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These twin sisters celebrated Lights On Afterschool 2016 by becoming math champions

By Robert Abare

One might not think that basketball can help kids gain critical math skills. But for twin sisters Patricia and Angela Rodas, that’s exactly the case. The Rodas sisters have become rather like local celebrities in the San Francisco Bay Area through their success in NBA Math Hoops, a board game and curriculum that helps kids learn math through the lens of professional basketball. 

To play NBA Math Hoops (and learn math at the same time) students divide into teams to analyze NBA and WNBA players’ stats, strategize, and solve increasingly complex math problems. On October 6, 2016, the Rodas twins showed off their math expertise gained through NBA Math Hoops by winning (for the second year in a row!) the Bay Area NBA Math Hoops championship, as part of the national kick-off for Lights On Afterschool 2016.

Colleen Johnston, Program Manager for Bay Area Community Resources (BACR), has overseen the implementation of NBA Math Hoops at 55 of BACR’s afterschool program sites. Next year, NBA Math Hoops will be rolled out to more than 60 BACR schools in the Bay Area. Currently, NBA Hoops is in over 100 schools in the Bay Area.  It is primarily being played during Out of School time.

“This is disguised learning at its best,” said Johnston about NBA Math Hoops. “The game is fast paced, so it keeps kids engaged, and the curriculum associated with the game builds over time, so it has the capacity to teach both very basic math skills and the very advanced.”

Indeed, the Rodas twins said NBA Math Hoops is helping them succeed in the classroom. “Math Hoops has helped me get better with multiplication and be more confident in the classroom,” said Angela.

Angela added, “My parents like NBA Math Hoops because it’s improved my grades.”

Thanks to their previous success playing NBA Math Hoops and their participation in this year’s national Lights On Afterschool kick-off event, the Rodas twins have become local role models for their peers, showing them that anyone can do well in math. The twins have also helped shine a light on the power of afterschool programs to teach kids valuable STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) skills.

“When they first started playing NBA Math Hoops, the twins were very shy and didn’t like public speaking,” said Johnston. “Now, they’ve become like local celebrities. The game has helped them realize how much they love math, and their confidence has grown so much that they’re already talking about college.”

Johnston also praised the curriculum for its ability to engage both boys and girls. “NBA Math Hoops includes both NBA and WNBA players, so both boys and girls can get excited about the game,” she said. “And for the past two years, the majority of the teams in the Elite 8 of the Bay Area NBA Math Hoops championship have been girls.”

BACR afterschool programs helped their students make strides in math for Lights On Afterschool on October 20, 2016, when programs held mini NBA Math Hoops tournaments, carnivals, and open houses. Lights On Afterschool calls national attention to how afterschool programs, like BACR and the program’s implementation of NBA Math Hoops, are working to provide kids with hands-on STEM learning experiences that prepare them for our complex and changing world.



Weekly Media Roundup: November 2, 2016

By Luci Manning

Mentor Programs Steer Teens Away from Gangs (Associated Press, Oregon)

A community-wide coalition is aiming to keep youth from joining gangs through a variety of activities, including sports, art, spirituality and bicycle building. The Jackson County Gang Prevention Task Force includes law enforcement, educators, afterschool programs, nonprofit organizations and others who believe that stopping gang violence takes a whole community, not just the police, according to the Associated Press. “The only way to fight gangs is in the community and the police working together to beat this,” former gang member and Familia Unida volunteer Rico Gutierrez said. “The community has to be involved. Police can’t do it alone.”

Time to Jam: Kids Rock at After-School Program (Bland County Messenger, Virginia)

Students in a weekly afterschool program are learning to play fiddle, banjo, mountain dulcimer and other instruments traditional to Southern Appalachian music. Washington County JAM (Junior Appalachian Musicians) teaches 50 fourth- through eighth-grade students music skills and gives them a chance to explore and appreciate other aspects of Appalachian culture, such as clogging, square dancing, quilting and more. “We strive to expose the children to music and traditions of our area they may not pursue on their own,” coordinator Tammy Martin told the Bland County Messenger. The program is in its second year and has nearly twice the number of participants.

