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Not The Onion: Horses, surfboards, and cyberattacks in afterschool

By Jodi Grant

Photo by Pete Markham

Despite a wealth of research showing the importance of afterschool and widespread popularity with parents, students, teachers and community leaders, programs have never been more threatened. This week the president decided to double down on his call to eliminate afterschool funding in his 2018 budget proposal, leaving 1.6 million kids’ with no where to go after school. It’s a serious matter with implications for Americans across the country.  The cut has caught the attention of major national media, local media across the country, and late night comedians and Saturday Night Live.  

The Afterschool Alliance isn’t exempt from the heightened publicity. On Monday, we had our first mention in The Onion, which wrote a satirical piece on the Secretary of Education’s new plan to replace 21st Century Community Learning Centers with afterschool polo programs across the country.

I was flattered to be mentioned, but as in all great satire, the piece contained a lot of truth. If the Secretary of Education did call me, I’d be thrilled to tell her about pretty amazing afterschool programs. I haven’t heard of afterschool polo yet, but given the creativity and ingenuity local communities across the nation have developed, I would not be surprised. Afterschool programs keep kids safe, boost student success, and help working families – and quite often, they also blow your mind.



Weekly Media Roundup: April 26, 2017

By Luci Manning

After-School Programs Merit Support (Omaha World-Herald, Nebraska)

Jeff Cole, network lead for afterschool program Beyond the Bells, and Catherine Lang, director of the Nebraska Business Development Center at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, outline how afterschool programs are building the workforce of the future in the Omaha World-Herald: “Nebraska’s after-school and summer programs are helping grow a new kind of workforce: one that is STEM-literate, entrepreneurial and innovative. Through partnerships with community experts, kids in Nebraska’s after-school programs from Omaha to Sidney are learning how to extract DNA from strawberries, build and program robots, launch new businesses, develop coding skills – and much more…. Supporting after-school programs in general and after-school STEM programs in particular is a healthy, smart investment in our communities’ futures.”  

Blankets for Bogota (Klamath Falls Herald and News, Oregon)

Around 20 students in Ponderosa Middle School’s afterschool program are combining their math and art skills to help a suffering community. The students are making blankets to send to Bogota, Colombia, to help those who survived recent floods and landslides. “It’s fun making the blankets and I like that it’s going to go to somebody in need,” eighth-grader Serenity Best told the Klamath Falls Herald and News. Instructors will help the students research the city of Bogota and Colombia and study the impact of flooding on families in the country, and students will include photos of themselves along with the blankets to add a personal touch to the transfer.

Programs Benefit Kids (Deseret Morning News, Utah)

About 100 business leaders, educators and politicians came together last week to discuss the need for further investment in afterschool programs in Utah. “It’s really a low-cost way for kids to be able to stay engaged during those critical after-school hours, but also learn to be better citizens,” Utah Afterschool Network executive director Kelly Riding told the Deseret News. The meeting was partially in response to President Trump’s budget proposal, which would eliminate funding for the 21st Century Community Learning Center program. A loss of funding could impact about 57,000 Utah students.

Tiny Camdenton Is Home to One of Missouri’s Best High School Robotics Programs (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Missouri)

Camdenton High School isn’t just known for football anymore – in the past few years, afterschool robotics have taken the school district by storm. The program is so popular that one in 14 students districtwide is somehow involved in afterschool robotics and the elementary schools hold a lottery to select participants. The program has inspired many of its graduates to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) after they leave high school – 92 percent of its students go on to either study STEM in college or go directly to working in a STEM field, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Afterschool Ambassador Sherry Comer is the afterschool director for the Camdenton district. 

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learn more about: Budget Robotics


Weekly Media Roundup: February 22, 2017

By Luci Manning

SHINE Afterschool Program Students Donate Blankets to Ruth’s Place (Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader, Pennsylvania)

Students in a STEAM-focused afterschool program recently used their skills to give back to those in need in their community. Middle school students in the SHINE afterschool program made blankets by double-knotting strips of fabric, and then donated the finished products to Ruth’s Place, a temporary shelter for homeless women. “It was a chance to do something with friends and to do something for other people,” 13-year-old Rita Palchanis told the Times-Leader. The blanket donation was the first part of the program’s new community service initiative called “Giving Back through Engineering.”

