Education is constantly evolving as our understanding of the world grows and changes. Decades ago, for example, it would have been unusual to consider including the sciences as part of the average student’s curriculum. Times have changed however, and just as computers have shaped the way we live our lives, so has science and our understanding of it.
In the same vein, educators are beginning to view summer and afterschool learning programs as an essential part of a student’s childhood education, rather than as an elective.
In an article for Expanding Learning titled The Potential of Quality Afterschool and Summer Learning Programs and 21st Century Community Learning Centers for Supporting School Success, research into the most effective ways to determine success in summer or after school programs is explored. The authors’ two organizations, Foundations, Inc. and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, have helped to shape these guidelines, while the 21st Century Community Learning Centers have been incorporating the techniques into its program consistently. It is from these initiatives that we have a broader picture to learn from.
Most of these guidelines require communication between programs and primary education centers, but when done correctly, they can be incredibly valuable resources.
The first point in the list addresses the importance of “aligning in-school and out-of-school learning.” This means that programs should continue the lessons already laid out for students during the school day. Rather than compounding on top of their workload, summer and afterschool programs can provide tutoring, homework assistance, and fun activities to expand learning.
Next up is to “identify and respond to individual learning needs.” Summer and after school programs have a unique opportunity to hone in and give individual-based guidance to students that regular schooling does not always have the luxury of providing. This extra chance to learn with the support and custom assistance beneficial to a student on an individual level is an extraordinarily valuable resource that can prevent summer learning loss and help students have a leg up for the next school year.
Equally important is the following point, “pay attention to health and school attendance.” Summer and after school programs have a unique opportunity to spot mental and physical health issues that can create educational issues for students or contribute to absentees. These issues are often missed by primary educators due to class size and other factors. By paying closer attention however, these deterrents to education can be spotted and more likely rectified, permitting students the opportunity to improve their overall learning experience.
While it’s important for summer and after school educators to communicate with primary educators, it is also important for them to communicate with parents, as the next point, “partner with families” outlines. Again, due to the more individualized attention that these programs can provide to students, they have a unique opportunity to also get to know the families more frequently. This allows the possibility to build positive relationships, provide assistance networking with other families, and learn more about a student’s life and interests.
The final point is “partner with community groups and organizations, and treat school, home, and community as a unified system.” To quote the article in Expanding Learning referenced above, “Children learn wherever they are.” This is true, and it’s why viewing a student’s experience in school, at home, and in summer programs, as a whole rather than individual parts, can be so beneficial. The article continues, “the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative requires school-community partnerships, family engagement, and more and varied engaged learning opportunities for young people.” This partnership between all facets of influencers in the student’s life can provide the student with more advanced opportunities to learn to the best of their ability and grow their support system both in and outside of school.
Together, these guidelines can provide a comprehensive outline of ways for educators to work together to improve the experience of students in summer and after school programs from every walk of life.
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