Connection is key to student recovery

How Mizzen by Mott and afterschool programs are making summer count

A student reporter wearing a PBS NewsHour tshirt sits at a microphone while talking with another reporter in a recording lab.
Young people connect to the power of storytelling and digital media through PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs’ curriculum in Mizzen. Photo: PBS NewsHour SRL

Ray Trinidad stood on a chair with his arms fully outstretched from shoulders to fingertips. Lifting his voice to fill the cavernous conference room of afterschool educators, he channeled two parts soccer coach, one part symphony conductor.

Trinidad is a man of many hats. A youth counselor, school principal and dean, he has over 30 years’ experience in youth development and education. Today he’s leveraging that expertise with fellow educator Gabe Ogilvie to co-lead !Mpact Players. The organization creates and shares team-building activities that meld leadership development with social-emotional learning, the arts and STEM concepts.

Trinidad and Ogilvie joined the Foundation’s Mizzen by Mott team at an April conference hosted by Best Out-Of-School Time, where they shared energizing activities and icebreakers with afterschool leaders and staff. Today Mizzen is featuring their offbeat brand of educational content as part of its Summer Sizzle campaign, a collaborative effort to highlight learning experiences that can help young people reengage, reconnect and recover this summer and fall.

Trinidad is serious about play. He sees a direct throughline between the kind of creativity and connection that team-based games can inspire and student engagement, attendance and academic success. Amid the pandemic, !Mpact Players’ work has taken on greater urgency, as more people recognize that engagement is essential, not ancillary, to learning and recovery.

A group of people wearing !Mpact Players tshirts make a catapult out of wood sticks and tape. Another group watches them use the catapult.
!Mpact Players use engaging activities to help teams solve problems, analyze situations and work cooperatively. Photo: !Mpact Players

“These are serious times, and we have to keep our eye on the prize,” Trinidad said. “That’s making sure kids feel engaged and connected. When it comes to extended learning, they may come for the programs, but they stay for people. The most important thing is that more and more students are engaged, attend, do well in school and graduate.”

During the 2020-2021 school year, U.S. public schools saw a decline in enrollment of roughly 1 million students, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. The pandemic deepened preexisting racial and economic disparities. Students attending high-poverty schools spent five-and-a-half more weeks in virtual classes than their more affluent peers and experienced 50% more achievement loss, according to NBER.

Educators in both the afterschool and summer learning space are doing everything they can to help young people reengage and recover. So we’re doing all we can to get the best possible content into the hands of practitioners, and that means dynamic learning experiences that are meaningful and relevant — and that bolster connections.”
Mizzen by Mott CEO Carlos Santini

Mizzen by Mott

At a youth summit hosted in March 2021 by Vermont Gov. Phil Scott and Vermont Afterschool, a seventh-grade student said, “COVID has been very difficult and had a very big impact on our mental health. Having to isolate has really limited our social interactions, which are very important in this time in our lives.”

Her comments reflected the views of many young people at the summit who shared how important it was that their return to school focus not only on academics, but also on restoring connections, relationships and mental health. Students felt that having access to out-of-school-time learning experiences would be crucial to their full recovery.

Research backs this up, finding that high-quality afterschool and summer programs offer safe, creative, relationship-rich environments that help young people respond to trauma, develop, learn and grow.

So, Mizzen and its content partners are linking up with afterschool and summer programs to focus on learning experiences that inspire connections with peers and mentors, and subjects that spark participants’ interests.

This includes award-winning curricula from PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs that helps young people give voice to their experiences through the power of student journalism. PBS NewsHour first tested SRL in six pilot sites as a way to reimagine public media for teens. The curriculum took off. Now, SRL’s lessons can be found in 180 schools in 46 states — and, for the afterschool field, in Mizzen.

SRL engages young people in developing skills in digital media, critical thinking and communication by producing stories that matter most to them and their communities. Student journalists are covering topics related to climate change, racial stereotypes, mental health and the return to in-school learning.

A black and white photo of a man playing guitar while sitting on an amp. He wears a backwards cap, glasses and a face mask.
Guitarist and educator Ross Hammond gives a live demo of curriculum in Mizzen that was developed by Jazz at Lincoln Center and Foundations, Inc. Photo: Laurie Posner

Jazz at Lincoln Center is another dynamic content partner that’s offering new resources in Mizzen this summer. Highlighting the one-of-kind-curriculum it developed with Foundations, Inc., JALC has just rolled out a new module called “I’m Beginning to See the Light.” It includes lessons like “The Blues 1: Lyrics,” an arts and literacy activity by JALC Teaching Artists Willerm Delisfort and Goussy Célestin. Tested with educators, young people and afterschool programs, these learning experiences inspire young people’s creativity as they learn about jazz through activities that meld science, social studies, math, arts, physical education, and SEL concepts and skills.

Mizzen also recently added a collection of arts activities from reDiscover Center that practitioners can use to spark student creativity, using sustainable and affordable materials. reDiscover, a nonprofit located in the Los Angeles area that launched in 2003, now serves 11,000 young people. The program aims to build a makerspace spirit, inspiring everyone to tinker and create with ideas, materials and tools at hand.

A woman in a conference space gives a demonstration with materials at a table.
reDiscover Center’s Hanabee Cartagena helps afterschool practitioners infuse engaging, sustainable arts and makerspace education into their programs. Photo: Francisco Tejada

With the National Wildlife Federation and Bass Pro, Mizzen is offering a slew of new activity playlists that connect young people to the great outdoors as they learn about science and protecting the environment. Take NWF’s “Observing Biodiversity” activity. It has young people, wherever they live, getting out into nature to observe, chart, and sketch plants and animals. Along the way, they learn about their watershed ecosystem and build a more profound sense of connection to the web of living things all around them.

“It continues to be a challenging time for students and families,” said Mizzen by Mott CEO Carlos Santini. “Educators in both the afterschool and summer learning space are doing everything they can to help young people reengage and recover. So we’re doing all we can to get the best possible content into the hands of practitioners, and that means dynamic learning experiences that are meaningful and relevant — and that bolster connections.”

To learn more about Mizzen, visit The app is free to the afterschool field through support from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation.