UC Links Statewide Office on the Road - UC Santa Barbara

June 21, 2019

On May 2nd-4th, we (Charles and Mara) drove down the beautiful coast of California and spent three glorious days enjoying all that the UC Santa Barbara UC Links programs had to offer! Professor Betsy Brenner was an amazing hostess and tour guide! It was no small task to provide an overview of and access to all of the programs that she and Professors Richard Durán and Diana Arya develop, coordinate, and sustain! We visited Club Proteo at the Goleta Boys & Girls Club (going strong for 25+ years!); the St. George Youth Center; LEAFY (also at the Goleta B&GC); and were even able to have a sit down with Betsy, Richard, and Diana, along with exceptional graduate students, John Cano Barrios, Jasmine McBeath, Sos Nazaryan, and David Sañosa; experience a maker-faire hosted by the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education; and attend one of the St. George Youth Center’s mentor’s senior project music recital! It was a jam packed few days and we could write volumes about all that we experienced. We’ll have to make due with a few highlights below… And photos of Club Proteo, St. George Youth Center,LEAFY, the Maker Faire, and the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education! Enjoy!

UC Santa Barbara: Club Proteo

General Observations

Club Proteo is a collaboration between UCSB and the Goleta Boys & Girls Club (B&GC) and its After School Education & Safety (ASES) program. The B&GC provides a wide range of activities for children ages 6 to 18, including a daily evening meal for children via a food truck through a partnership with the Santa Barbara Unified School District. Club Proteo meets in the computer lab at the B&GC and operates Tuesday through Thursday from 4-6pm. Each grade level has its own room in the club, however Club Proteo serves all grades by having the children who choose to attend rotate through in 30 minute sessions. The Club Proteo activities are most popular with the K-4 children, and many upper grade children choose to move on to LEAFY, also offered at the B&GC (see below). One condition of ASES funding is that homework help has to be offered. Betsy and Richard have tried to have an impact in this area by expanding the definition of homework from whatever particular assignments the teachers give out to other, more engaging literacy-based activities.

The computer lab is divided into two sections, one side has a long table that children and undergraduates gather around to work on homework and other literacy-based activities. The other half of the room has approximately 15 computers lined along rectangular tables in a U-shape. UCSB graduate student Sos Nazaryan oversees coordinates and oversees the activities; children work one-on-one and in small groups with undergraduates over the course of about a month to create videos and digital projects designed and produced by the students.

On the day we attended, we observed two sessions. There were about 16 first graders and the same number of Kindergarteners working with Sos and 13 undergrads. Photos from Club Proteo are here

Focused Observations

Children were focusing on furthering their digital projects. They worked with undergraduates to complete PowerPoint (PPT) presentations that they would later use in a video. One group of first grade girls was working with an undergrad to create a PPT presentation about making an Angel Food Ice Cream Cake. They worked together to find images to include in the PPT and to write clear instructions that could be followed so others could make the cake too! As we watched, this group put the finishing touches on the script for their video and offered to send Mara their video to see if she could make the cake in Berkeley. She’s still hoping to get the instructions! A group of boys were working together with an undergrad to create a PPT about Messi, and a Kindergarten girl was working with an undergrad to create a PPT about her family. The undergrad was patiently letting the Kindergartener sound out the words that she then slowly and deliberately typed on the screen. When we spoke with the undergraduates, they explicitly stressed the importance of allowing the children to create and develop their own work. They viewed their role as answering questions that came up in the process and helping the children trouble-shoot technical problems. What was most evident was both the intense concentration of the children on their projects and their pleasure at both creating a product that was their own and receiving the attentive regard and occasional suggestions of the undergraduates.

UC Santa Barbara: St. George Youth Center

General Observations

The St. George Youth Center (SGYC) is a teen center in Isla Vista near UC Santa Barbara. A local developer, Ed St. George, developed and built nearby student housing and recognized the need for a real building for the teen center, as previously all programming had been conducted in portables on the site. He built and donated the building that now sits on the edge of a large grassy field. The UC Links activities at the teen center have been coordinated by Professors Brenner and Durán for 20 years. They were recognized by the teen center recently for their commitment and citrus trees were planted in their honor outside the building!

The teen center is a large open building complete with an area with couches, a weight room, a row of ~6 computers, a study room (also with computers), kitchen, and other places to gather. The teen center is open Monday-Friday after school and UCSB MakerSpace activities, coordinated by UCSB graduate students Jasmine McBeath and David Sañosa, are provided on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30-6:30pm on a large table in the center of the computer area. Additional programming, such as tutoring, leadership activities, theater programs, is provided by the YMCA Channel Islands and other partners. A graduate student from the UCSB chapter of Engineers without Borders also works with youth at the club on robotics activities.

