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:
26% identify as Hispanic/Latino; 37% as African-American; 25% as Caucasian; 3% as Asian; 2% as Native American and 7% as multi-racial or other
14% speak a language other than English as their primary language
75% are from low-income families and more than 90% from low or low-moderate income families
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:
Results of the Fall 2012 CARS survey showed that 71.5% of youth in the GENASAS program believe that science classes will help prepare them for college.
50% of youth taking the CARS survey after the Fall 2012 semester noted they would like to pursue a STEM career, compared to 33% in Spring 2011*.
*Approximately half the youth surveyed in the Fall 2012 semester also participated in the Spring 2011 semester.
21st CCLC professional development (staff development)
Boston Progress: East Meets West (facilities)
Cambridge Agenda for Children (staff development)
Cambridge Creativity Commons (facilities and curriculum)
Cambridge Middle School Network (staff development)
Cambridge Science Festival
Catalyst Cooking Project (science of food and nutrition)
Program in Education, Afterschool & Resiliency (PEAR) (staff development and program evaluation)
Strong Women Strong Girls (mentoring and profile woman of color in STEM professions)
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:
Biogen Idec Foundation
Genzyme, a Sanofi Company
Advice for Success
What feature of your program do you think has been most crucial for success?
Meaningful child-adult relationships are essential to engaging youth. If staff are supportive role models, youth will be more willing to engage in science projects they may not have tried otherwise.
STEM curriculum is relevant to youth’s lives and incorporates their interests. Offering a variety of STEM activities also helps to engage youth who are not normally drawn to STEM.
Communication with the schools to align curriculum is vital. This allows projects to make meaning out of concepts youth are learning in school, thus increasing their content learning.
What were some of the challenges the program faced in its early stages?
Creating curriculum that would be engaging in an afterschool setting that would be academic in nature yet not “feel like school.
Forming a powerful collaboration between afterschool and the school day, with each respecting and supporting the other’s culture and goals.
What advice would you have for programs that want to integrate STEM?
Be creative and incorporate STEM concepts into a variety of classes.
Build partnerships with experts in the field, which can include researchers, universities and STEM professionals. This will greatly enhance the experiences programs are able to offer youth.
Become familiar with the various learning styles and design curriculum that is varied enough to focus on all of them. This is important in engaging youth who may not think of themselves as “good at” science in school.
Incorporate real world examples of STEM problem solving (through science activities, engineering projects, architectural studies, etc.). This helps to show youth how STEM is in their everyday lives as well as start them thinking about future careers.
Harness the creativity and interests of staff. If a staff member is interested in a particular STEM topic, ask him or her to create in-depth curricula on that topic (making sure it follows best practices in curriculum and is evaluated and tweaked). We have found harnessing the passion of staff helps to excite the youth.
Develop investigative and exploratory curriculum to help students understand how STEM topics are studied further in college as well as utilized in the workplace. This curriculum must be informed by rigorous evaluation.
For more information, please contact Rebecca Gallo, Senior Director of Evaluation and Development at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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