When Girls Teach Girls, They Unleash a New Power (Miami Herald, Florida)

In an effort to empower young girls from underserved communities, a host of nonprofits and community organizations are providing afterschool and mentoring opportunities at a number of Miami schools. A 13-year old Girl Scout is teaching younger girls how to code and assemble robots. The Embrace Girls Foundation is giving homework assistance and life-skills training at afterschool programs in three local schools, as well as a culinary program, tennis club and more. And the Honey Shine mentoring program provides mentoring and instruction in robotics, STEM, digital and financial literacy and more. “We teach the girls self-empowerment, character development, self-love and etiquette,” Honey Shine program manager Millie Delgado told the Miami Herald. “We empower young girls to shine as women.”

Grooming International Leaders While Helping Camden’s Kids (Philadelphia Inquirer, Pennsylvania)

For more than 25 years, UrbanPromise has worked to bolster leaders in international communities and build educational and youth development programs in America's cities and in foreign countries. The fellowship program brings community leaders from Uganda, Haiti and more to Camden schools and afterschool programs to help children break down prejudices. UrbanPromise also helps these fellows develop programs they can take back to their home countries to support youths there. “What we’re doing is supporting and resourcing young leaders to go home and make change,” UrbanPromise International School of Leadership Nadia VanderKuip told the Philadelphia Inquirer



Weekly Media Roundup: October 26, 2016

By Luci Manning

After-School Program Seeks to Inspire Students (NBC Washington, District of Columbia)

Students in the After-School All-Stars program at Hobson Middle School are taking a different kind of STEM class:  one focused on science, travel, entrepreneurship and math. The students celebrated Lights On Afterschool by planning theoretical trips to places like New Orleans and Puerto Rico, learning the foundations of jazz music, expressing themselves with design and business plans and inspiring each other to change their worlds. The program serves 300 children in four D.C. schools and hopes to bring in an additional 200 children by the end of the year. “It’s a very different space,” Afterschool Ambassador Daniela Grigioni told NBC Washington. “It allows children to develop a different skill set than during the school day.”

Governor Emphasizes Importance of Reading in Visit to KCK Boys and Girls Club (Wyandotte Daily, Kansas)

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback emphasized the importance of literacy and inspired Reading Roadmap students to reach for the stars last week as part of Lights On Afterschool at a Kansas City Boys & Girls Club. The afterschool program targets children in low-income families who are struggling to read. “You learn to read, it’s going to open gateways for you to go all over the world,” Gov. Brownback told the students. “Maybe someday some of you are going to go to the moon, even…. I want you to work really hard, study hard, I want you to get straight As in school, I know you can do it.” The governor signed a proclamation for Lights On Afterschool Day, according to the Wyandotte Daily.

'Bright Futures' a Hit at Franklin Middle School (Hometown Life, Michigan)

The Bright Futures afterschool program is encouraging 350 students in nine Wayne-Westland schools to learn and grow their academic, art, leadership and time-management skills. The free program provides a meal, homework help and a variety of enrichment activities for youth. Eighth-grader Jael Smith said the program inspires her to push past her boundaries and plan more for her future. “I’ve learned to go outside my comfort zone,” she told Hometown Life. “I think that’s a really important part of growing up and being successful. You can’t really get anywhere without getting out of your comfort zone.” The program celebrated Lights On Afterschool last week with stations highlighting students’ achievements in math, art, film making, physical activities and science.

Local YMCA's Run for Lights On Afterschool Project (KVRR, North Dakota)

Nearly a thousand students from 23 area YMCA sites participated in a 1K run last week to highlight the importance of afterschool programs. The YMCA of Cass and Clay Counties has held the annual Lights On Afterschool run around Island Park for 16 years. "It's watching the kids grow, watching the families really appreciate what you do and all the hard work you put into making sure that the kids have somewhere to go after school and somewhere safe to be," Site Coordinator Kelsi McClaflin told KVRR.



Weekly Media Roundup: October 19, 2016

By Luci Manning

Rally Will Help Celebrate Afterschool Programs in Hawaii (Hawaii News Now, Hawaii)

The Hawaii Afterschool Alliance will celebrate Lights On Afterschool with a rally at the Hawaii State Capitol Rotunda today. The rally will allow children to show off their talents for art, dance and music and give the community a chance to show their appreciation for afterschool programs. “These places are engaging, the kids are having fun, and they are linked to the school hours, so when they are in the afterschool hours, they can support the work they do during school,” Afterschool Ambassador Paula Adams told Hawaii News Now.

