The Computer School in New York City
The goal of the Audubon Adventures After School Club Pilot Program was to design, implement, evaluate and publish a how to guide about our science-based program tied to conservation outcomes that engages an audience often under served by environmental organizations: urban tweens (middle schoolers) ages 11-14.
To facilitate our entrance into the world of after school programs, we teamed up with Wingspan Arts, an arts education organization with expertise in after school club programming in New York City. Our pilot program project took place at The Computer School in Manhattan, a middle school with an interest in science-based programs and innovative partnerships. The school is located on the upper west side of Manhattan, and its pupils come from all over New York City. The student population, numbering 300, is socio-economically and culturally diverse and comprised of 30 percent each African-American, Latino, and Caucasian, and 10 percent Asian.
During our pilot program we wanted to accomplish the following:
- Examine whether an after school club is a desirable format to distribute Audubon educational programming and engage children in meaningful conservation work.
- Document the benefits and pitfalls of partnering with established local organizations.
- Appropriately adapt the Audubon Adventures curriculum for an older audience and for use in an outdoor setting during after school hours.
- Document the different ways in which to engage students in grades six through eight in inquiry-based environmental education after school.
- Combine environmental studies with other disciplines, like the visual and performing arts, as a means to engage middle schoolers in science and conservation.
- Share our results with Audubon Centers and Audubon Chapters, as well as other organizations.
Pilot Project Key Phases and Outcomes:
Organizational/Operational: After several meetings, we formalized our partnership with Wingpan Arts by creating a scope of work, establishing a budget, and signing the necessary agreements. This is when we resolved questions regarding responsibilities, liability, and copyright.
Program development: Together the partners decided the goals for the program, which would engage children in conservation through the disciplines of science and the performing arts. Our aim was to use inquiry-based projects in outdoor settings so that students would increase their knowledge of environmental issues in their neighborhood and beyond through direct experiences in nature. They would be able to acquire and apply new critical thinking and communication skills in the implementation of a local conservation project.
Student selection: With input from teachers and considering needs, talents, abilities, commitment level, family support, and leadership potential, we selected 15 students from the middle school: five from each of three grade levels-sixth, seventh, and eighth. Their ages ranged from 11 to 14. Priority was given to underserved youth and we aimed for a diverse representation. The pre-selected students received invitations to join the program.
By the end of the program ten participants remained, five boys and five girls: four sixth graders, three seventh graders, and three eighth graders.
Instructors: Two experienced instructors, one from Audubon and one from Wingspan Arts, led the program; occasional guest instructors augmented them.
Length of program: We planned for a 16-week program in the spring semester, but the actual length turned out to be 14 weeks due to unforeseen school cancellations including a snowstorm. The group met on Mondays for two hours, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. In addition, the school principal agreed to release the children from classes for one full day for a field trip. Toward the end of the program, extra club meetings were scheduled at the group's request so they could complete their project. In total, this program amounted to approximately 40 hours as a group.
Curriculum design: We divided the program into two major sections. Each segment was allotted eight sessions. We weaved the use of performing arts with science-based activities in exploring conservation themes. We decided that at least half of the time would be spent outdoors doing hands-on activities. Several off-site field trips were scheduled, and transportation was provided or public transportation was used.
Theme of the first half: Discovery and Inquiry. In the first half we focused on observation; the participants were immersed in hands-on discovery activities in the outdoors to build their naturalist skills. We introduced them to Audubon and to environmental issues. We worked with the students on hypothesis construction, data collection, journaling, field guide use, nature sketching, field note-taking, mapping, surveying, and species identification.
Theme of the second half: Conservation Outcomes. In the second half of the program, the group identified a local environmental problem, and designed and implemented its own conservation project to address the problem. We guided the students in using the scientific process to identify their project. And we helped them evaluate their effectiveness. The project ended with a community presentation. The students decided to produce a video about how waste management in New York City affects birds, other wildlife, and their habitats and present it to fourth graders at a local school. The Audubon Adventures After School Club members worked with the fourth graders and built bird feeders out of recycled materials and made suggestions about where to place them on the school grounds. Each fourth grader was provided a bag of bird seed so that they could fill their own homemade bird feeder.
Evaluation: Instructors and students alike were required to keep weekly journals of their experiences, including but not limited to activities, likes and dislikes, and conservation project outcomes. In addition, on the last day of the program, they were asked to fill out evaluation forms.
Budget: Costs translated into an estimated tuition of approximately $350 per student for a 16-week cycle. This compares favorably to tuition for after school programs of this duration and depth in New York City. When computed on an hourly basis, the cost was approximately $8.75 per hour per student. A grant covered all expenses.