In March of this year (2017, if you are reading this in the future, and whoa! That is a cool thought!), the administration proposed to eliminate $1.1 billion from 21st Century Community Learning Centers in the FY2018 budget, which provides funding for many out-of-school-time programs, including before and after school and summer programs. In July, that amount was down to $192 million in the US House of Representatives FY2018 plan. The Senate voted to keep the original funding for 21st CCLC. Just two weeks ago, the House amended the Make America Secure and Prosperous Appropriations Act (H.R. 3354) to cut $92 million, rather than $192 million from 21st CLCC. Now, as the House and Senate try to negotiate final budget numbers, the numbers look like this:
As you can see, this is not a simple thank you. Representative McCarthy outlined his stance on the budget, his concerns over federal over-spending and national debt, and his position that the July version of H.R.3354, cutting $191 million from 21st CCLC is the right way to go for our nation. Representative McCarthy's position is not without merit. Without care taken with federal spending, our nation could be in a precarious position in regards to its debt, and a $191 million "modest reduction" doesn't seem like much out of $1.192 billion, right?
We aren't, however, talking about just dollars, though. There is a human cost here. Setting aside, for now, the fact that afterschool programs help parents to keep jobs and continue education to improve their situations, and also looking past the fact that programs provide jobs for many people, $191 million represents afterschool for nearly 200,000 students. Afterschool programs provide a healthy snack or meal for students who might, otherwise, not have food. Many programs, like ours, have daily physical activity, while kids left at home alone might just sit at computers or in front of televisions. Homework help, academic enrichment, dance, music, art, STEM, computer programming, and many more activities engage students and keep their minds active. For 200,000 children, these benefits are vital. Students like these:
And students like this young man:
This fourth grader's page reads, "I support after school because my parents work from 7:00am to 5:00pm and if I did not have after school I would have no(where) to go."
And that is the point. Afterschool provides a lot of benefit, but most importantly, afterschool programs keep kids safe. Safe from:
That $191 million might seem like a "modest reduction" to lawmakers, but that is the enrichment, continued education, physical fitness, nutrition and, most importantly, safety of 200,000 children. 200,000 children! Some of whom might be at home, some out causing trouble, and some might literally have nowhere to go. So, no, Representative McCarthy, we don't think this is a "modest" or reasonable reduction, because these numbers play with children's lives and futures. We are not the only ones to feel this way, either.
Policy makers and elected officials, please restore the $1.192 billion 21st CCLC budget, and afterschool advocates, keep making your voices heard. This is not just about dollars, but about real impact on real human beings, vulnerable human beings, who need our help.
“I want to do that!” Inyokern second grader Braiden Zurn-Marsh exclaims as he skips along beside me on the way to return Miss Gaby’s computer after the video conference.
“Go to Mars?” I ask for clarification, because with kids, the possibilities are endless.
“Yes!” he jumps up in the air as he affirms. “I want to go to Mars!”
The NASA video conference with David Alexander, from NASA Armstrong was scheduled while Afterschool sites are finishing up a unit on astronomy, with a specific concentration on Mars. Students studied the surface, terrain, atmosphere, gravity, and weather on the red planet. They also looked at survival in extreme conditions on earth, and at the things humans need to survive. Putting all of this together, students designed an item to be used by humans traveling to Mars.
Pierce students prioritize items which will help them survive on Mars at their video conference on January 25, 2017.
Braiden was not the only student who was excited about Mars. I was impressed at the number of students who were engaged during the video conference presentation, during which the participants can communicate back and forth. This is not the first time we’ve worked with the NASA Digital Learning Network. Last year, fifth graders at Faller Elementary enjoyed a presentation on the Forces of Flight. This time, however, there was really something extra to the enthusiasm. This time, students were inspired and motivated, passionate about possibilities for their futures. This is why we do what we do in afterschool: for those possibilities and for those futures.
NASA Video Conference with Faller afterschool 4th & 5th graders.
NOTE: A special thanks to David McGowan of Sierra Sands Unified School District Technology Department for helping us with our equipment and with connections
Oh, friends, so very much to get excited about! I know our Facebook has been a bit empty since the glut of posts before LOA. Sorry about that. But...
1. Rockets! That's right, Rockets! Okay...wait, once more: ROCKETS!!! Our #afterschool unit on Rockets begins on Monday, February 22. I'm very excited about this. Kids will learn about the forces that act on rockets, rocket design, and propulsion.
2. NASA! That's right, NASA! At Faller Elementary, our #Afterschool 4th and 5th graders will learn about the Forces of Flight with NASA - National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Digital Learning Network from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center. March 9, 1:30-2:30.
3. Rockets Event (Okay, you are probably sensing a theme, here). On March 10 students will fly rockets, and so can YOU! make and launch paper rockets and others. Join us and see all of the amazing things students have learned about ROCKETS!
