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.
East End House community center uses a holistic approach to promote the well-being, academic achievement, and successful transition to adulthood of children and youth from under-resourced families in Cambridge and surrounding communities. East End House has three core programs—Child Care, School Age and Middle School—aimed at preparing children and youth to succeed academically and socially. GENASAS (Generating and Evaluating New Adventures in Science After School) is infused in all child and youth programs with the goal of creating an early passion for STEM, building a foundation for learning STEM concepts, and exposing older youth to careers in the field and the pathways needed to attain them.
GENASAS reaches more than 150 youth each year between two sites. The School Age Program (k-5th grade) is housed at East End House and the Middle School Program (6th-8th grade) is housed at the Putnam Avenue Upper School, 1 of 4 public middle schools in Cambridge. Demographics of youth served include:
School Age Program
The program serves 54 children each day in kindergarten through fifth grade. Children are divided into groups of 12-15 based on age and grade. Each day children have a snack, homework time and enrichment classes. Classes meet in six-week units once a week for an hour. Children can choose their class schedule from a select number of classes for their age group. STEM learning is incorporated into most units, including sports and art.
Middle School Program
The program serves up to 50 youth in sixth through eighth grade each day. Each class has 8-12 students and meets in five-week units once a week for 55 minutes. The program day begins with snack and homework time, followed by enrichment classes. There is at least one STEM-specific class offered in each time slot. All classes aim to incorporate STEM concepts.
The School Age and Middle School Programs engage youth in project-based learning in the areas of biology, chemistry, engineering, environmental sciences, life sciences, mathematics and physics. Both programs align curricula with school-day learning so students engage in interactive projects that help them better understand the applications of STEM concepts. Field trips to the Museum of Science and local STEM companies like the Biogen Idec Community Lab and the Genzyme green building complement classroom learning.
School Age Program
Each unit is designed to expose youth to the STEM concepts in a variety of ways that accommodate different learning styles, including through conducting experiments, engaging with technology and creating art and literature projects. One project example is a unit on mapping that included making a topographical map out of salt-dough and creating a map of the neighborhood using footsteps as a measurement tool.
Middle School Program
A focus for middle school youth is to increase their interest in STEM careers. Project-based learning is accompanied by guest speakers from the field. In past years final projects have been the focus, but staff found youth were less engaged over time when working toward one project. This year stand-alone units have been implemented, giving more time for inquiry and to adapt the curriculum to youth interests. One project example is Light It Up! Solar Cars where youth investigate the amount of pollution produced by cars and how solar energy might alleviate this problem. Incorporating elements of the scientific method and creating their own model car, students explore the uses and challenges of solar energy.
Both programs offer social-emotional support for youth. In addition the agency offers family supports including a food pantry, parent education courses and referrals to other needed resources.
GENASAS partners with Program in Education, Afterschool and Resiliency (PEAR), an affiliate of Harvard University and McLean Hospital to evaluate and improve curriculum quality using their Dimensions of Success (DOS) tool. It is an observation tool in which observers (program staff and PEAR researchers) rate classes on a number of dimensions that have been shown to be a rubric for quality informal STEM education. The program also uses the evidence-based CARS (Child Attitudes Regarding Science) tool to measure interest and perception of STEM accessibility. Recent outcomes include:
*Approximately half the youth surveyed in the Fall 2012 semester also participated in the Spring 2011 semester.
East End House has two 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) grants - one is an Exemplary Grant for its School Age Program and the second is a collaborative grant with the Cambridge Public Schools for the Middle School Program. Major sources of funding include:
What feature of your program do you think has been most crucial for success?
What were some of the challenges the program faced in its early stages?
What advice would you have for programs that want to integrate STEM?