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Harmony Spotlight: LA’s BEST After School Enrichment Program

Just as classrooms all over the nation are adopting Harmony as their social-emotional learning (SEL) program, after school programs are joining the Harmony movement! After school programs function differently than the traditional classroom, but are equally important to SEL development. This month, we’re putting the spotlight on LA’s BEST After School Enrichment Program offered at most schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

LA’s BEST gives Pre-K through middle school students a safe place to go after school for help with homework, and to participate in enrichment courses, STEM activities, dance, and the arts. LA’s BEST brings together hundreds of students at each site with diverse backgrounds, temperaments, and ages.  While this could be a recipe for chaos and disorganization, LA’s BEST provides structure and positive relationship building for their after school students by integrating Harmony strategies throughout their program.

Harmony Trainer, Erica Harms, explains, “LA’s BEST was searching for an effective social-emotional teaching tool. Harmony was a natural fit since LAUSD is currently implementing Harmony into all of its Pre-K classrooms, and has plans to roll out the program to all other grades as well.”

Since last spring, LA’s BEST has engaged students in Meet Up and Buddy Up routines using the Harmony Quick Connection Cards. “Site leaders have reported seeing improvements in students being more inclusive, showing empathy, and being more helpful. There has also been a decrease in arguing, bullying, and isolating” Harms reports.

Each LA’s BEST site carries out Harmony differently, depending on specific needs. For example, students may participate as one large group, or be divided into small groups based on grade level. Harms shares, “During after school programs, students have a great deal of energy and may express different emotional needs or frustrations: school is out, children may be excited or exhausted, and require a certain level of freedom. Harmony provides structure, and makes it easy for kids to branch out and work and play with other students. You might observe a third grader buddy up with a fifth grader, and this can make the third grader feel less intimidated, while the fifth grader feels a sense of responsibility to look out for and help his or her buddy.  Students appreciate having the structure, and having activities that include everyone. Through Harmony, students are building many new relationships that wouldn’t be built organically.”

LA’s BEST students have been enthusiastic about Harmony as part of their after school program. “Kids like sharing stories and talking about themselves. Shy students are able to come out of their shells and make new friends, because Harmony provides multiple opportunities for students to get to know and understand one another,” shares Harms.

Parents were pleasantly surprised how well Harmony was working for LA’s BEST students. Parents have reported noticing that children are now more connected and empathetic, and really enjoy attending LA’s BEST After School Enrichment Program. Harms says, “They are impressed with the care and emphasis on positive relationships that LA’s BEST provides for their children.” Parents have enjoyed the positive results of the program so much, they have asked if Harmony could be a component of back-to-school nights, open house, or other school events.

“One of the best parts about Harmony is that the options are limitless—it can be implemented in classrooms, after school programs, healing circles, Saturday academies, or parent nights, as participants will always value building supportive relationships,” reports Harms.