in anticipation of the final competition.

Students had the chance to see the SPHERES that they had programmed over the summer and competed against each other aboard the ISS as NASA astronauts Chris Cassidy and Karen Nyberg  provided real time commentary on the competition via live feed.

Florida had 10 teams from Brevard, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Orange Counties participating in the Zero Robotics Middle School Competition.  Harbor City Elementary School, Enterprise Elementary school, Lewis Carroll Elementary School, Ralph Williams Elementary School, Southern Oaks Middle School, Gifford Middle School, Lake Nona Middle School, and Jackson Middle School all participated.

The Florida teams gathered at the Kennedy Space Center on August 13th to view the competition that was broadcast live from MIT and the ISS. Two Florida teams placed in the top tier. The wild card team from Southern Oaks Middle School in St. Lucie County, Florida won the competition with the team from Ralph Williams Elementary in Brevard County, Florida placing second.

Larry Pintacuda, Chief Executive Officer for the Florida Afterschool Network, the coordinating agency for Florida’s teams, was thrilled that Florida middle school students had the opportunity to participate. “These young people spent a very productive summer working together in teams becoming excited about learning in a hands-on, fun environment,” he said.  “Perhaps we have fostered future scientists and engineers. I can tell you for 150 middle schoolers (in Florida), it has been a wonderful summer”.

The Zero Robotics Middle School Program was started as a component of NASA’s Summer of Innovation, a nationwide program targeted at encouraging STEM education for middle school students. The pilot in 2010 was centered regionally around the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, and in 2013 the program has grown to  include multiple locations around the country, including California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, and Massachusetts, with CASIS as the main sponsor for the middle school competition.”

To view an archive of the competition, visit:

New Standards: Transforming Florida’s Educational Landscape 2013

20 Jun

For the next featured article from the compendium Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success, Commissioner of Education Dr. Tony Bennett provides a look at the importance of the relationship between the Common Core State Standards and afterschool.

“The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a set of academic standards developed and supported by state leaders.  Along with 45 other states, the Florida State Board of Education adopted the standards in July of 2010.  Our shared goal is to ensure all students are college and career ready when they graduate high school.  The standards will transform the way our teachers teach, the way our students learn and the way we assess student performance.  The Common Core will require students to be much greater problem solvers and critical thinkers.  In addition, the standards are internationally benchmarked and provide for inter-state comparability, which means for the first time in our nation’s history we will ensure Florida’s children are learning at a competitive level with their national and international peers.

Some of you likely have questions about the relationship between the Common Core and afterschool programs.  Study after study indicates that students who participate in afterschool programs improve their academic achievement, behavior, attendance and graduation rates.  High quality programs are critical to improving our students’ educational experience, especially when they’re aligned with the Common Core.  Afterschool programs have a unique opportunity to create direct links between the standards and academic content.  Doing so will ensure students develop a deeper understanding of the information they are exposed to in school and in afterschool programs.

Your partnership will be even more critical to our students’ success as we move towards full implementation of the Common Core in the 2014-2015 school year.  Thank you for all the work you do to improve the lives of students through afterschool programs and all other expanded learning opportunities.”

The article below, Building Mastery of the Common Core State Standards by Expanding Learning with Community Stakeholder Partnerships, highlights how afterschool programs and expanded learning oppurtunities can create a stronger understanding of the concepts outlined in the Common Core. The article is a part of Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success, a compendium that features studies, reports and commentaries on expanded learning opportunities.