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In Baltimore, kids conquer uneven bars and bar graphs

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In Baltimore, kids conquer uneven bars and bar graphs

To be able to guess what the students in the Barclay After School Program are doing for the three hours after the last bell rings, you’d have to keep up with a diverse and ever-rotating schedule of activities, from STEM contests to photography lessons, from arts programming to read-aloud sessions with local college student volunteers. Located in the heart of Baltimore, Md., Barclay Middle and Elementary School is a university-assisted community school that partners with Goucher College and Johns Hopkins University.

The afterschool program is fiscally sponsored by Child First Authority, a Baltimore-based, youth-serving nonprofit, and benefits from many strong relationships with local organizations and institutions, in part because of Barclay’s status as a community school. According to Program Coordinator Phoebe Rice, the community schools philosophy is a key reason the Barclay After School Program is able to offer the quality of enrichment it provides to its students. The majority of the program’s staff, for example, are the full-time Barclay teachers during the regular school day who choose to be a part of the afterschool programming, as well.

“[For example,] we do work with students on their projects for STEM competitions, especially at the middle school-level where they prepare their projects for the science Olympiad with our middle school science instructor, who also works in the afterschool program,” Rice said. “All of my staff work in the school day, all of them certified, qualified teachers, so we all know the kids and we know them pretty well.”

Barclay’s strong ties to the community has also allowed Rice to bring in a variety of local partners, all of whom contribute to the diverse and engaging curriculum that students in the afterschool program enjoy. According to Rice, keeping every week fresh and entertaining is key to keeping students engaged and learning.

“I like a lot of hands-on activities, our biggest focus is engagement,” said Rice. “…my mind is always racing, ‘What else can I provide? Last year we did that, so what else can we do this year?’ I have to consider that I’ve had some kids in the program since kindergarten, so I don’t want them to get bored!”

An outside enrichment partner that is a favorite among students and staff alike is Kimnastics, a program combining learning math skills with gymnastics lessons for students in pre-K through fifth grade. Kimberly Gantt, the founder of Kimnastics, is a math specialist working with teachers and students to improve math performance for the Baltimore County Public School System and has a unique background combining both teaching and competitive gymnastics. Gantt is currently partnered with Johns Hopkins Educational Outreach to provide services to Barclay Elementary.

“I’ve worked in a variety of settings from public and private schools to running a learning center, so I really was able to see very similar issues that had to deal with socioeconomic status and opportunities to be able to learn in different environments,” said Gantt. “The common link was kids are not always having fun sitting at a desk and learning math and being told what to think. I thought there was a need to teach children how to think and give them a fun platform to be able to… learn and apply math skills.”

Gantt believes that children’s natural desire to play and be active creates a more welcoming environment where students are less afraid to put themselves outside of their comfort zone or shy away from making mistakes. According to Gantt, Kimnastics’ embrace of “recreational math” is a way of giving youth an opportunity in their development to absorb math skills on a deeper level.

This creative philosophy mirrors one that is largely embraced by the Barclay After School Program as a whole. Rice often the stresses the need to “meet students where they are,” not only academically, but in their social and emotional development, as well.

“The afternoon program doesn’t look like the school day—and I don’t want it to—we definitely make sure everything is touching on what they’re doing during the school day,” said Rice. In fact, Rice believes that the fun, enriching environment is key to not only why so many of the students want to stick around, but why so many of the instructors choose to do so, as well.

“I’m always reiterating to my staff in our meetings that it is a job, but just because it’s a job, doesn’t mean it’s not fun,” said Rice. “If it’s not fun for you, it’s definitely not fun for their kids. So I like to have them remember, if this was your child, what would you want them to get them out of their afternoon? Keep the kids in mind, that’s really what it comes down to.”

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