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.
Techbridge inspires girls to discover a passion for technology, science, and engineering. Through hands-on learning, we empower the next generation of innovators and leaders. With fun, educational, hands on projects, Techbridge afterschool programs open up the world of STEM to underserved girls. From tackling the challenge of designing a prosthetic hand for the disabled, building a customized gumball machine or learning the fundamentals of chemical engineering by mixing their own lip balm, Techbridge brings STEM alive for girls through projects with real-world applications.
Techbridge Girls serves more than 600 girls in grades 4-12 at 30 schools in Oakland, San Jose, Greater Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Across all sites, 67 percent of students receive free and reduced price lunch, and the majority of participants are students of color.
There are three key pieces to our program model:
Research-based curricula developed with girls in mind, and designed to spark and sustain an interest in STEM fields as well as to make connections with STEM careers.
Career exploration opportunities facilitated through role model visits by volunteers and field trips to local engineering and technology companies.
Family engagement fostered through Family Nights, hosted by each individual program twice a year. Here, students are able to showcase their skills by completing activities with family members as well as share what they have learned.
A typical Techbridge Girls afterschool program is hosted at a school site by a teacher and a Techbridge Girls program coordinator. Afterschool programs meet once a week for two hours at school sites throughout the academic school year.
Programs start with a snack and then lead into a short icebreaker. Icebreakers play an important role in the success of each program. They have multiple goals and allow girls to practice team-building skills, learn relevant science content needed for the main activity, and practice public speaking skills.
The remaining time is spent on a hands-on activity that is focused on STEM topics, problems or issues. Curriculum is broken down into several units, each with a different science, technology or engineering focus. The last part of the program is a time for the girls to reflect on what they have done—they write individually in journals and share with a large group discussion, in pairs, or in small groups. These opportunities help them become more confident with public speaking.
As part our rigorous, outcomes-based evaluation plan, we expect that girls will:
Learn new technical skills and how things work
Feel more confident trying new challenges
Learn that teamwork is good for solving problems
Know more about different kinds of jobs
Be more interested in a career in technology, science, and engineering
Consider engineering as a career path
Expanding the Reach
We hire staff with at least a bachelor’s degree and often are able to recruit individuals with master’s degrees or above in the sciences. We also look for at least two years background in teaching and/or youth development. If an applicant does not have a science background, we look for experience delivering some sort of pre-written curriculum and evidence of that person’s willingness to acquire topical knowledge, beyond direct training. However, our training is extensive. All Program Coordinators (PCs) attend a one-week on-boarding session in the summer and then are trained on the particulars of their regional office operations by their respective regional leads. The work of PCs is supported by multiple field guides/manuals, which provide detailed instruction about how to implement our program design. In addition, once the school year begins, PCs attend a bi-weekly curriculum roundtable, to review and work with lesson materials in real time. They also attend bi-weekly all staff meetings to receive professional development on other topics, such as the latest research related to our work, strategic changes in the organization, etc. Finally, PCs attend monthly program staff meetings, where they discuss program policies, upcoming events, and other planning topics. All PCs receive background checks before they are hired, are trained to detect and report child abuse and maltreatment, and are first aid certified.
Training STEM Professionals
STEM professionals serving as mentors and role models offer tremendous benefits to youth. Recognizing their importance, Techbridge has developed customized resources and training for role models to prepare them for working with girls. We also created the online Role Models Matter toolkit, with video tutorials to train role models, as well as activities and icebreakers for them to use with students.
Techbridge has a strong track record of forging successful local and national partnerships. We engage these partners in a conversation on school success for underserved girls and diversity and equity in STEM education. Our partners include Girl Scouts of the USA, YMCA of the USA, the Society of Women Engineers, Somali Family & Youth Center, and Highline (WA), San Jose (CA), Oakland (CA), and Washington (D.C.) public school systems.
Funder relationships include the National Science Foundation, Chevron Corporation, S.D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation, the Hearst Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Google, NVIDIA, Samsung, Elastic Corp, Symantec, and the National Institutes of Health. We do not charge parent fees.
Advice for Success
Q1 | What's been most crucial for Techbridge's success?
Techbridge is able to produce high impact due to its intensive, hands-on and research-based curriculum. We also provide field trips, visits from women working in the STEM fields, and family night events. The implementation and coordination of these program elements requires highly educated and experienced staff. We also support the model with intensive, external evaluation and research.
Q2 | What were some of the challenges the program faced in its early stages?
One of our main struggles is attendance and retention in our after-school programs. Many factors contribute to this challenge, such as girls being asked to take care of younger siblings, competing after school activities, lack of transportation home, safety concerns after dark, and at times a lack of commitment from parents and guardians . We are generally able to meet our enrollment goals of 20-25 girls per site, in all of our age groups, but while attendance stays steady at an average of 75% in the fall, it drops to about 65% in the spring. We are addressing this challenge in our strategic planning process and the development of new programmatic approaches. One consideration is to limit the program to a fall and spring-only program. The concern is whether this would provide time to complete projects and allow girls to fully explore science concepts, as this is an opportunity few students are provided in other afterschool programs or in school. A reduced schedule would also limit the complexity of projects we can introduce and reduce the time for field trips and role model visits. It is a serious consideration, given the resources we expend to deliver the program to fewer girls in the spring, although perhaps the issue of retention is offset by the valuable educational experience provided to the girls completing the program.
Q3 | For afterschool programs new to offering STEM, what's your advice?
Set staff up for success with these program management tips:
Provide planning time for staff running activities to try out the activities they’ll lead ahead of time to help identify where youth may struggle and how best to manage materials, groupings, etc.
Set aside storage space. Often STEM activities are materials-intensive and require non-disposable tools that need to be stored for future uses. And for longer projects that span more than one session, having a safe place to store projects becomes important.
Ensure adequate engagement. Structure STEM programs for at least 60 minutes when possible, as this allows for youth to engage in the STEM activity more fully rather than simply setting up, getting an introduction, and then having just a few minutes to work before having to clean up again.
Q4 | Let's talk partnerships! How do you develop and maintain them?
Map current resources and brainstorm how to expand upon them.
Identify parents who may have something to offer or contacts of interest.
Research potential partners with a common goal, and identify ways both parties benefit from partnering.
Agree upon expectations, goals, communication preferences, and timelines, and know who will be responsible for ensuring all parties adhere to them.
Q5 | How does your program support students traditionally underrepresented in STEM?
We strive to inspire girls in underserved communities to discover a passion for science, technology and engineering. We give them access to the hands-on learning and real-world exposure they need to pursue their dreams and careers. A staff member dedicated to developing curriculum ensures that best practices and new ideas for supporting students from underserved communities are infused into our program model.
We also work with families, role models, school districts and partners to provide the guidance they need to support girls and set them on the path to success. We believe in the possibility of every girl having the power to change the world.
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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