Academics After-school Style (page 2)
Many adults today consider the hours after school to be an opportunity for students to squeeze in a little more help with schoolwork. For most children, though, that final bell rings freedom. The last thing they want is more school, and faced with an after-school program that looks like an extension of their school day, they’ll opt out.
But while young people, especially in the upper grades, want freedom from the confines of formal schooling, they do like to learn and for the most part would rather do well in school than fail. How can we provide the after-school academic support young people need without making it seem like an extension of school? How can we establish programs that young people walk to rather than run away from?
Programs that actively consider young people’s growth across social, emotional, physical and academic arenas are more likely to feel different from the school day. Successful school-based after-school programs address young people as developing adults, not solely as students, by blending academics with youth development skills such as independence, time management, leadership, decision making, teamwork and communication. They are learner-centered, complement the school setting and engender support of school administrators.
After-school programs are ideal for more informal, experiential approaches to learning. Schedules are more flexible, groups are smaller and the atmosphere is more relaxed. Academic and developmental objectives merge in well-designed hands-on projects and program activities.
It is easy to blend academics with project-based activities such as sports, arts and music. But how do you blend the “soft stuff” that keeps kids coming—the teamwork, social skills, leadership opportunities—with clearly academic programs such as homework help or skills remediation? The School District of Philadelphia invited New Jersey-based Foundations Inc., to do just that in the city’s 38 lowest-performing high schools.
Two Foundations-designed programs illustrate this blended approach: a program for 9th graders failing English and/or math and a homework program. The programs demonstrate the importance of a true partnership in creating effective after-school opportunities for the community’s young people. Foundations develops the school-based programs, provides professional development and supporting program manuals, provides student materials and manages operations. The schools recruit, hire and pay the teachers for their work in the program as well as for associated professional development time.
Before the launch, Foundations staff members meet with each school principal to coordinate operations. The principal typically designates an assistant principal as point person. Foundations site coordinators conduct a training session with all teachers and administrators, then visit and observe programs weekly or bi-weekly as needed to provide feedback and operational support.
On the Subject
The 9th grade after-school program, which operated during the 2002-2003 school year, focused on direct subject matter instruction. Because of the academic focus, attendance and retention would be a challenge. Low and erratic attendance is a hallmark of after-school programs at upper grades—especially in schools with poor daytime attendance. In addition, jobs, childcare, sports and other activities compete for the limited after-school time.
Working with district and school personnel, Foundations designed a program to address students’ academic needs and promote attendance with two incentives: academic credit and a student-centered academic project. Direct instruction focused on content knowledge and skills development using stand-alone lessons that did not require consecutive attendance to be beneficial. Students may earn credit based on results of periodic teacher-administered, in-program assessments and 85 percent attendance in the after-school program.
To help students maintain that attendance level, the program included an “RFP Project,” a component that required students to apply a range of math and English skills in a real-world scenario. Each after-school group received a Request for Proposals document. Just as community organizations apply for grant money by responding to a grantor’s Request for Proposals, this RFP gave students the chance to design and apply to Foundations for funds to support an end-of-program event.
The document explained the use of RFPs in fund raising, spelled out rules and deadlines and listed requirements such as a description, rationale, implementation plan and budget. The requested grant amount was determined by the program’s average daily attendance multiplied by $10. Therefore, groups needed to predict their average daily attendance to prepare a budget and then maintain that level of attendance to ensure adequate funds.
Because we were working with low-performing students in low-performing schools, we anticipated a ragged response. Instead, proposals came in complete and on time from all 38 participating schools. Proposed activities ranged from a tour of the University of Pennsylvania to movies, trophies, pizza parties, parent nights, charity donations, performances and buffets. One group simply wanted the money, dividing the grant proportional to attendance, complete with supporting spreadsheet. In the end, students developed an idea together, followed rules, worked with standards-based English and math, met a deadline and found success.
Grades, homework and study skills improved. Eighty-two percent of the school-day math and English teachers saw improvement in basic skills, homework completion and work habits among participating students. Sixty percent of participants met attendance and performance levels and received credit.
Reprinted with the permission of the American Association of School Administrators. © AASA
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