How do successful afterschool STEM programs do it?
These innovative afterschool programs offer impactful STEM programming to diverse populations. Read on to hear their advice for success and to learn about their program structure, evaluation results and partnership models.
The Clubhouse Network
Founded in 1993, The Clubhouse provides a creative, safe, and free out-of-school learning environment where youth from underserved communities work with adult mentors to explore their own ideas, develop skills, and build self-confidence through the use of technology. The Clubhouse empowers youth to become more capable, creative, and confident learners. In support of that mission, The Clubhouse Network supports community-based Clubhouses around the world by providing start-up support, professional development, technology innovations, evaluation, partnership opportunities, and access to an online community for youth, mentors, and staff.
Today, The Clubhouse Network is a global community comprised of 100 Clubhouses in 18 countries, providing 25,000 youth with access to resources, skills, and experiences to help them succeed in their careers, contribute to their communities, and lead outstanding lives. Across U.S. sites, 70% of students receive Free and Reduced Price Lunch, and the majority of participants are young people of color. 15% of participants are Limited English Proficient, and an estimated 15-20% are students with special needs or disabilities.
Since its beginnings 25 years ago, the Clubhouse has been a magnet for young people from underserved communities to engage in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) learning in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them. The Clubhouse is at once an artist studio, inventor's workshop, design house, film sound stage, hackerspace, music studio, software development lab, and more. With the encouraging support of mentors from diverse fields, youth unleash their creative talents, engage in peer-to-peer learning, and develop a unique voice of their own. Popular projects in most Clubhouses include video production, audio engineering, game design, and a variety of "maker" activities blending engineering, crafts, and do-it-yourself design. Overall, our approach includes these tenets:
A drop-in program, the Clubhouse engages young people who "vote with their feet" to participate, often considering the Clubhouse a second home. Most youth come several times a week, and the average length of engagement is 4.6 years.
The Clubhouse learning approach is designed to empower youth from all backgrounds to become more capable, creative, and confident learners. This approach is grounded in research from the fields of education, developmental and social psychology, cognitive science, and youth development. It builds on research on the role of affect and motivation in the learning process, the importance of social context, and the interplay between individual and community development. It leverages new technologies to support new types of learning experiences and engage young people who may have been alienated by traditional educational approaches.
A few times each year The Clubhouse Network hosts a week-long professional development Orientation Program for new Clubhouse staff, held at the "Flagship" Clubhouse in Boston. During the week, new Clubhouse program staff from around the world explore our learning and mentoring approaches; become familiar with resources, materials, and toolkits; gain an understanding of the role staff play in the Clubhouse environment; and begin to engage with the broader global Clubhouse community.
Each year we organize a global Annual Conference for the Clubhouse community to come together, build skills, share ideas, reflect on experiences, and plan for the future. More than 150 Clubhouse staff, Directors, and partners from academia, research, government, and the corporate sector typically attend. The conference is held in a different Clubhouse host city each year.
The Clubhouse Network leverages 25 years of experience working with various partners, including federal, state, and local governments; major corporations (e.g., Best Buy, Intel, Adobe, Autodesk); universities (e.g., MIT, Stanford); and Clubhouse-hosting organizations in local communities. Drawing on these partnerships, the Clubhouse has expanded successfully and benefited from mutual collaboration and a shared commitment to the Clubhouse mission. Over the years support from Best Buy, Intel, Adobe, and other partners have provided resources that strengthen Clubhouse quality. These resources have included stipends to assist Clubhouse staff in attending our Annual Conference, college scholarships for youth participants, copies of software and physical technology, and training for staff and mentors to learn to use these tools. These kinds of resources help keep Clubhouses current, fresh, and engaging for youth.
In May 2017, Inverness Research (an independent, nonprofit evaluation firm) conducted an online survey of nearly 1,600 youth involved at Clubhouses around the world. This summary presents findings with supportive evidence based on the data analysis. The major findings from that survey are:
In 2018 the Clubhouse Network's major sources of funding were the Best Buy Foundation, U.S. Department of Justice, and the Liberty Mutual Foundation. The Clubhouse Network does not charge parent fees for program participation.
Although The Clubhouse Network is often lauded for its global reach, deep impact, and longevity, its success is due to the many community-based organizations and staff that have embraced the mission of the Clubhouse around the world, as well as to the sponsors who have supported their efforts. And, of course, it is due to the hundreds of thousands of youth who have participated in Clubhouses over the years, choosing to spend their time in positive, productive, impactful ways, and to give back to the Clubhouse community they have made their own.
When the first Clubhouse opened in the early 1990s, community technology centers were springing up in many low-income neighborhoods around the country with an eye toward addressing what eventually became known as "the digital divide." But many struggled to find ways to attract youth in meaningful ways, instead offering classes in software programs like Microsoft Word or Powerpoint, the latest computer games, or (later) free access to the Internet. Community leaders would often visit the Computer Clubhouse and marvel at the fact that teens chose of their own accord, day in and day out, to come to a place where game-playing was not allowed, and where the Internet was a tool not for passive browsing but for finding inspiration to express your own ideas and then communicate those ideas to the rest of the world. Interest in the Computer Clubhouse – in what made it work and how to go about starting other Clubhouses in other under-served neighborhoods – began to grow. However, here are some challenges the Clubhouse experienced:
As with many non-profit programs, sustainability is a challenge, in particular in difficult economic times and places. For example, at one point there were four Clubhouses in Detroit; today, there is only one. And yet, the Clubhouse speaks to so many needs that are recognized as important to strong communities and a healthy future for our youth – from workforce development to engagement in STEM fields, from building skills in problem-solving, critical thinking, and teamwork to providing a safe place for teens to spend time after-school, from empowering youth to express themselves creatively and productively to engaging youth in positive mentoring relationships with caring adults. As a result, in spite of the perennial fund-raising challenges, Clubhouse-hosting organizations that are committed to the program can find foundations, government agencies, corporations, and individuals for whom one or more of these concerns resonates.
Another challenge over the years has been the extent to which the Clubhouse learning model depends on the participation of adult mentors who can provide a consistent presence in the lives of Clubhouse youth and sustain that presence over time. The Clubhouse Network is working with corporate partners such as Best Buy to foster increased employee engagement, and is participating in projects such as Million Women Mentors to raise visibility about the need. Additionally, the Clubhouse Network was awarded funding from the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention to address these issues. Project IMPACTS (Increasing Mentor Participation and Commitment to Success) is helping Clubhouses develop institutional relationships that can facilitate the identification of mentor candidates, provide pass-through funding to support select Clubhouses in putting more resources towards mentor recruiting and management, and develop a community of practice around mentoring best practices, tools, and techniques.
The biggest piece of advice from The Clubhouse Network is that it all starts with building relationships, between the youth and the staff, and between the youth and each other. Build in lots of time for getting to know each other rather than rushing in to the "topics" for the week. Rinse, repeat each day to set the tone for the program and reinforce the relationships that are forming. For other ideas, check out the Clubhouse facilitation tips in Start Making! A Guide to Engaging Young People in Maker Activities, available free on-line or for sale from Amazon.
The Clubhouse Network keeps three things in mind when developing and nurturing partnerships:
We support youth traditionally underrepresented in STEM by removing potential barriers to participation. Our programs are typically located in communities where the population is traditionally underrepresented in STEM. They are free of charge, staffed by mentors and staff from diverse backgrounds, and empower young people to participate in ways that are meaningful and relevant to them.
Other ways we would recommend supporting youth traditionally underrepresented in STEM: