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.
Through Global Kids, students are empowered to take action on critical issues facing their communities and our world. Since 2000, Global Kids has pioneered the use of digital media and STEM-based programs with students in underserved communities. Through programs designing video games, virtual worlds, social media, and other forms of participatory media, youth involved in Global Kids programs have had the opportunity to have their voices heard and make a global impact. Today, their program has changed names to Digital Learning and Leadership (DLL), reflecting the evolution of Global Kids tech programs. Moving outside of strictly online spaces to include makerspace environments and by utilizing open source technologies, these programs create hands-on leadership and community building opportunities for students and help them acquire important computer science and digital literacy skills.
Global Kids reaches students from a wide range of demographic groups that are representative of public school students in New York City and Washington DC. Both middle and high school students participate in their STEM programming and their Digital Learning and Leadership (DLL) activities, embedded across the organization, reach more than 2000 students each week. Global Kids employs a variety of successful approaches and strategies to ensure that youth of color, girls and other historically marginalized learners are fully engaged in their programs in safe and supportive environments. To equip educators with these same strategies, Global Kids incorporates best practices and effective teaching strategies into their work to ensure: (1) the creation of safe and inclusive spaces for diverse learners; and (2) the development of learning based upon culturally-relevant pedagogy.
In line with Global Kids' organizational model, the topics included in their Digital Learning and Leadership program offerings are identified and developed in collaboration with DLL participants, who tend to focus on issues that are directly impacting their lives. Global Kids' vision is to create an ever-growing network of young people from diverse backgrounds who attain leadership in all levels of society and enter fields such as international affairs, public policy, technology, and business. Through in-school, afterschool, and summer programming, Global Kids youth investigate and address critical societal and international issues that reveal the value of education and the importance of informed and engaged citizenship. As a result, Global Kids participants develop leadership and workforce readiness skills for success in the global workplace. Participants typically engage in 2 hours of programming each week, with additional time for activities such as field trips or special trainings.
Global Kids' curriculum was developed by their award-winning Digital Learning and Leadership (DLL) program, launched in response to the need for meaningful and engaging STEM programming for young people in New York City. The curriculum across their digital media programs moves beyond online spaces into makerspace environments using open source technologies, such as Raspberry Pi, Arduino, and Makey Makey kits, to create leadership and community building opportunities for their students. Through DLL, they not only provide an engaging environment with access to open-source tech tools, but also encourage participants to gain a deeper understanding of critical global and local issues, ultimately leveraging these tools to make an impact in their communities. Youth participants make original justice-oriented video games, movies, podcasts and other projects to educate their peers and the wider public on issues of concern in their lives; an example of one such game can be found here.
Global Kids has a robust internal professional development program for staff that is complemented by external learning opportunities. As a provider, Global Kids has over fifteen years of experience providing computer science professional development both locally and nationally. In New York, Global Kids provides professional development on-site at local schools and at their headquarters in Manhattan. Nationally, Global Kids has brought their programs to cities including: Washington, D.C.; Chattanooga, TN; and Houston, TX. All professional development programs are tailored to specific school needs and include customized workshops, training programs, and other requested services.
The impact of Global Kids' services is gauged through both formal and informal measures. By building in mandatory reflection time for facilitators after a professional development training, Global Kids ensures that the service is assessed and evaluated, with strengths and challenges identified and addressed. Facilitators also review evaluations completed by the participants and include that information in their reflection. Finally, facilitators make suggestions to the structure and content of the workshops based on their reflections and evaluations. These suggestions are then analyzed by the executive staff and folded into the next series of professional development trainings as needed.
Across all GK programs, 90% of youth leaders demonstrate increased leadership skills that will enable them to succeed in the 21st century. In our DLL programs in particular, at least 75% of participants consistently demonstrate increased knowledge and understanding of computational design thinking to build STEM skills and create socially conscious digital games, videos and other STEM-related work.
Funded through a combination of government grants, private and corporate foundations, and individual donors.
Advice for Success
What's been most crucial for your program's success?
One of the most crucial components of our program's success has been our dynamic staff whose pedagogical knowledge, technical capacity, and willingness to undergo continuous improvement to refine our program design has resulted in cutting-edge curriculum and programmatic experiences for our participants. Our curriculum responds to the needs and interests of a diverse set of learners, by involving them as key players in shaping the content, structure, and goals of the program. At the same time, we expose participants to human rights and global issues, introducing them to topics that they may not have otherwise known about and connecting these topics to what is going on in their own communities.
What were some of the challenges the program faced in its early stages?
We started up much of our STEM programming at the turn of the century, at a time when digital space was conceived of in a rather narrow way. We have had to evolve our practices to ensure we are staying on the vanguard of learning that transcended the online/offline divide to prepare youth with the skills that they would need to succeed in the technologically-immersive future. In the beginning, there was little appreciation or understanding of what it means position youth to use digital tools for social change and empower youth for post-secondary success as well as career readiness and job skill development.
For afterschool programs new to offering STEM, what's your advice?
Work to refine your curricular design and pedagogical approach to ensure that your delivery of programming operates at the highest level and that your stated outcomes of your work reflect the content of your afterschool programs. Focus on cultivating relationships with all stakeholders in the schools and communities where you work.
Let's talk partnerships! How do you develop and maintain them?
From its inception, Global Kids has been cultivating strong partnerships across municipal bodies, academic institutions and civil society. Our work is enhanced by our strong partnerships, including longstanding relationships working alongside the New York City Department of Education, the Department of Youth and Community Development, the Washington DC public schools, as well as the Council on Foreign Relations. We have also been core members of a number of professional learning networks including involvement with the Partnership for After School Education and the Hive NYC Digital Learning Network.
How does your program support students traditionally underrepresented in STEM?
Our program centers the experiences and expertise of traditionally underrepresented students in STEM in all that we do. Our programming is designed to be culturally relevant, responsive and sustaining, with pedagogical practices that elevate the lives and stories of those populations that are frequently marginalized in STEM and other professionalized spheres. For example, our Playing 4 Keeps video game design program foreground issues faced by students in their communities and our world. Our Girl Hack program intentionally engages young women and gender non-conforming youth in STEM learning and design activities.
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The Afterschool Alliance is working to ensure that all children have access to affordable, quality afterschool programs. Afterschool programs are critical to children and families today, yet the need for programs is far from being met. Learn more