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Q&A with Ronald James of LA’s BEST

Ronald W. James, Director of Digital Learning, LA's BEST Afterschool Enrichment Program, offers insight on how using the Afterschool Tech Toolkit helps LA's BEST set a vision for digital learning and improve equity during out-of-school time.

Tell us about LA's BEST?
LA's BEST is an afterschool program serving over 25,000 students at 200 schools in Los Angeles, California.

What is your vision for digital learning?
We envision equal access to evolving technologies for students throughout LA's BEST to enrich learning experiences, build 21st-century skills and promote lifelong learning. Creating this vision has served as a solid starting point and helped the program build a robust digital learning department that now encompasses a wide range of programs and partnerships.

How are you using the Afterschool Tech Toolkit to accomplish your digital learning vision?
One example is how the Toolkit has been a valuable tool in spearheading conversations with school principals around the importance of equity and access for the students in our communities. When we are able to approach a discussion with background knowledge, the conversations are richer and have led to an increase in access at some of our schools.

How has the Afterschool Tech Toolkit helped you refine your work?
LA's BEST has used the Toolkit to examine what has worked and what didn't work and to determine new approaches, to ensure that the engagements we are offering are relevant and high-quality. For instance, the module that addresses equity through digital learning guided us through the process of identifying gaps in equity, assessing our available resources and creating a plan of action to address those gaps. We now address equity by providing quality engagements such as robotics, cybersecurity and digital journalism that expand students' horizons in STEM fields.

What's one of your favorite aspects of the Toolkit?
We especially enjoy the Toolkit's reflective process. It helps guide discussions that are relevant to the challenges facing our afterschool communities.

How has the Toolkit helped your staff?
We've used the Toolkit to enhance digital Learning training to ensure that our frontline staff have the background knowledge to move the vision forward. We have found that when staff understand and buy into the importance of equity and access, they become digital champions for LA's BEST.

What's next for LA's BEST?
As our COO, Debe Loxton, would say: "At LA's BEST, we are never fully cooked." In other words, we are always looking to improve current practices and enhance practices that are successful. The Toolkit will allow us to continue that process, by providing a solid framework of knowledge and resources from which to learn.

Although there is still much work to be done, we're glad to have the Toolkit available as we strive to achieve our goal of equity across all 200 LA's BEST sites—and will ultimately help us accomplish the vision we have for digital learning.

Get Started

The National AfterSchool Association released the Afterschool Tech Toolkit with support from Google, in May 2018. The free modular toolkit aims to maximize technology-based learning in afterschool, with an emphasis on ensuring all students have equitable access to high-quality digital learning opportunities in out-of-school time. Learn more at Afterschool Tech Toolkit.

Photo courtesy of LA's Best.