Monday, April 4, 2016

Are After-School Programs Doing the Jobs that Schools Won't?

Perhaps you have experienced this story...

Your kid comes home from school, joyously speaking of a wonderfully new activity that will allow her to explore and create and laugh and have fun - all while learning about science and math and engineering and all of the other good stuff that happens in a child's life.

Excited for her new-found interest in academics, you ask her when this school project will begin.

She opens her backpack and produces a large stack of papers, including math worksheets and artistic renderings of beasts and animals of every unimaginable kind. After rifling through the sheets for a few moments, she pulls out a purple flier and excitedly thrusts it out for you to see.

You look at it and your heart begins to sink. Instead of her school - the place in which she spends upwards of 8 hours a day - taking on this new and exciting and engaging project, you find that the United Association of Motherly Knights of Cincinnati are asking you to pony up a $75 "one-time" fee to have your precious daughter spend two nights a week at the local kids' club making, designing, and creating all kinds of science-y and math-y and engineering-y things.

If this is your story, sadly, you are not alone.

Across the country, our students are being relegated to national standardized testing, state-mandated assessments, and a wide variety and voluminous sets of school and classroom work... none of which I have a real problem with (but that is a different story for a different post).

What I am speaking more about is the manner in which many of our school approach the teaching and learning of academic concepts.

While the phrase "death by worksheet" is not the stuff of student lamentations in all schools in our country, there is a fair amount of academic institutions unwilling to make the break away from an antiquated system and move forward into engaging, high interest, and student-driven educational models such as PBL, inquiry-driven instruction, and makerspaces - to name just a few.

In the mean time, after-school programs offered by many local clubs and organizations have stepped in to fill the void of fun and excitement towards learning left by the monotony of funeral rows of desks in classrooms with lots of potential otherwise.

What's worse, many of these programs are funded and facilitated by the school districts themselves.
Kennedy Space Center Education Foundation
In effect, they are telling their constituents, "While we are mostly unwilling to provide students with quality and engaging classroom instruction during the day - our schedule and testing demands simply won't allow it - we are more than happy to offer an after-school program designed to provide your students (well, some students, as we are limited by funding to only 20 kids) with activities specially designed to expose them to STEM & STEAM concepts, all in a fun, yet structured environment."

My beef boils down to this:

If innovative after-school programs (and let's not forget summer school session designed to try something "new and different" for our struggling students) are yielding good results with high praise from kids, parents, and staff, why aren't schools clambering to the front of the line to get on board this train?

To be fair, I am not condemning education in general. While the minority may neglect their duties and responsibilities, most teachers and staff are putting forth a great and noble effort towards the students in their charge.

I am simply saying that we can all do better with the time and resources we have. If it is training we lack, there are no small numbers of "experts" willing to lend time and information. If it is initiative we are without, there are those out there who can lead and inspire us, whether in person or via social media and the like. (When WAS your last Twitter EdChat??) If it is resources we need, there are many who have traveled this path before who are willing to either shine the way or return and walk side-by-side with us.

It is not easy and we will face criticism from those who do not understand, but the majority will see the change for what it is. We talk often about doing what is best for kids. Here is YOUR chance. Get started today.

To quote a very intelligent and inspired leader, T.S. Monson, "Let us always choose the harder right rather than the easier wrong."

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