There is also a long history of mural projects at the teen center. A UCSB graduate student, Stephanie Arguera, coordinates the mural work at St. George in collaboration with the teen center and the art department at UCSB. Two murals have been completed and two more are currently under development. Photos from St. George Youth Center including the murals are here

On the day we attended, there were approximately ten students engaged in various areas of the teen center including four young people playing individual games on the computers, one working with the Engineers without Borders graduate student on a robotics activity for the upcoming Maker Faire at UCSB, and two engaging with David and a UCSB undergraduate on maker activities.

Focused Observations

A UCSB undergrad and one graduate student were engaged with a couple of youth at a table near the center of the room. The table was full of tinkering and maker materials such as wires, copper tape, LED lights etc. The young people were busy testing out different materials to create Mother’s Day cards that lit up with LEDs. They seemed very proficient with the materials and were working on their own without much help. On Saturday morning, we were able to see their finished work at the Maker Faire on campus.

We also spoke with the Lead Teen Mentor (SGYC staff member), who works with all of the UCSB undergraduates, about the process for creating a new mural. He explained that ideas are generated by the staff and young people through workshops where they separate into small groups where they start to write out or draw collectively what they would like to see included in a mural. Usually there is one mural theme developed by the younger participants and another by the older participants. The young people then propose the themes for the murals and submit draft drawings to the Isla Vista Recreation and Park District for review. Upon receiving approval from the District, they then work with UCSB students and artists to produce the murals on a wall across the field and facing the Teen Center building. The results of their work are remarkable in their creativity and production values, turning a bare grey wall into an expressive statement of the young people’s sense of themselves and their place.

UC Santa Barbara: LEAFY

General Observations

LEAFY is located on the UCSB campus on Thursdays and at the Goleta Boys & Girls Club (B&GC) on Fridays from 4-6pm. We were only able to visit LEAFY in action at the B&GC. On Thursdays the B&GC participants meet at UCSB and work together with the undergraduates, graduate students, Professors Brenner and Arya, and Professor Rick Benjamin (former state poet laureate of Rhode Island and current Adjunct Professor in the College of Creative Studies) to write poetry. Professors Arya and Brenner initiated LEAFY and it is run in partnership with UCSB, including the leadership of graduate students John Cano Barrios and Sos Nazaryan; the B&GC; and Explore Ecology, an environmental education and arts nonprofit that provides school garden and other programs in the area.

At the B&GC, LEAFY is located on a long and narrow side-yard of the B&GC that the LEAFY participants have completely transformed into an organic, thriving sanctuary for down and dirty, lush and wormy growth and learning! There are three raised beds in various states of planting and growth, a tall trellis for vertical gardening on which the young people attached wooden planks with poetic expressions related to life and growing; there is also a small shed for storage, compost bins, and piles of gardening tools and supplies for multiple kinds of gardening activities. Approximately 15 UCSB undergrads were working with John and Sos and 15 children (primarily 5th-7th grade) on the day we attended. Photos are here

Focused Observations

When we arrived, activities were already underway and groups of children and undergraduates were gathered around the raised beds. Music was playing, the sun was shining and the mood was free and easy. It was hard to tell based on everyone’s engagement in the activity and interaction, who might be a professor, or a B&GC staff person, undergrad, grad student, or participating young person. Bennett Rock, environmental science educator from Explore Ecology, appeared to be guiding the activities for the day He asked everyone to circle up for a check-in and laid out the activities for the day. As part of the check-in, everyone went around the circle, introduced themselves and what they were looking forward to working on in the garden that day. Then they all plunged into the work, each person finding a role for themselves. The activities included harvesting the carrots that they had grown in the raised beds, and then planting tomatoes and peppers in the same beds. The children, with minimal guidance by the undergraduates and other adults, used wire cutters to make wire segments they used to attach the wooden signs that the children had earlier painted with poetic affirmations to the vertical trellis where passion fruit vines had been recently planted and were already beginning to intertwine.

An undergrad explained that during the fall quarter, they and the young people from the B&GC had measured the large planter boxes into square foot sections using nails along the perimeter of the box and string attached to the nails to make a grid of square foot sections. The nails were still in the planter boxes and youth were able to easily recreate the square foot sections with string. Once the young people learned from Bennett how much space each plant needs (2 feet) they placed the plants in the raised bed, making sure that each plant had two square feet of space. After all of the plants were placed, each B&GC participant got an iPad from John to take a photo of the newly planted vines and record its characteristics. Children use this methodology to track the growth and development of the plants over time. In this activity, we saw an undergraduate, ask one of the children, Maria (a pseudonym), “What is the word we use for how strong the plant is?”  When Maria couldn’t remember the undergrad offered, “Vigor - that’s how strong it looks.” “Vigor?” Maria repeated a few times, seeming like it was a new word. The undergrad spelled the word for Maria and asked “On a scale of 1-10 how strong do you think it looks?” “Three!” They agreed on a three since the plant was new and somewhat wilted when it first went into the ground. Maria also wrote down the name of the plant, how many leaves it had and added some peppers emojis for good measure.

