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.
The mission of Techbridge Girls (TBG) is to excite, educate and equip girls from low income communities to pursue STEM careers and achieve economic mobility and better life chances. To achieve our mission, we design high-quality, girl-centric STEM programs and learning experiences and we train educators to deliver our unique programs to marginalized girls across the U.S. TBG envisions a world where all girls have opportunities to lead, contribute and thrive in STEM. Because STEM careers are fast growing, better paid, have lower unemployment rates and greater occupational mobility, they are uniquely able to support economic mobility, especially for girls from low-income communities.
Techbridge Girls programs directly benefit over 700 girls attending public schools in its California, Pacific Northwest and Washington D.C. regions. TBG partners with Title-I public schools whose populations are predominately students from low-income and ethnic minority households. Of the girls we serve, on average 70% qualify for free/reduced price meals, approximately 35% are non-native English speakers, and the majority are underrepresented minorities (Latina, Multiethnic, African American). Over 80% will be the first in their families to attend college. On average 60% come from families with less than $40,000/year in household income.
There are five “Essential Elements” for high-quality, equitable STEM programs for girls within all TBG program models:
Gender- and Culturally-Responsive STEM Programming: Girls have hands-on, minds-on opportunities to experience STEM that reflect girls’ diverse communities.
Inclusive and Accessible Programs: Programs foster a sense of belonging and enable all girls to meaningfully participate and feel valued for who they are.
Opportunities for Youth Empowerment: A youth development approach empowers girls by building leadership and strong social and emotional skills.
Extensive Career Exploration: Role models, field trips to STEM companies, and hands-on STEM activities expose girls to a wide variety of careers.
Broad Network of Support: Programs develop a network of support for girls’ STEM interest that includes educators, families, STEM workplaces, role models and organizations.
Through a progressive program model, from elementary to high school, girls experience immersive hands-on STEM activities with real-world connections in a gender and culturally responsive environment. Our best-in-class STEM programming is fun and inquiry based. Each unit engages the girls in hands-on activities such as reverse engineering a hair dryer, soldering parallel circuits, formulating their own lip balm or designing computer games in Scratch code. Activities draw on girls’ interests and lived experiences and show them that STEM can be used to creatively solve social problems. To break the damaging gender stereotypes they’ve internalized, we use classroom visits and field trips to expose girls to women’s achievements in STEM and introduce them to STEM role models and mentors who share common backgrounds.
In addition, Techbridge Girls is recognized as a national leader in STEM learning. As a response to the increasing demand for Techbridge Girls’ after-school STEM programs, we offer a suite of services for professional development (PD). The purpose of our PD programs is to build the capacity of nonprofits and other out-of-school time educators to provide high quality STEM enrichment experiences for youth and to increase access to high quality STEM programs for youth from low-income communities. Our programs also teach practitioners how to effectively attend to the unique social and emotional needs of girls from minority, low-income and under-resourced communities. Our PD services for nonprofits include intensive capacity building, customized workshops, role model training, STEM curriculum and online resources.
Our afterschool program outcomes include increasing girls’: (1) STEM content knowledge and skills (2) awareness of STEM careers and their pursuit of studies and careers in these fields, and (3) leadership, confidence, teamwork, and critical thinking skills.
Techbridge Girls is supported by a diversified mix of funding from local and national donors, gifts from corporate and private foundations, and local school districts. 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