Flexible time to explore STEM and arts activities allow students to be themselves.
After School programming provides immense support for a community, including students and the staff who run the program.
By: Aurora Dreger
Whether it’s performing on a stage, building a robot, or becoming a whiz at Scrabble, everyone has a place where they can excel. Our unique identities are what make being a part of a community so fulfilling.
This is a belief I hold after many years of working with adults and students in various school settings. In my first year working as a dance teacher, I discovered how transformative an art experience can be for students. I was teaching students about different dance styles and important figures in dance history, but the students were really learning how to think creatively, problem-solve, and collaborate with their peers. Over the years, I developed a curriculum that empowered students to work together to create, choreograph, and present their own dance productions. Students who may have struggled academically or behaviorally finally had an outlet to feel successful, in their own way, and on their own terms.
From my experience as an Arts educator, there is a constant struggle of having to prove your program’s importance to school administration. For years I fought to secure time, space, and relevance during the school day, so I decided it was time to transition to an alternative program structure that valued enrichment as much as I do: after-school programming.
After-school programming offers unique opportunities for students to create, explore, and connect that they often don’t have access to during their regular school day. In the era of COVID-19, when many schools removed recess, lunch, arts, and physical education from their schedules, going to an after-school program can be life-saving for students. It offers more than just a resting place for a few hours each day; it is a safe and fun place for students to enjoy while their parents are at work.
I take pride in knowing that many students tell me that they like after school because they can be themselves. As our program at InnovateEDU had to continuously identify new activities and safety measures due to the ever-changing abilities for schools to remain open for in-person instruction, we were persistent in our commitment to ensure students had a reliable place after their school day ended. This could look like the four days per week, in person programming that we offered, with a curated schedule of STEM, arts, and physical activities, or the five days per week, in person programming, where students would engage in whatever activity their energy levels allowed them.
This programming truly makes an impact not only for students, but also for another group of people—the staff. After-school jobs can often offer an entry-level opportunity with on-site training, professional development, and networking. Many of my staff are part-time, juggling multiple responsibilities (e.g., college classes, caring for family members, additional jobs) and this program allows them to tend to other aspects of their life while providing stable, reliable employment.
I am fortunate that my programming was able to continue despite the various closures that many schools experienced across the country. The consistency of our staff served as a resting place for the students who otherwise wouldn’t have one. We’ve discovered the transformative power of sticking together and allowing our creativity to flourish.
Two tips to consider:
- Think about the impacts of after-school and extracurricular activities differently.
- Don’t shy away from finding innovative ways to maintain close relationships, even during times of physical distance.
Aurora Dreger is the Program Director at InnovateEDU’s After School Program.