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.
Girlstart’s mission is to increase girls’ interest and engagement in STEM through innovative, nationally-recognized informal STEM education programs. Girlstart develops and implements a range of research- and standards-based education and mentorship programs designed to promote girls’ early engagement and academic success in STEM, encourage their aspirations and persistence in STEM education and careers, and incubate a talented and diverse STEM workforce.
Girlstart After School is an intensive intervention providing free STEM programming every week throughout the school year at partner schools. The program also provides wraparound services to support STEM in the partner school and to support participants’ families and communities.
Girlstart After School reached 2,795 girls in the 2017-2018 school year through 88 afterschool clubs hosted at schools in 23 districts in Central Texas, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Bryan, and Waco, Texas. In 2018-2019, the program is expected to continue growing, including national programs in the South Bay Area, California, and Bowton, Massachusetts.
100% of participants are girls ages 8-13.
58% are Latina, 15% African-American, 11% Caucasian, 4% Asian/Pacific Islander, 4% Native American, and 8% identify as multi-ethnic.
75% are considered at-risk, and 32% are first-generation college aspirants.
A program leader meets a club of more than 20 girls weekly for an hour of hands-on, informal STEM after school programs—aligned with state and national standards—at each school.
During the 2017-18 school year, Girlstart recruited and trained 196 STEM CREW members, who in turn led our after school programs as well as Girlstart's other out-of-school time programming.
All interns gain intensive and sequential training and immersion in informal and inquiry-based (5E) classroom strategies and curriculum that are not available through their certification programs .
Each session begins with an icebreaker, followed by 1 to 2 hands-on activities. At the end of each session, girls reflect on their experiences, share each team’s different findings, and what they have learned and how that relates to different STEM careers.
Activities build on each other as the girls explore a single topic over the course of the semester. Examples include engineering, the transfer of energy, and earth science.
Showcases of activities and lessons are held at the end of each semester.
Support to Families, Partner Schools, and Communities:
Newsletters for parents and school communities.
Science and Math nights at each partner school.
Science Extravaganzas - free, family-friendly community wide science festivals.
Pedagogic, curricular, and strategic support to STEM teaching efforts at partner schools.
Intensive internship program to prepare and train pre-service STEM teachers.
A few results from the 2017-2018 Girlstart After School program, based around three core goals:
Goal #1: Participants will demonstrate competency in conducting scientific inquiry, investigations, and reasoning and will gain competency in STEM skills.
84% of participants correctly identified all the steps of the engineering design process.
92% reported a willingness to redesign their activity if it did not work on the first try (demonstrates confidence in solving problems).
87% agreed with the statement, “I like science!”
Goal #2: Increase # of girls interested in continued/future STEM study(in high school and college), including interest in STEM electives, additional STEM study, STEM higher education, and STEM majors.
94% agree that, “if I try hard, I can be good at science.”
88% want to return to Girlstart next school year.
81% report a strong interest in taking more STEM courses in middle and high school.
93% understand that doing well in STEM in school means that they are more likely to get into college.
93% report intent to go to college.
Goal #3: Increase # of girls interested in STEM careers.
94% understand that doing well in STEM in college can lead to a better job.
70% report a strong desire to pursue a STEM career (95% report at least a moderate interest in a STEM career).
84% agree with the statement, “I feel that I can be myself at Girlstart After School.”
95% tell their friends and families about what they learn at Girlstart.
Corporations and foundations provide the main source of support to Girlstart. Individuals and governments (federal and municipal) also provide important support to their programs. A full list of funders is listed here. A partnership with NASA through their Competitive Program for Science Museums, Planetariums, and NASA Visitor Centers Plus Other Opportunities (CP4SMP+) program is allowing them to expand Girlstart After School.
Advice for Success
What challenges did the program face in its early stages?
In fall 2009, Girlstart After School was conducting four afterschool programs. We had just experienced a leadership transition and there was limited esteem for the afterschool program, primarily because the staff hadn’t been given the opportunity to nurture the programs in the way they felt was adequate.
Since that time, additional care has been applied to Girlstart After School, and the program has blossomed. When we realized how rewarding and relatively simple it was for us to scale, and when we worked specifically on making the program scale, it became very meaningful not only for our partner schools, but also for our staff. Now, Girlstart sees how the afterschool component complements its Summer Camp and other programs and that it is a vital part of the work we do.
What advice would you have for afterschool programs that want to integrate STEM?
Most of it is about creating and sustaining partnerships and by being open to new ways of solving problems. If you’re a school or a generalist afterschool program, partner with a community resource that cares about STEM—because STEM is everywhere, you’ll find something or somebody. Primarily, don’t be afraid to try new things, and don’t be intimidated by a perceived lack of acumen. Just because you don’t have a terminal degree in a STEM field doesn’t mean that you aren’t qualified to explore STEM. The main thing is to be open, explore, learn along with your after school participants, and foster a culture of inquiry and curiosity.
What advice do you have about building partnerships in your community?
It again depends on who you are. As a nonprofit who does not charge for our programs, we have the luxury of making our partnerships non-transactional. Because we have removed fees from this relationship we have been fortunate in being known among our partner schools As PARTNERS, which is really hard for many school communities to do and maintain.
Strong and collaborative school leadership is key to strong relationships. If you can’t (as an afterschool program) build relationships with schools and their leadership, you can’t be an effective—or sustainable—afterschool program. Find ways to build relationships that last, as that is the key to building an afterschool program that lasts. Even if there is some sort of transaction associated with your program, if you’re seen as valuable to school leadership, you’ll be able to build a sustainable relationship.
What have been some valuable resources that have helped your program?
The most valuable resource to us is the trust and investment that our donors make in supporting STEM education. They know that STEM education is an important key to transforming America. They see, as we do, how an increase in STEM majors will change our world. Their belief in our work—however informal it may be—allows us to strive more, and do more. With their esteem, our drive grows. It’s an infectious cycle that is always fun and engaging. And it ensures that our programs are as well!
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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