Valley Center District Honored for Afterschool Program (San Diego Union-Tribune, California)

The San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) recognized Valley Center-Pauma Unified School District as its featured 2016 Lights On Afterschool district in honor of its exceptional afterschool programs. The district’s programs mix academics with enrichment activities, giving students a chance to try their hand at cooking, weightlifting, STEM subjects and more. “Parents are working, and this provides a safe place, an engaging, positive place for students,” Superintendent Mary Gorsuch told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “Students need opportunities in a rural community like ours to have outlets that aren’t available otherwise. For us, this is huge. We want to make sure kids graduate ready to be successful adults.”

Need for After School Programs Highlighted at Burchell High (Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, Alaska)

Community members celebrated the Mat-Su Borough School District’s Building Bridges afterschool program and highlighted the need for more quality afterschool options at a Lights On Afterschool rally last week. Wasilla Mayor Bert Cottle issued a Proclamation of Support for Afterschool Programming and students gave presentations on digital art design, dance, archery, robotics, outdoor recreation, personal finance and poetry, according to the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman. Building Bridges is a STEM-focused program that provides homework assistance, mentoring, college readiness training and other services.

Play Will Put Spotlight on Boys & Girls Club After-School Programs (Tampa Bay Times, Florida)

Students in the Boys & Girls Club in Hernando’s six afterschool sites will perform dramatic productions to celebrate Lights On Afterschool. Each site will put on a different play, and overall some 450 children will participate in tomorrow’s event. The performances are the culmination of a new initiative for club members called Drama Matters, which teaches students the ins and outs of the theater business, Tampa Bay Times reports. Students are not only the actors, but they built the sets, designed costumes and will manage a lot of the production aspects on the night of the performance.



Poll: In public education, Americans want more than academics

By Erin Murphy

Image by Holger Selover-Stephan

Phi Delta Kappa International (PDK) recently released the results of their 48th Annual PDK Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. This report, Why school? Americans speak out on education goals, standards, priorities and fundingidentifies what Americans believe should be the primary goals of public education and what standards, priorities and funding should exist to support these goals.

The findings of the report suggest there is not a consensus on what the primary goal of public education should be. Only 45 percent of adult Americans believe that the main goal of education should be preparing students academically. Meanwhile, alternate views of public education are gaining popularity: 25 percent of Americans believe the goal of public education should be to prepare students for work, and 26 percent believe the goal should be to prepare students for citizenship. Additionally, respondents felt that the development of good work habits was a more important goal for schools than providing factual information.

This shift in the public attitude regarding the role of public education—toward success beyond academics—is reflected by the public’s preference for offering more career-technical or skills-based classes (68 percent) instead of more honors or advanced academic classes (21 percent). Afterschool has a long history of focusing on youth success beyond academics, reflecting and responding to Americans’ expanding desires for public education. Besides providing academic support—such as tutoring, homework help, and academic enrichment—programs are supporting students’ passions, introducing students to careers, and developing their 21st century skills. Because of this, afterschool is great a partner for the public school system in supporting education, growth and student success more broadly



These three programs successfully integrated engineering education

By Erin Murphy

This blog was also published on LinkEngineering.

Students from SHINE with their homemade robot. Image via @amjohnston

Afterschool programs across the country are providing students with the opportunity to explore engineering activities and careers. According to America After 3PM, 10.2 million children (18 percent) currently participate in afterschool programs. Sixty-nine percent of parents said their child’s afterschool program offered STEM programming, and 30 percent said these programs offered engineering and technology activities. To do the math, this means that over 3 million students are receiving engineering programming in afterschool programs.

The flexibility of afterschool allows providers to make engineering activities engaging and well-suited for the needs of the community. Programs are choosing topics relevant to kids’ interests while leveraging community partners—including science museums, zoos and aquaria, universities and businesses—and engaging parents in the learning process.

We’d like to highlight three programs that are providing impressive opportunities and outcomes for the students and families they serve.


The SHINE After School Program, in Jim Thorpe, PA, exemplifies how rural programs can provide quality engineering education by using local resources and expertise. The program serves over 600 K-12 students and their families, with the majority of participants coming from low-income families and having special or remedial needs. In this program, 4th and 5th graders complete hands-on activities that focus on engineering, the health sciences and green energy, which introduces them to careers in those fields while improving their problem-solving skills. In middle school, students advance to a program held at a local technical center where they have access to Computer-Aided Design (CAD) and shop machinery. Working with college interns and high school mentors, middle school teams complete six engineering projects over the course of the academic year. One project is to build a “car of the future,” first designing the car in CAD, then cutting precision machined parts, and finally constructing the life-size derby car.

