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.
Save The Bay was founded in 1970 on the desire to protect the Narragansett Bay. For many years, Save The Bay has been offering students meaningful hands-on experiences to improve environmental literacy and introduce them to scientific processes through the Explore The Bay afterschool program. Save The Bay believes that education is an integral part of its mission. It encourages the creation of young environmental stewards. Only when today’s children learn to understand the fragile ecology of the estuary and form personal connections with it, can we expect that they will take the steps needed to protect the Bay now and in the future.
80% of our afterschool participants are from large urban districts in Rhode Island that are identified as “in need”. On average, we work with 15 students per afterschool program from kindergarten through 8th grade. These programs run for approximately eight weeks per session and we provide three sessions per year. With a new group of students each session, we have made, on average, a total of 360 contacts per year through afterschool programs. We are currently partnering with 10 sites.
The Explore The Bay program accepts a maximum of 18 students and are led by one or two Save The Bay educators, depending on the needs of the program. Programming may take place at off-site (at a school or community center) or at the Save The Bay Center, Aquarium, or onboard one of Save The Bay’s education vessels. Sessions range from 8-10 weeks, meeting once or twice per week and last for one to two hours. Programs throughout the session are uniformly structured, beginning with an opening activity, followed by an inquiry-based lesson, and concluding with a game or craft.
Most of our afterschool staff members are full-time educators at Save The Bay, with the majority of members possessing a degree in a science-related field. Our members also receive trainings on content and attend professional development opportunities.
Explore The Bay programming incorporates science and technology into lessons. Most sessions conclude with an ending celebration or project presentation. Students have the opportunity to present knowledge gained through any media type to their peers. Past presentations have included posters, verbal presentations, crafts, videos and PowerPoint presentations. Depending on the educators or student interest, lessons may build upon each other or they may be stand-alone lessons with each lesson relating to the Narragansett Bay ecosystem and its watershed. All of our programs offer students the chance to experience Narragansett Bay as a living classroom. Each program is aligned with national Rhode Island’s grade span expectations and curriculum is developed by our full-time educators.
During one afterschool session, students explored topics such as watersheds, crustaceans, plankton, mollusks, marine mammals and many more. During these lessons, students are given opportunities to hold and identify live animals, use microscopes to identify species of plankton after catching their own sample, dissect a squid to examine internal and external anatomy and observe an animal’s anatomy closer by exploring models.
Explore The Bay aims to improve students’ environmental literacy and introduce them to scientific processes through meaningful hands-on, inquiry based lessons. In order for educators to evaluate student learning, educators conduct a pre and post survey. The survey provides insight as to what key concepts students understand as well as their opinions on environmental stewardship. The pre and post surveys were created based off of a third party professional evaluator who audited the education program in 2010. Throughout the session, students may also keep daily journals and conclude with a project or presentation reflecting the knowledge gained throughout the session.
During a Fall 2012 afterschool session, participating students showed an overall increase in content knowledge related to Narragansett Bay. Also, 100% of students said they were interested in learning about plants and animals after participating in the program. Students from another Fall 2012 afterschool program also showed an increase in content knowledge. In addition, 100% of the students responded that they would like to take better care of their environment.
By the end of Save The Bay’s Explore The Bay program we hope the students will feel more empowered with their scientific and local knowledge of Narragansett Bay to pass it along to their families and friends. Often, families are invited to end of session celebrations at community locations where students can showcase the knowledge gained. If a marine science or seal cruise is included during the session, parents may be invited to attend if there is space available.
We work with a combination of school districts and community-based organizations, and most of our partners are from urban school districts. Some examples include Providence After School Alliance, local YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs. Some of the schools we partner with have Title 1 or Turnaround status or receive 21st Century Community Learning Center (21stCCLC) funds.
All Explore The Bay programming is fee based. We receive private funding through various education-based foundations, private donors, and fees for services.
Advice for Success
What feature of your program do you think has been most crucial for success?
One, we build lasting relationships with our program partners and strengthen these relationships by offering programs that contour to our partners’ needs. Our hands-on field-based programs have a well-known reputation in our state for engaging and exciting participants in marine science--we’ve gone from having to seek out partners to being sought out.
Two, our afterschool programs are conducted by a dedicated, professional staff. Full time staff members go through rigorous hiring practices and Ameri-Corps members receive special training programs. To cultivate our staff, we take advantage of professional development opportunities offered by groups throughout the state.
What were some of the challenges the program faced in its early stages?
One challenge Explore The Bay faced was communicating to afterschool groups that this program was available and we had to be vigilant in getting the message out. We also dedicated someone to be our afterschool program manager who continues communicating with afterschool programs and works to obtain new partnerships.
What advice would you have for programs that want to integrate STEM?
If an afterschool program wants to integrate STEM, begin by talking to the science coordinators or liaisons at schools. Make sure you integrate science standards into the program and demonstrate how the program is connected to state standards. If you are providing a service to a customer, it is important to connect with them and make sure you are serving what they need and want. Funders also want to see that afterschool programs are integrating science standards into the programs, so it is necessary.
Any additional insights?
It is important to diversify revenue sources that can help support operational needs, as afterschool budgets are limited. We created a fund specifically for the education program and the afterschool program that donors can give to directly. Since our programs are fee-based, we are able to subsidize program costs based on the group that wants to work with us.
For more information, please contact Bridget Kubis Prescott, Director of Education, at email@example.com.
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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