New Big Brothers Big Sisters Program Taking Root in Blacksburg (Roanoke Times, Virginia)

Adults and children are pairing up to learn about science as part of the new Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center Mentoring Program, an offshoot of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southwest Virginia. Through the program, 33 adult “bigs” are paired with “littles” to perform science experiments, work on art projects and spend time bonding and learning from each other. Mentors act as positive role models for the youths while maintaining a friendly, casual relationship. “We do experiments a lot in science [class], but not like this,” 12-year-old Jaseph Cagas told the Roanoke Times.

Lego Robots Help Teach Kids about Engineering, Math (Deseret News, Utah)

While building things out of Legos and playing computer games may seem like plain fun, students in the Zaniac science and technology program are actually picking up valuable engineering and technical skills in their afterschool sessions. The program stresses hands-on experience and peer-based learning to engage young people in STEM subjects. “We try to give kids that opportunity, not teach in a lecture-based environment where we stand at the front of the class,” Zaniac franchise development manager Zane Brandt told the Deseret News. “Put something in their hands that may be too advanced for them and let them learn as they play.”

Kenney, Hite Announce Afterschool Program for All Philly Students (Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania)

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is building on the pre-kindergarten and community schools plan he launched last year with a new Out-of-School Time Initiative, which he announced last Thursday with Managing Director Mike DiBerardinis and School Superintendent William Hite Jr. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the initiative will be rolled out over several years, funded both by the city and partnerships with the school district and philanthropic foundations. The program aspires to involve all 250,000 students in the city in out-of-school time programs over the next seven years. The initiative will focus on literacy for kindergarten through third-grade students and workforce development for ninth- through twelfth-graders. 

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learn more about: Robotics Science Service Literacy


Weekly Media Roundup: January 11, 2017

By Luci Manning

Congressional Delays Leave Programs Hanging (News & Observer, North Carolina)

Writing in the News & Observer, Afterschool Ambassador Betsey McFarland explains the uncertainty that comes with congressional budget delays: “The delay in adopting a full-year federal budget means that states won’t know how much money they’ll have for 21st century grants to pass down to afterschool programs this year… At a time when there aren’t nearly enough afterschool programs to meet the need, our federal budget process should provide certainty and support – not present additional challenges.”

Governor Eyes New Child Care Credit (Daily Gazette, New York)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced two new proposals meant to ease the burden on working parents – a middle-class child care tax credit and a new pilot program to create afterschool slots in high-need areas, according to the Daily Gazette. The tax credit will help more than 200,000 families afford professional, quality day care, and the $35 million pilot program will aim to create 22,000 afterschool slots in places like Albany and Troy. “This newly enhanced credit will make it easier for more New Yorkers to be able to secure day care and able to enter or stay in the workforce with peace of mind,” Cuomo said.

Future Meets Steam Punk (La Porte County Herald-Argus, Indiana)

The FIRST Robotics Competition announced its theme for 2017 this weekend: connecting robotics to the steam engines that powered the Industrial Revolution. In this year’s game, teams will spend six weeks building robots that can gather fuel and gears for models of steam-powered airships for a timed competition. RoboBlitz team member Rishi Verma, a Michigan City high school senior, said the afterschool program has taught him about both engineering and how to work as a group. “It’s more than just building a robot. It builds character,” he told the La Porte County Herald-Argus.

Their Safe Place to Grow (Houston Chronicle, Texas)

Workshop Houston, an afterschool program that started as a bike repair shop, has been giving youths from troubled backgrounds a place to learn and try new things for more than a decade. Workshop Houston has four different activities for students to participate in—fashion design, music, dance and tutoring—and provides a safe haven for those who may have nowhere else to go after school. “We’re dealing with children in gangs, coming from toxic homes,” Bryant Christopher, who oversees the tutoring program, told the Houston Chronicle. “If this program didn’t exist, who knows where they would be?” 



Weekly Media Roundup: September 14, 2016

By Luci Manning

In a Class of Their Own (Bergen County Record, New Jersey)

A robotics club at John F. Kennedy High School has helped three students from difficult backgrounds become the first members of their families to attend a four-year college. Syrian refugee Rasha Alrifae, Bangladeshi immigrant Muhammad Naeem and lifelong Paterson resident Zyheir Williams all found a “second home” in the afterschool club, according to the Bergen County Record. The program helped Alrifae learn English and pushed her to major in biology. Naeem learned to code in three programming languages and pursued computer science classes at a local community college. Williams was inspired to put in hundreds of volunteer hours and eventually won a $5,000 scholarship to attend Rutgers University.

