CASE for Kids brings youth voice into afterschool program design

As part of Harris County Department of Education’s (HCDE) back-to-school perspectives series, Center for Afterschool, Summer, and Enrichment (CASE for Kids) Outreach Coordinator Mike Wilson shed light on his hopes for the future of CASE for Kids’ reach within the communities it serves. Wilson, the former director of Communities In Schools Baytown, combines his passion for student support services with his knowledge of the afterschool community to invest in opportunities for youth.

Mike Wilson poses for a photograph September 1, 2021.

Tell me about your role with CASE for Kids.

MW: “My role involves reaching out and making sure that people within our community are aware of CASE for Kids and promoting visibility. My main [task] is producing the “Making After-School Cool” podcast, which explains what CASE for Kids is and brings up some topics used for staff development, awareness, and things that influence or impact the afterschool time arena. We started it about two and a half years ago, and we recently uploaded our 65th [episode].”

Are you leading or developing any new or ongoing projects?

MW: “I am, of course, continuing to develop the podcast. My goal is to be able to publish one [episode] per week. I also hope to continue to increase our [podcast] downloads and followers. Right now, we’ve had over 2,000 downloads, so by the end of the year, I’d like to have at least another 1,000 downloads and continue to promote CASE for Kids. This year I had the opportunity to facilitate some training and staff development regarding diversity, equity, and social justice, which are hot topics. I want to make sure that people who are involved with the afterschool scene have access to some of those things and are [aware] of current events.”

We heard of a new program you are leading called the Youth Ambassador Initiative. Can you describe what it is, how it works, and who is involved?

MW: “It’s in its infancy, but we hope to get a group of students together and get their perspective on some of the issues I mentioned. It allows us to hear from young people and what they would like to have more access to or feel like they need. Also, I’d like for them to play a role in future podcasts. The Youth Ambassadors will [consist of] approximately 10 to 12 students within the schools we serve from late junior high to early high school, to start. I’ll be working with the campuses and several afterschool program site coordinators to identify the right students who can express their thoughts and opinions. For now, we’ll likely set up a [virtual] format since the students will be on different campuses, but there will be some projects for which I’d like to get together [in-person]. Some ideas include a conference or possibly doing presentations to City Council or the Commissioner’s Court so people in leadership positions can hear from the students within the precincts they serve regarding the services available in their communities. Hopefully, we’ll be able to design some programs or incorporate what they suggest to the programs we currently offer.”

What are you most looking forward to this school year with CASE for Kids?

MW: “I look forward to continue developing the podcast and interviewing local and national experts in various fields pertaining to education issues and out-of-school time. Additionally, I’m excited about assisting with the development of our Youth Ambassadors group. It gives me an opportunity to work with young people to expand their youth voice and learn more about the types of support they still need from adults and community leaders to help prepare them for the future. It’s refreshing and energizing to hear youth voices and hear their opinions.”

We know that in addition to keeping afterschool cool, you also are a father to two young girls. What excites you about this year as a parent?

MW: “Being reunited with some of their friends has been good [for them]. Last year they started school virtually, and they really didn’t get the opportunity to interact physically with as many of their friends until they returned to school. This summer was very similar because of social distancing. I believe for young people, part of social development is to get out and [interact] with others. In the last two years or so, [my] kids are growing up with, I think for the first time in their lives, some influential historical things going on. It [has resulted in] some lively discussion and has allowed them to develop their own opinions while [learning to] respect the opinions of others. It definitely has sparked an interest in them talking to their grandparents about what life was like when they were younger and how much things have changed within three generations.”

Note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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