In a 2011-2012 evaluation, parents of middle school students observed an improvement in their children’s ability to use technology (86 percent) and in math skills (68 percent). Additionally, 95 percent of students in the middle school academy were excited about STEM careers, and 97 percent of 4th and 5th graders understood what an engineer does.



How a summer learning program helped one community's literacy problem

By Jodi Grant

For the Santa Ana Unified School District (SAUSD), English language literacy is both an essential and a challenging aspect of students’ learning. More than 91 percent of SAUSD’s 53,000 students are Hispanic and 60 percent are learning English as a second language. More than 90 percent are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch.  It’s clear that developing literacy skills is crucial for these students to succeed in school, career and life.

Many students fall behind over the summer, especially in reading. The National Summer Learning Association reports that every summer, low-income youth lose two to three months in reading while their higher-income peers make slight gains… By fifth grade, summer learning loss can leave low-income students 2 1/2 to 3 years behind their peers.

Parents seek to overcome the “summer slide” through summer learning programs. According to our America After 3PM household survey, 62 percent of California parents say they want to enroll their children in a summer learning program, 77 percent agree that summer learning activities help kids maintain academic skills and 90 percent support public funding for these programs.

Teaching literacy through the power of publishing

Leaders at the SAUSD summer learning program, Engage 360°, were looking for a creative way to help students make gains in writing and literacy, so they turned to the WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS program. It helps young people in grades K-12 to become writers, and therefore more comprehensive readers, by allowing them to author and publish original stories inspired by artwork on pre-illustrated (yet wordless) children’s books. Engage 360° operates at SAUSD’s elementary school locations, serving approximately 4,000 students over the summer.

“We wanted to counteract learning loss over the summer and make it fun for kids to work on their literacy skills and English language proficiency,” said Michael Baker, SAUSD’s District Coordinator of Extended Learning Programs.

Through collaborative and independent processes, kids in the WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS craft original stories—including characters, plotlines and setting descriptions. Their stories are saved online for students and educators to access and then printed professionally.

“WRiTE BRAiN BOOKS disguises literacy education as fun,” said Meredith Scott Lynn, WRiTE BRAiN’s Founder & CEO. “It’s a project-based approach to literacy. Kids in the program have to invent real worlds for the imaginary characters in the books. They have to solve the real world problems posed by working in a group comprised of individuals with differing opinions and perspectives, and then create the processes by which the imaginary characters in their books solve their own problems.”

Baker praised the program’s structured approach to promoting creativity. “One of the major hurdles kids face when writing is the question of ‘what do I write about?’ WRiTE BRAiN addresses this question in a systematic way, guiding students step-by-step as they work together and independently to build valuable 21st century skills.”

“When kids go home, they all want to talk about their books with their parents,” Baker added. "They take ownership of their work and are proud of it.”



Guest blog: Discover drones at your Lights On Afterschool event

By Guest Blogger

Written by Griffin Schwed, Integrated Marketing Manager at National 4-H Council

See how your program can celebrate 4-H National Youth Science Day at your 2016 Lights On Afterschool event on our Celebrate Afterschool STEM page, part of the revamped Lights On Afterschool website.

Since 2008, 4-H National Youth Science Day has engaged millions of youth around the world in exciting and innovative STEM learning and experiences, from wind power to robotics to rocketry. This year, the 4-H NYSD challenge is soaring to new heights with the 2016 National Science Challenge, Drone Discovery, developed by Cornell University Cooperative Extension.

This year's hands-on science challenge explores the science behind drones and how they are being used to solve real world problems. Youth will learn everything from flight dynamics and aircraft types, to remote sensing and flight control, as well as safety and regulations.

While the official 4-H NYSD event takes place on October 5, 2016 in Washington, D.C., clubs, groups and schools around the world are also inspiring the next generation of STEM leaders, all taking part in what is known as the world’s largest, youth-led science event.

Participating in 4-H National Youth Science Day is easy:

  • Purchase a 4-H NYSD Challenge Kit. Each kit includes all the necessary items needed to participate in the challenge, including youth and facilitator guide books and experiment materials. Kits are available for purchase now on the 4-H Mall.
  • Register your event. Simply create a 4-H NYSD membership account to receive helpful resources and materials and see your local event showcased on our national 4-H NYSD map.
  • Join the conversation on social media. Share your event photos and videos using hashtag #4HNYSD. Your event could be featured nationally!

So what are you waiting for? Put what you know about engineering, drones and flight into action. Purchase your kit, register your event, and get ready to take flight in this worldwide science phenomenon!