Con Students Fill Music-Education Gap (Oberlin Review, Ohio)

As state budget cuts threaten school arts programs across Ohio, several Oberlin Conservatory students are trying to fill the gap with an afterschool music education program at Langston Middle School. The program provides relief to the school’s dwindling number of music teachers and gives low-income students a chance to learn how to play instruments they may not have access to outside of school. “The goal of the Music Mentors Program is to help public schools in Oberlin negate some of these effects by helping with music classes … and running after school programs for students to expand their musical education,” Oberlin junior and program head Ben Steger told the Oberlin Review.

Planet Fitness Debuts Fitness Room for Kids at Boys and Girls Club in Manchester (Union Leader, New Hampshire)

Nearly 1,700 Boys & Girls Club of Manchester participants will now have a chance to use a special workout room at the Club that’s part of a larger effort to promote healthy lifestyles and stop bullying. Planet Fitness’ new “Mini Judgement Free Zone” is part of the company’s $1.3 million commitment to support an anti-bullying initiative with the Boys & Girls Clubs of America and STOMP Out Bullying. The room includes treadmills, a stationary bike, strength training equipment, and is full of motivational posters and messages. “It really is about a bigger movement than just the gym,” Planet Fitness senior vice president of marketing Jessica Correa told the Union Leader. “It’s about creating an afterschool curriculum that will give kids the tools to prevent bullying and spread kindness instead.”

Making the Case for Mariachi (San Francisco Chronicle, California)

The Mariachi Academy of Music in San Jose is part of a growing trend to bring mariachi music to young students throughout the Bay Area who lack opportunities for music education. The Academy works with school districts and private donors to bring free or low-cost mariachi classes to students in several towns in the area, exposing youths to a culturally rich and easy-to-learn style of music. “Mariachi is such a wonderful introduction,” Tamara Alvarado, executive director of the School of Arts & Culture at the Mexican Heritage Plaza in San Jose, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “With mariachi, you can see yourself progress, and be part of a group. That’s what’s cool about mariachi: Everyone is the star.” 



Guest Blog: Eight tips for facilitating maker activities with youth

By Guest Blogger

By Emily McLeod, Director of Curriculum at Techbridge, with contributions from Mia Shaw, Dolores Toledo, and Renny Talianchich, all Program Coordinators.

At Techbridge, making is a big part of the afterschool and summer STEM programming we deliver to more than 600 girls from underserved communities in the San Francisco Bay area, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. Along the way, we’ve learned a lot about what high-quality making looks like and what staff can do to ensure that all participants are engaged and learning. Here’s our eight best practices for facilitating maker activities with youth.

1. Take time to build a community of makers

It is essential to take the time to create a culture and supportive space where it’s OK try new things, ask for help when you need it, and dream big. At the beginning of our Summer Academy, girls decided together what they wanted their community to look like. Every day, there were icebreakers and get-to-know-you activities, a practice we carry over into our afterschool programs.

2. Encourage youth choice

Youth are more invested in projects when they have ownership and seeing their own ideas come to life is a strong motivator. Youth choice also fosters equity, empowering youth to bring in their expertise, background, and personal interests. Therefore, most of our projects give youth meaningful choices about the direction they will take their work. In our high school programs, girls spend much of the year building projects of their own design to take to the local Maker Faire. With younger students, we often start with a prompt, concept, or design challenge (e.g. “make a robot that can interact with humans”) which provides focus, while allowing room for creativity.

3. Build peer and near-peer leadership

Taking on the role of an expert helps empower youth. To develop peer leadership, identify participants with more experience and actively encourage them to support their peers and share knowledge. During our Summer Academy, we invited girls from Techbridge’s high school programs to act as group leaders for middle school participants. This allowed older girls to develop leadership skills, provided younger girls role models and support, and gave program coordinators assistance in facilitating complex projects. You can try this model with college students as well!

4. Acknowledge challenges and focus on process, not product

Making can be challenging and projects may not turn out the way we intended. Acknowledge this! We make time to share our “Glorious Goofs” and talk about girls’ work as prototyping, rather than setting an expectation of creating polished products. Our facilitators encourage girls to think about the skills they are gaining, and the ideas they are developing, as the most important things they’ll take away from the project. For more information about addressing and reframing failure, see this blog post and this paper.

5. Share models and your own making experiences

We often share samples made by facilitators or girls in other programs. Youth love to see and play with physical examples, which can spark ideas for those who may be struggling to get started. If you can, make a variety of models; we’ve found that if there’s just one kind, youth may be tempted to copy it. Making models ahead of time also gives facilitators direct experience with the project and can help them see potential challenges youth might face and develop troubleshooting strategies.