Bennett started off the closing circle by appreciating the work of the day and introducing activities for the next week. Bennett recognized the development of the wall of affirmations that would hold up the PASSION fruit vines. Bennett also noted that everything they had planted together that day will need some support. “Just like you and I” he said, “We need some support. So we’ll have to find some clever ways of supporting the plants so they can grow.”


  • Ongoing institutional collaboration - The importance of institutional support and collaboration is something that we have mentioned in the UC Davis and Whittier field notes (and probably others). The importance of the 20+ year collaboration with the Goleta Boys & Girls Club and the St. George Youth Center and the depth, trust, and opportunities that those relationships afford cannot be understated. Much like Whittier, the UCSB programs have continued and grown in spite of multiple changes in B&GC and SGYC leadership. It helps that Betsy sits on the B&GC Community Board! On the university side, after some years without a permanent Dean of the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education (GGSE), the current Dean is focused on re-envisioning the school and undertaking a collaborative strategic planning process. Richard serves as a faculty member on the Dean’s GGSE Strategic Planning Committee. The GGSE faculty engaged in a workshop in May to develop goals and strategies related to this mission. With significant faculty buy-in, building and sustaining university-community collaboration for learning is now part of the GGSE’s mission and long-range planning. More people in the GGSE are engaging in this collaborative work so that UCSB’s UC Links programs is becoming part of a broader structure of support within the GGSE; as a result, this type of work has become more recognized by the school’s leadership and faculty as well as by faculty, administrators and staff, and students across UCSB.

  • Undergraduate role - Undergrads that we spoke with at Club Proteo, echoed sentiments that we heard at other sites across the state about how surprised they were that they were learning so much from the participating children. One undergraduate said,“They teach me a lot about the computers. I thought I would be the one teaching them but they’re the ones teaching me.” Another undergrad summarized beautifully the undergraduates’ role working with participating children, “We’re their tour guide in learning. We’re facilitating their exploration and not focusing on ‘this is what they need to do’ because all day in school they’re told what they need to do. So now it’s their exploring time and we’re just here to help them explore and learn and do something that they’re passionate about.”

  • Learning environments - When we spoke with the UCSB team of grad students (John Cano Barrios, Jasmine McBeath, Sos Nazaryan, and David Sañosa) about the learning environments that allow for flexible understanding of the roles of expert and novice and the Zone of Proximal Development to emerge among learners, they pointed to a few key ingredients:

    • Engaged and committed faculty and graduate students actively creating a community of learners among participating undergraduates. Jasmine pointed out that this doesn’t always have to occur in an undergraduate course, since they sometimes have undergrads who participate in the Curie-sity project who are not enrolled in the course but still learn from the others at site the informal learning framework that has been established often by faculty and grad students. John remarked on the importance of creating a safe space to collaborate or “building a good vibe” among the undergraduates (similar to what we wrote about after our visit to Bruin Club) to build collaboration and ensure people feel part of a group working together. The UCSB team noted that even little things, like creating a group chat, helped develop a cohesive culture.

    • An opportunity to discuss explicitly about Vygotsky, the Zone of Proximal Development, and other theories and concepts of learning and development and the roles of expert and novice. This often occurs in the undergraduate course.

    • An undergraduate orientation to provide undergraduates an introduction to and hands-on experience with the after-school setting and relevant tools. The team of UCSB grad students have found it particularly helpful to integrate the experiences of continuing undergrads by giving them the opportunity to share their experiences and evolving views of their roles.

  • Leveraging resources for makerspace orientations - David pointed out that when working with maker materials there is often a steep learning curve and thus a challenge getting the undergrads comfortable enough with materials so that they’re comfortable leading activities with the youth. A related challenge is helping the undergrads to take on the role of the learner and be willing to learn from others with more experience - such as the teens themselves (we noted this also in the UC Davis field note). In addition to the on-site orientations noted above, David was interested in exploring other methods of familiarizing undergrads, such as adapting the idea of tip sheets that Mark and Kayla (UC Irvine) shared at the UC Links conference and also the training videos that Math CEO (UC Irvine) is exploring. We also talked about the possibility of posting such videos on a Resources page of the UC Links website so that other sites can benefit from training videos as well. Another great idea that the team came up with was to have undergrads make the videos as an assignment or final project as part of the course or have students enrolled in a 199 course work collaboratively with youth to create the videos. The group agreed that at the very least they could record the orientation. Stay tuned to see if we’re able to post some creative videos after fall quarter!