4. Rock...Just kidding! Business Unit - with a little help from our friends at Union Bank, Financial Literacy will be a BLAST (okay, enough with the rockets references, already)!
5. Business Carnival - get ready for ring toss, bean bag toss, skee ball, more games, popcorn, and lemonade. Bring your quarters and have a lot of fun at our Business Carnival!
6. Ecology - we are really excited about this. Guess who gets to decide what we do this year. (C'mon, guess! Oh, you are no fun!) Teams of students at each site will pick the ecology focus, and will also choose what the final event will be. Inyokern Elementary Afterschool has already chosen to focus on clothing waste. Students want to focus on ways to reuse and repair old clothing. Faller Elementary and Pierce Elementary haven't picked their focus yet, but stay tuned.
7. #Earthday Event - On #Earthday, Inyokern Elementary Afterschool will hold a clothing exchange. Bring your clean clothing and exchange it at no cost. Leftovers will be donated to D A R T Thrift Store. Again, Faller Elementary and Pierce Elementary haven't picked their event yet, but I'll keep you updated.
At the beginning of the year, we did a unit on bubbles. An early lesson involved discovering what bubbles can and cannot do. The older students were supposed to look at the bubble cards and predict, but we decided that the younger students should just dive in, play with the bubbles, and look at the cards afterward to sum up their hands-on discovery. What I saw, however, was that while the older students approached the lesson like a task to be completed, younger students experimented and ended up trying, on their own, almost all of the things on the bubble cards...and they had fun!
We tend to think of play as chaos, disorganized and undisciplined. We are human, and therefore we feel the need to organize and classify everything, including play. "Let's have a game that will teach ______ skill, and we will play it this way with these rules." Even Legos, which used to be readily available in big boxes of jumbled pieces now come in kits with diagrams. When we start an engineering unit, I warn staff that if they just give kids freedom of imagination, most will hesitate, many will ask, "So, what do I do? How do I start? What do you want me to build?" and some kids will outright panic.
Even talking about play, we need to be organized and present a clear benefit. If we want to discuss play, we tend to justify it with studies on how play helps kids learn, or how it helps build social skills, increase creativity, or reduce stress by increasing oxytocin levels in the brain. We need to cite a study before or just after we mention the word, or adults panic, just like the kids given imaginative freedom. "We can't just play, that would be...oh, it will help them study? Oh, well, that's okay, then...just as long as it is organized, and you can justify the wasted time with a quantifiable benefit."
While the benefits of play have been documented, we need to stop thinking about play as "wasted time," unless we have an FMRI and a fistful of higher state testing scores in hand to "justify" it. Sometimes we all need to play just because. Just because it is a lovely day outside. Just because we feel like it. Just because there is an open field and it begs for a game we invent. Just because there is a box of blocks, and a castle inside our heads waiting to emerge. Just because.
I think this sums up afterschool programs nicely. We look out for kids. Our kids are active at least 30 minutes a day & we make sure they get a healthy snack. We run a STEAM program, but we choose topics that interest kids and generate an interest in a variety of STEAM fields. We provide a safe place. We allow room for hands-on exploration and independent inquiry. We encourage creativity and critical thinking. We work outside the box. We provide time to play. We help with homework. We listen. We care. We are afterschool programs, and we look out for kids. It is what we do. It is why we are here. And, honestly, I think we are very, very good at it.
What does it mean to build a bridge? According to the book, Javier Builds a Bridge, building a bridge can mean more than the physical, literal bridge. "Bridging the gap" is an educational catch phrase, but what does it mean? The achievement gap is the space between high and low income students. Afterschool Alliance's study, America After 3PM shows that afterschool can help narrow that gap.
Bridges bring people together, and can also connect them, bringing a person from one place to another. We cross that bridge when we get to it, and maybe burn the bridge behind us. Things in our past are water under the bridge. We mention bridges when we talk about making a change.
Water is often depicted as turbulent and difficult, and bridges are the safe crossing. Sometimes, childhood can be a turbulent time. Family/home time and school are often the opposite sides of a chasm.. Having a safe place to go afterschool can give students a bridge between the school day and home. Bringing families into our school world can further bridge those sides. Like Javier, in Javier Builds a Bridge, working together, building something physical, playing and laughing can bring families a sense of connection, as well as connect those families to educators.
High Desert Leapin' Lizards holds a culminating event for each of our STEAM units, but the To Get to the Other Side: Designing Bridges was a special one, not just for the STEAM component, but for the metaphorical bridges we were able to cross. At the event, I watch hesitant parents slowly relax, and join their student in building with blocks, 3x5 cards, marshmallows and spaghetti, and graham crackers and icing. As they left, with their plates, I saw big smiles and student bragged proudly that they built the house/tower/bridge, and that their parent/grandparent/sibling helped.
As we build our Mini-Golf installations for our next unit, and head toward our next culminating event, which will be our Lights on Afterschool event, we hope that we can all further construct solid bridges that can keep us all together!
At the end of last school year, afterschool staff got together and decided on some STEAM topics for the 2015-2016 school year. One of the most popular topics (after dinosaurs, which we ARE going to do this year) was towers. I couldn't figure out how to make "towers" into a full unit, or even a 2 week mini unit. I wanted to do bridges...which led me to Engineering is Elementary (http://www.eie.org/). Granted, we've used the EiE Engineering Adventures curriculum, which is made specifically for afterschool and other OST (out-of-school time) programs. EiE is made for regular school day classrooms and teachers, so we've never looked seriously at the curriculum. When I looked, and saw that the majority of the unit revolves around a story book, I really wanted the opportunity to do this unit!
Or course, we have to adapt a little. Our program is a lot more hands-on, with little direct instruction. We are also Kindergarten (and, in one case, transitional kindergarten) to fifth grade, not a single second grade class in a school day classroom. I put together a pacing guide, and we held a training, in which teachers took a close look, day by day, considered the challenges they would face with their age group, and decided how they would implement each lesson.
The results: Program assistants, front-line staff working with the kids say that the students respond very well to the unit. One of my fifth grade teachers said the lessons were a little short for fifth graders, but that they were very excited to meet the bridge challenge. One student even asked if he could bring in extra materials, and purchased a pack of Play-Doh for his group.
Yesterday, as I walked around our sites, chatted with students and program assistants, I saw wonderful things. Students were exited & involved, but they had also done the thinking and planning! I saw plans, sketches, prototypes, & heard conversations about Redesigning as they faced the building stage. I also heard students using, in a way that indicated they understood, the vocabulary and concepts of forces that act on a structure.
At one site (above), I saw two classes, 35+ students, in the cafeteria, but the noise level was low, and all were deeply engaged in their process.
At our smaller site, students of multiple ages in the same class helped each other make stable prototypes, especially when parts of designs were difficult for younger engineers. Even the youngest engineers were able to take part. The class below has a transitional kindergarten student, who is four, but she and her group were able to create a stable bridge design!
Today is the last day of the unit. I am eager to go around to the sites again and see what students engineered and built. Tomorrow will be our culminating event, to which you are invited, if you'd like to come and see what the students have learned, and also build some structures yourself, and see the forces that act as pushes and pulls on bridges and towers. Join us, and experience what a wonderful unit this has been for afterschool!
I've heard older generations grumble that in their day, their kids' afterschool program was a list of chores and an open back door. My dad and his brothers ran wild in a small company housing community and in the desert outside the borders. He reminisced with nostalgia, but I often listened to these stories with no little amount of amazement that they survived! They got plenty of physical activity, but chasing each other with knives through the house and shooting the neighbor's pets with bows and arrows (accidentally or not) is not exactly a safe way too get your aerobic exercise.
The trick to afterschool physical activity is to provide the kind of fun (and a little wild) physical activity every day that adults could recall with fond memories, but to keep kids safe at the same time. It is a balancing act. We want kids to both be safe and to have fun, as do their parents. Too much free time, and kids get up to mischief, too little and their lives are too regimented. How do we get kids active in a fun, engaging way that still leaves them feeling like physical activity isn't a chore, or a task to be checked off their list of things they HAVE to do?
The key that we have found in our program is SPARK. Their Great Games and Cool Cooperatives are exciting, and kids beg to play some of the games, would, in fact, like to play them every day, if they could. Like the Catch the Dragon's Tail game above, kids enjoy this kind of physical activity, and they are up and moving and having a great time. In our program, we want them to have fun, be safe, and enjoy physical activity in a way that makes them active throughout their lives, even as they look back forty years from now and remember the fun they had playing Catch the Dragon's Tail.
For your program, or for your kids who are not in an afterschool program, your solution might look different, but it is vital that kids be active every day.
On Friday, I got to run a training for our Mini-Golf Physics unit. Program Assistants started building a mini-golf installation for their site, and their ideas were flowing! Without really thinking about it, they were using a lot of the physics vocabulary we learned. We also talked about Lights on Afterschool.
Though I missed it, Inyokern preschool had a culminating event for Bubble, Pop, Fizz: Preschool Chemistry. They put kids inside giant bubbles from a swimming pool.
At Pierce, I started a Computer Club, and we used MIT's SCRATCH to begin learning some programming skills. Kids made the SCRATCH cat sing and dance, and learned some computer and internet terms.
Today, Preschool starts rocks, minerals, fossils, and dinosaurs.
This Friday, afterschool will be holding a Bridges and Towers event, where students and guests can build with index cards, spaghetti and marshmallows, graham crackers, giant mats, blocks and other building toys.
I'm working on the next units for preschool (health, food, human body) and afterschool (forensics).
My job is filled with stuff and thoughts, from dinosaurs to crime scene tape, mini-golf to index cards, MaKey MaKeys to bubble solution. Each day is exciting, filled with something different, and that makes my job absolutely perfect!