6. Don’t forget aesthetics

Although Making encompasses a variety of interests and skills, the spotlight is often turned on projects that are tech-heavy, with focus on function over form. These projects don’t always appeal to everyone. For some youth, the way a project looks is just as important as what it does, and we make sure to build in time for visual design alongside the coding and engineering. Although it’s tempting to think of art-making or decoration as things to do if there’s extra time, for some youth, it can be the difference between engaging wholeheartedly with a project and tuning out.

7. You won’t know everything and that’s OK

Sometimes, youth will ask questions that facilitators don't know how to answer or ask for help with something they don't know how to fix. That's OK. We take a co-learning approach to our maker projects, and are upfront about the fact that we don’t have all of the answers. In these situations, model how a maker should address challenges—ask a peer; use a variety of resources (e.g., online guides, role models, fellow staff members, books); or be willing to try something that might not work. Taking risks and being vulnerable shows youth that it’s OK for them to do the same.

8. Celebrate successes along the way and share with others

You can help youth celebrate all kinds of success, not just completed projects. Use opportunities such as group shout-outs, gallery walks, and one-on-one feedback to appreciate youth for their progress along the way. At the end of a project, give youth opportunities to share their work through presentations to peers, at a science fair, or family event. It teaches them how to communicate with others and act as STEM experts within their own communities.



Making and equity: how a successful program integrated the two

By Erin Murphy

As part of our ongoing celebration of the National Week of Making, we are excited to announce the release of a new STEM program profile highlighting the wonderful work of the California Tinkering Afterschool Network (CTAN). The goal of our STEM program profiles is to share models of successful STEM programs and provide information about high-quality STEM learning experiences, professional development, funding, building partnerships and impressive outcomes for youth success.

CTAN is unique among our program profiles in that it is not an individual afterschool program, but was a partnership that brought together the expertise of afterschool directors, facilitators, and researchers. The network included two out-of-school time organizations—the Community Science Workshop Network (Fresno and Watsonville, CA) and Techbridge (Oakland, CA)—along with two science museums: Discovery Cube (Santa Ana, CA) and the Exploratorium (San Francisco, CA). Together, this group designed and implemented STEM-rich afterschool tinkering/making programs to serve youth from low-income, historically marginalized communities. These making and tinkering programs focus on learning STEM skills through the process of creating, building, or re-designing.

Check out the CTAN profile to learn more about:

  • Key characteristics of high-quality making/tinkering programs.
  • Youth outcomes related to high-quality, STEM-rich making/tinkering programs.
  • Building effective, and equitable partnerships with STEM-rich institutes and researchers.
  • Creating equitable programs that have positive outcomes for youth regardless of gender, ability, socioeconomic status, or community of origin.
  • Professional development strategies to support high-quality making/tinkering.

For more information on a variety of ways to approach STEM learning, check out our STEM Program Profiles!

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learn more about: Robotics Science Community Partners


Turn concepts into creations for the National Week of Making!

By Erin Murphy

The act of "making" is to use the process of creating, building or re-designing to learn new things about our world.

Join us in celebrating making this week by participating in the White House’s 2016 National Week of Making, June 17-23. The focus of this year’s event is to highlight the diversity of makers: young and old, experienced and novice, rural and urban. Afterschool programs have long focused on providing hands-on, experiential learning opportunities that allow kids to explore and discover creatively. This week, we will showcase how afterschool is helping kids from various communities and backgrounds become makers!

As part of this campaign, we will be releasing a new program profile for the California Tinkering Afterschool Network (CTAN), a partnership of two museums and three afterschool programs focused on studying and implementing STEM-rich making in the afterschool space. Additionally, we will be participating in the Growing a Nation of Makers tweetchat, hosted by Design Squad. During the tweetchat on June 21 at 12 p.m. ET, we'll join a discussion on how we can help #GrowMakers. Finally, we will be sharing a guest blog from Techbridge, an afterschool program focused on introducing girls to science and engineering, in which the program's leaders will share their best-practices and teaching strategies for making in afterschool.

Get involved with the National Week of Making:

  • Tweet your Making experiences @afterschool4all with the hashtag #NationOfMakers or #WeekofMaking
  • Stay tuned for more blogs, tweets and Facebook posts from us to learn more about making in afterschool
  • Participate in the Growing a Nation of Makers #GrowMakers tweetchat where participants will share their knowledge and expertise around making. Tune in on June 21 at 12 p.m. ET with @Designsquad, @SWEtalk, @TheConnectory and @ngcproject.
  • Attend an event in your community

Respond to the White House’s call to action and make a commitment to helping spread the maker movement