By Erin Velez, Community Service Council
At schools across the nation, a wave of students fill the buses after school to head home, but the buildings are far from empty. Another set of learning experiences is just about to begin. After having a quick snack, the students still in the building head out to a number of different after school enrichment activities. Classes you will see include Architecture, Robotics, Arts, Soccer, Homework Help, STEM Challenges, Chess Club, and many more. And the best part? A majority of these programs are completely free to families. Community Schools offer extended services and hours to help close the opportunity gap for children.
For eight years, I was a Community School Coordinator at Rosa Parks Elementary in the Union Public Schools District. When the district began this work, we assumed that the main reason families took advantage of these opportunities was to have a free, safe place for their child to go after school. After completing a survey in 2015, we learned that this was one reason, but it was not the main reason. The main reason was exposure to new learning experiences. Families wanted their children exposed to the arts and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
This data changed the way the Coordinators looked at after school programming. Instead of looking for “anything” for kids to do after school, we were able to look for community partnerships that would provide intentional experiences for kids. One school developed Student Lead Programs where students designed and then taught programs with a mentor teacher. Other schools reframed “tutoring” to feel be more of an interactive learning experience. Strategic partnerships expanded opportunities across the district in STEM, Fine Arts, and academic enrichment.
As I read the results of the PDK Poll, I was pleasantly surprised that families across the rest of the nation feel the same about the importance of experiences and supports for children. “Among the services mentioned, those that respondents rate as most important for public schools to provide to students in need include after-school programs (92%) and mental health services (87%), and most by far feel that way strongly. Three-quarters of respondents say that schools are justified in seeking additional public funds to pay to provide such services.”
We are proud that our own Tulsa schools are doing great things to support the whole child and meet the needs and wants of families.
Erin Velez is School Consultant for the Center for Community School Strategies, a program of the Community Service Council.