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.
Schuylkill ACHIEVE, a 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) afterschool program, provides students from grades 5 to 8 the opportunity to expand their learning beyond regular school hours. Located throughout Schuylkill County, Penn., Schuylkill ACHIEVE offers students additional instruction in academics, arts and culture, technology, life skills, and recreation. The programs STEM component, STEMovation remains the first-ever STEM-focused, school-based afterschool program component to be implemented in Schuylkill County Schools.
Schuylkill ACHIEVE is administered by Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29, an educational service agency that coordinates services for Schuylkill County Schools. For nearly 40 years, the agency has been responding to an array of educational needs and continues to monitor the needs facing all learners.
Since 2001, more than 6,000 middle school students have regularly attended Schuylkill ACHIEVE. STEMovation began in 2011 and operates at five afterschool sites within four school districts throughout rural Schuylkill County. Students enrolled in the ACHIEVE program are automatically enrolled in STEMovation, with about 275 students regularly attending.
Students participate in STEM activities for a minimum of 1-2 hours per week for the entire 36-week program year. A STEM education team, called the STEM/Career Awareness Mobilizer, moves from site to site and facilitates the STEM lessons and program development on a local/state level.
Schuylkill ACHIEVE's STEMovation programming is conducted in alignment with the existing cohort of 21st CCLC programs and their curriculum, but the program is supplemented by adding more STEM programming. For several months, students in the program explore STEM concepts with the mobile Discover STEM Lab. Students learn individually or in teams using 1 of the 4 mobile labs: physics with brick building, technology using a digital video lab, engineering with LEGOS, or math using KNEX.
In 2013, Schuylkill ACHIEVE partnered with Pennsylvania State University Schuylkill to host STEM Saturday, a day in which more than 100 afterschool students engaged in hands-on activities with Penn State Schuylkill professors to generate enthusiasm about STEM subjects as well as encouraging students to consider careers in the STEM field and achieve academic success through STEM-related subjects.
A formal evaluator indicated progress in students scores on the statewide mandated assessment for the 2012-2013 school year on both the reading and math tests. The scores correlated to progress on students report cards in reading in math, with 90.4 percent of students demonstrating satisfactory progress in math.
Staff and parent data reflected a significant increase in factors affecting the students overall school experience, including turning in homework, attendance, academic performance, self-confidence, and attitude toward school and learning. The overwhelming majority of parents gave the program outstanding scores in all areas.
Community partners enhance the afterschool program by exposing students to the relevance of STEM in everyday life beyond their school walls. Penn State University Schuylkill and Schuylkill Technology Center have been fundamental in providing STEM activities. Schuylkill ACHIEVE has also collaborated with other partners that have also provided vital resources such as time, expertise, curriculum and facilities. That list of partners includes:
Schuylkill ACHIEVEs primary funding source is the 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC) grant. An additional grant from Luzerne Workforce Investment Bureau allowed the program to identify major topics that were of current interest to students and to purchase STEM-related instructional materials. Participating school districts that host the afterschool program contribute to the budget as well by providing things like classroom space, meeting room space, janitorial services, use of technology and outside recreational areas.
What feature of your program do you think has been most crucial for success?
Given the right tools, we have witnessed our students taking charge of their own development. But to get to this point we needed to reassess our role as education providers. We realized we should not just provide the opportunities for our students to achieve good academic results but actively promote the benefits of a more diversified curriculum that appeals to all students.
What were some of the challenges the program faced in its early stages?
The Schuylkill County region and its schools are geographically restricted. Unlike populated urban areas, the county lacks major opportunities for academic or professional enhancement, such as major universities, museums, aquariums, theaters, etc. While this issue remains a challenge, the STEMovation program addresses this barrier through the utilization of field experiences.
What advice would you have for programs that want to integrate STEM?
Staff taking "ownership" of the program is essential to promoting a successful program. When teachers and employees are asked to take part in the decision making process, they are more inclined to be proactive, rather than just telling the students what they want them to do. There are also numerous trainings and various websites providing resources and showcasing best practices. For example, Y4Y is an online community designed for professionals working at 21st CCLC afterschool programs that connects them with colleagues to share what theyve learned about best practices.
What have you found to be the key roles for an afterschool program?
In the Schuylkill 21st Century Community Leaning Centers, we understand the importance of keeping enrichment activities in students daily curriculum. Enrichment activities expand on students learning in ways that differ from methods used during the school day. They often are interactive and project-focused, fostering interest for learning and developing skills in visual, performing, and literary arts. Additionally, we provide opportunities that enhance creativity and self-expression, and develop multi-cultural appreciation.
For additional questions contact:
Director of Community Based Programs
570-544-9131 ext. 1244