Mizzen by Mott helps educators forge the future of afterschool

Mizzen CEO Carlos Santini on innovation, equity and the power of community

A smiling girl in a brightly colored peace sign t-shirt joyously raises her hands in the air.
Afterschool programs nationwide can find innovative content and a growing library of professional resources in Mizzen. Photo: New Mexico Out-of-School Time Network

The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation’s support for afterschool and summer learning spans nearly nine decades. From its early support of community education to its collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education on the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, Mott has recognized the importance of “keeping the lights on” for children before and after school hours and in the summer. As the needs of the field and students have evolved, we’ve adopted new approaches to keep pace. In spring 2020, the Foundation launched Mizzen by Mott and introduced the app to practitioners in collaboration with the Mott-funded 50 State Afterschool Network.

Today, Mizzen offers a dynamic library of operational tools and professional development tips, and it provides learning content from organizations like The Nature Conservancy, Pulitzer Center, PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs and VentureLab. Recognizing the crucial role out-of-school time programs play in students’ recovery during the pandemic, Mizzen includes learning content that fosters young people’s well-being, self-expression, leadership and connections with peers and mentors.

Mizzen also now has its first CEO. In this Q&A, Mizzen by Mott CEO Carlos Santini, who has been a leader in the youth development field for nearly two decades, reflects on the evolving needs of afterschool programs and how they guide his vision for Mizzen by Mott.

Mott: How has the afterschool field changed since you started?

Carlos Santini headshot.
Carlos Santini.

Carlos Santini: When I think back over the past 20 years about the evolution of the afterschool field, four things really stand out. One is greater emphasis on staff supports around personal and professional growth. Second is more emphasis on programs finding great community partners and teaming up with them for success. Third is a recognition that “success” is not just about academic achievement, but also 21st century readiness — that is, being prepared for the future of learning and working. And finally, there’s a greater focus on the art of mentoring, given the importance of social-emotional learning.

Young people measure out food into plastic bags.
Community-building is the ‘secret sauce’ of afterschool programs. Photo: YMCA of Honolulu at Herton Branch

Mott: What do you see as the main role of the out-of-school time field in helping students and families navigate the pandemic?

Santini: One of the biggest things afterschool providers can offer is community. Because of this pandemic, communities were broken apart. There was an immediate isolation, and community was reduced to whoever lives with you. So, when I think of the role of afterschool programming, I go back to what our strengths were before the pandemic: bringing together the full community of stakeholders, from schools and community programs to families and business leaders. That’s been our strength, our secret sauce. Looking ahead, community-building is really the way to recover. It’s going to take collective action to do so, because we all need to remember that we need one another.

Mott: How can school-day educators and out-of-school time practitioners better work together to address educational inequities?

Santini: For in-school and out-of-school time settings, equity needs to be at the heart of how we communicate with each other, create learning experiences, design curricula and celebrate where our students come from. Our youth need to hear that the places they come from and live have value. Oftentimes folks will say, “Get an education, so you can get out from your situation.” In reality, it should be, “Get an education, so you can lift up your communities.”

Equity means we can’t isolate schools from communities. As afterschool providers, it’s always been a badge of honor to hire from within our own communities, where students live and learn. We need to build on that and continue to make sure community members are part of the learning experience.

Mott: What’s the biggest challenge facing the out-of-school time field?

Santini: One of the biggest challenges is staffing — finding even more of those high-quality educators, mentors and coaches who can work with and walk side by side with young people. Capacity building — finding enough resources and time to train staff — is another.

Three teens work on a hand controlled robotic hand.
Mizzen will highlight afterschool innovation, bringing together creative learning experiences developed by and for practitioners. Photo: Mike Naddeo

Mott: Given the needs of the field, what is your vision for Mizzen by Mott?

Santini: Mizzen must be more than an app or a content platform. All of the things we’re working on — the need for high-quality content and programming for young people and great professional development tips for practitioners — are fundamental. But Mizzen also has an opportunity to become more of an influencer that addresses gaps and finds solutions in the education space.

I see Mizzen becoming a platform that not only highlights great content, but also highlights who is delivering that content and how they’re doing it. This includes both the folks who deliver the instruction directly and the site leaders who are moving quality forward in their individual schools. I envision Mizzen being a channel through which we broadcast that message, capturing the great stories of what educators are doing and putting that out into the world.

What excites you about Mizzen?

Santini: I’m excited to share all the great learning resources that Mizzen is bringing online. Among these, we’re proud to announce that, this fall, Mizzen is bringing content from the Pulitzer Center based on the award-winning 1619 Project to the afterschool field. I’m excited about 1619 content simply because we’re in an era when educational equity, racial equity and social justice are an essential part of the learning experience both for adults and youth. So, this couldn’t come at a better time. I’m also excited about new content partnerships that will expand Mizzen’s library of resources on health, fitness, STEM, coding and video game design.

Where do you see Mizzen going in three years?

Santini: In three years, I see Mizzen being an entity that provides innovative solutions for educators. This may mean evolving how educators can interact with the platform so that it’s nimbler and more dynamic, allowing educators to directly engage with and modify content in ways that best suit their current situation. This also means becoming a platform that shares the learning experience with folks who want to understand how out-of-school time works — what it looks like, sounds like and feels like, as well as how curriculum comes to life. In the future, the Mizzen team and I see Mizzen becoming more of a convener, one that brings together creative and engaging educators and solutions.

At the end of the day, we want Mizzen to be designed with the user in mind. As we build, we want afterschool educators to continue to be part of Mizzen’s growth and development. We know that emerging curriculum — content that’s designed by teachers for teachers and that responds to kids’ needs — oftentimes generates the most interest because it’s built with the realities of the teaching and learning space in mind. We want afterschool educators, coaches, mentors and facilitators to own Mizzen just as much as we do.