UC Links Statewide Office On the Road - Whittier College

February 7, 2019

On Feb. 5, Mara and I visited Whittier. Katherine Lazo and her team warmly hosted us. We visited both the Whittier 5th Dimension site and the new site at Evergreen Elementary. Excuse the length of this note – but we want to provide a clear picture of these sites and their work with local young people.

5th Dimension at the Boys and Girls Club

General Observations

Our first visit was to the Boys and Girls Club (BGC) in Whittier, CA, a site that has been around for over twenty years. That last comment deserves an exclamation point *!* At the 5th D, children (ages 5-14) choose from a variety of activities available at the BGC, which is open Monday-Thursday from approximately 3-5pm. The collaborative partners are Whittier College and the Boys and Girls Club of Whittier. Activities include: Computer-based games and activities, digital storytelling, virtual reality activities, board and card games, reading, and the maze.

Focused Observations

The BGC 5th Dimension site is located on the second floor of the BGC in two brightly painted and decorated rooms -- the computer room and the hangout room. At the beginning, the children lined up excitedly for the sign up sheet, to indicate what activities they wanted to do that day. In the hangout room, we saw the latest incarnation of the maze, which (as many of you know) is a physical representation of the different kinds of activities available to the kids, with built-in incentives to move about and try out new activities, so that over time, the children become engaged in the full range of activities and tasks that are open to them in the 5th D space. Later, we saw four or five pairs of BGC and Whittier College Wizard Assistants (WAs) working (as they laughed and talked with each other about the activities) one-on-one together on more than 10 computers that were located around the perimeter of the first room. In the hang-out room, three children were working together with a WA on Connect Four. 

Another small group of children hung out together on a colorful rug (depicting stars in outer space) as they read or worked on iPads. One remarkable thing about the 5th D site in Whittier is that the children feel free to use every nook and cranny of the space in both rooms, sometimes with 2 or 3 children packing themselves into a little corner next to a file cabinet, where they can jointly play with an iPad or read the same book together. Also, they actively play with the maze and track their own movement through the different “rooms” to figure out what activity they want to try out next. The site is wonderfully loyal to the original 5th D concept and yet highly innovative in incorporating new activities and resources, both digital and hands-on.

5th Dimension at Evergreen Elementary School

General Observations

Evergreen Elementary School in Whittier, CA, is a new program operated collaboratively by Whittier College and Evergreen Elementary School. The 5th D after-school program at Evergreen is part of larger after-school program at the school. It takes place Monday-Thursday from approximately 3-5 PM. Activities include: Computer-based games and activities, reading, writing to the Wizard, and the maze.

Focused Observations

We entered the dedicated 5th D classroom (which notably is used only for the after-school program) and saw three octagon tables with four iMac computers on each. There is a large felt representation of the maze in the front of the classroom on the whiteboard. There are also bookshelves and colorful rugs for the children to gather on and read with each other or alone, when they’re not working on computers. Evergreen is a little different from the BGC 5th D in that the WAs work with small groups of children rather than one-on-one, as they do at the Boys and Girls club. Children were playing various games and also writing to the Wiz about recent accomplishments and transformations. It was cool to see how the children were playing recent versions of some of the same old games that 5th D kids have played for years -- Pajama Sam, etc. There were also small groups of children reading together and working iPads on colorful rugs.


  • The Whittier 5th D has survived and even thrived for over twenty years, in the face of changing faculty involvement at Whittier College, changing BGC Executive Directors, changing undergraduates, and more recently, even changing principals at Evergreen Elementary School. The 5th D at the elementary school even successfully negotiated with the Whittier School District to bypass their firewall in order to allow the children to play various video games that had been originally blocked by the district!
  • The opening of the Evergreen site (Fall 2017) has provided the 5th D team with a  wonderful opportunity to reflect on, adapt, and further develop their practices and activities, and apply them to a new and quite different physical setting (BGC v. elementary school).  
  • We met with the undergraduates at the end of our visit, and they told us about how they go about collaboratively shaping the activities at both sites. Determining how to maintain a cohesive team among the WAs working at two sites has been a work in progress and had been evolving over the past year of implementation. Team building among the undergraduates represents a huge part of the 5th D culture. The team conducts one-day team building retreats at the beginning of each semester. To maintain cohesion among the WAs working at two sites, they have recently implemented a new activity, where after the program is done for the day, the WAs from both sites gather at one of the sites (the two sites are about 2 minutes driving time apart from each other) to debrief, brainstorm, and problem solve together about the children and their development, and about what’s working and what needs further adjustment. Our meeting with the undergrads was fantastic; their enthusiasm and commitment was really stimulating and inspiring.
  • One ongoing challenge is that the BGC host organization is now being directed to provide on-site after school program at more local elementary schools. Although this means that more students are being reached by the BGC by sending students to a number of local schools, fewer children are as a result able to attend the BGC site itself and thus fewer are taking part in the program there. The BGC has approached the school district and BGC to discuss the potential of “packaging” the 5th dimension so it can be more integrally included in the BGC programming that goes out to the schools. This is an ongoing discussion and pedagogical quandary for Katherine Lazo and her team.

Despite these challenges, the vitality of the 5th Dimension at both sites is truly amazing. The excitement and engagement of the children there and the dedication of the undergraduates and program staff is a wonder to see in action. 


Charles and Mara