Damián Mazzotta, Board of Directors Chair
Dear LA’s BEST Community,
Bringing Community Together around caring for children is a valuable measure of our impact. We weave community into the fabric of our afterschool and summer programs because a sense of belonging, with shared goals and purpose, increases one’s agency and self-efficacy. Building Community Together with LA’s BEST students, families, staff and partners helps nurture kindness and develop advocates for equity throughout Los Angeles.
As you will read in this year’s annual report, our year-round enrichment programming with students – including arts, sports, dance, nutrition, wellness, STEM, digital learning, literacy and academic support – is developed to foster teamwork and a sense of community. Our citywide events like Dance & Drill Team Showcase and tournament sports were revitalized to tackle COVID pandemic isolation. We believe it’s working. Families are showing up as instrumental members of the LA’s BEST Community.
In-person training and Summerland brought our staff together. Staff not only learned new skills, but they also connected to support each other that helped deepen their commitment to students and the future of education in Los Angeles. Our annual staff awards recognized the incredible accomplishments and dedication of our community. I invite you to read more about the winners here in the Impact Stories section of our website.
We build community together through our partnerships with the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the philanthropic private sector. The impact and scale of our work last year, reaching students from 197 schools, their families and our workforce, was possible thanks to these partners. Admiration and many thanks to LA’s BEST nonprofit staff and our operations team led by Chief Operating Officer Dee Ann Rivera for instilling community for all our stakeholders across Los Angeles.
I am grateful for the leadership within the LA’s BEST community. It is when we come together that we are stronger and our collective efforts reverberate throughout Los Angeles, providing generational benefits.
Thank you for Building Community Together. I hope you see your support and solidarity reflected in this year‘s annual report and I look forward to continuing to build together
During the academic year, in partnership with the Beyond The Bell Branch of Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), LA’s BEST operated afterschool programs across Los Angeles, from San Pedro to Pacoima, and Venice to East LA. Students remained on campus from the dismissal bell until 6:00pm, giving families peace of mind knowing their children were engaged in experiential learning facilitated by caring adult role models building community with their peers.
The LA’s BEST Summer Learning Program, also operated in collaboration with LAUSD, provided students with access to fun experiential learning opportunities from 8:00am to 6:00pm, from June 13 to July 28. Without this support, research shows that children from low-income families lose more than two months of reading achievement every summer compared to their more affluent peers. For another summer, LA’s BEST continued to help prevent learning loss for LA’s BEST students.
Experiential learning – learning through action, experiences and intentional reflection – has always been the backbone of our enrichment programming. We are grateful for support from individuals, foundations, corporations, and the City of Los Angeles, enabling LA’s BEST to implement enrichment programs, and for our students and staff to come together and build community.
Here is a snapshot of enrichment at LA’s BEST during the academic year 2022-2023 and summer 2023:
Students were engaged in high-quality experiential learning led by local professional teaching artists. We proudly supported the local artists community! Residencies operated for 20 hours over four to eight weeks and included: Ballet Folklorico, drama theater, painting, story-telling, guitar, percussion drumming, keyboard, ceramics and so much more.
We were able to offer the seasonal tournament sports opportunities we offered prior to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the year students competed in flag football, soccer, softball and basketball. These sporting events brought LA’s BEST families together which nurtured a sense of community, critically important as we continued to rebuild after years of isolation.
After a hiatus of all our citywide events due to the COVID pandemic, we reignited the Dance & Drill Team Showcase! Students choreographed and practiced their routines throughout the academic year and performed their best at the showcase. This iconic LA’s BEST event brought together students, staff volunteers and families for a lively and energetic full day of dance and fostered a sense of pride to be involved with LA’s BEST.
Students learned about nutrition through experiential learning like how to read food labels and how to make healthy and affordable snacks, such as low-sugar ice cream and fruit-infused water. Supporting students and their families to learn about wellness helps our community build for now and into the future.
Every school day, all students were encouraged to participate in at least 30-minutes of physical activity that nurtured self-confidence and teamwork. Building a strong sense of community through physical activity and play has the power to help tackle mental health issues exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.
Staff participated in weekend training led by LEGO® Education Trainers on how to engage students in designing with LEGOS around narrative-based problem-solving that inspired students to think independently as STEM creators.
Students participated in residencies taught by local professionals with expertise in STEM on topics based on students’ expressed interests and aligned with their grade level and academic objectives. Focus areas included: film and technology, robotics, and coding.
The KidzLit and LA Kings Royal Readers programs helped boost students’ literacy skills and fostered a love of reading. Working in small groups led by staff, students had opportunities to express their feelings and explore ideas based on the books they heard and read.
Students were invited to become autobiographical authors by publishing their own book as they investigated the origin of their family name and culture, while having fun learning through language arts lessons.
Staff supported each student’s academic achievement by assisting them with their homework. Staff also helped bridge communication between teachers and families, helping students thrive during school and afterschool.
The Staff Development Department expanded to include six new people working to ensure site staff have the training, tools, and resources they need to support students and themselves. This year, 257 site staff completed New Staff Orientation and over 600 site staff attended training sessions such as: LA’s BEST Values and Youth Development Principles, Successful Learning Environments, Building Relationships with Students, and Anti-Racist Journey: Designing Culturally Relevant Learning Experiences.
A significant component of our employment model is to hire staff from the communities where we work. Thanks to a grant from The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, we launched an innovative initiative to explore how LA’s BEST can provide pathways for our program staff to successfully and possibly simultaneously pursue careers in education, social services, or whatever they choose as part of their employment with LA’s BEST. Stay tuned for more information on this initiative as we continue to examine and create new means to invigorate the local workforce while positioning our program staff for their own career success.
We established the Leadership Department, stemming from our Staff Development Department, which created customized leadership training to help site staff grow as leaders and learn how to compassionately develop and nurture their team. So far, 80 staff participated in the pilot sessions in topics such as: Leading with Compassion, Managing Difficult Conversations, Making a Difference: Coaching, and Thoughtful Feedback.
LA’s BEST celebrated the incredible dedication and achievements of staff who go above and beyond to support students, their families, and one another. As always, there were many wonderful submissions for the awards and it was challenging to single out just one winner.
This year, 260 staff members attended Summerland, an energetic annual community event, resource and technical assistance fair for LA’s BEST site staff to connect, share opportunities and learn new skills to benefit students. Unique training topics included Create Your Own Manga, iMovie, Indi Cars and Collaborative Mural Art.
As we continue to meet the needs of families living in economically distressed neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles, Laura Beebe, Vice President of Public Partnerships and Policy led LA’s BEST to further strengthen our foundational partnerships with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and the City of Los Angeles.
The 2022-23 school year was full of highlights with our public partners. Mayor Karen Bass has been a longtime champion of LA’s BEST and demonstrated her commitment by more than doubling City funding in her very first budget. We are deeply grateful for Mayor Bass’s leadership and her impact on the communities we serve together.
This funding increase came at a critical moment, helping LA’s BEST build capacity as we continued working towards a statewide vision of afterschool for all. Achieving this vision would not be possible without our partners at LAUSD, and alongside Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and the Beyond The Bell Branch, the LA’s BEST community is proud to be preparing students to be ready for the world!
The success of LA’s BEST relies on our incredible community of supporters. Special thanks to our Advocacy Committee and Chair Peter Hidalgo, as well as everyone who supported our public partnerships this year. We look forward to continuing our work together!