Why After School for Middle Schoolers?
The after school hours from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. are the peak hours for juvenile crime and experimentation with drugs, alcohol, and sex. When school closes each day, almost 4 million students in grades six to eight are without adult supervision. This can be especially troublesome for children who live in at-risk neighborhoods. Studies show that youth who attend after school programs have lower incidences of violence, drug use, and pregnancy, and have better grades, conduct, and peer relations. Students in these programs benefit from receiving attention from adults, finding new interests, taking on a sense of belonging and leadership roles, and increasing their self-esteem. As a result, students’ grades improve, they have a stronger self-image, risk-taking behavior is reduced, and they have fewer absences in school. The success of such programs undoubtedly accounts for their popularity: Polls indicate that up to 90 percent of Americans think after school programming is important. However, the surveys also show that the current supply does not meet the demand. Nearly 60 percent of Americans have difficulty finding programs in their community. The need is especially keen for middle schoolers, of which just 6 percent are in after school programs.
Nature study helps children develop respect for living things while learning to observe, to ask questions, and to share what they learn with others. Additionally, environmental education integrated with other subjects and the local surroundings improves a student's academic achievement, problem-solving abilities, basic life skills, and enthusiasm for learning, while reducing disciplinary problems and giving the student a greater connection to the community.
Audubon is uniquely poised to teach youngsters about the natural world. Since its founding over a century ago, the National Audubon Society has been at the leading edge of environmental education, serving the needs of communities with high-quality programming. Our strategy to connect people with nature through site-based learning at community-based environmental centers, educational publications, and interactive citizen science programs has evolved and expanded over the years as we continue to learn how we can serve our audiences most effectively.
Audubon Adventures is one of the most respected and widely used environmental education programs in the country, serving 7 million youngsters over the past 22 years. With a focus on grades three through six, Audubon Adventures engages teachers and students in the study and conservation of birds, other wildlife, and their habitats.
Classroom Earth lists Audubon Adventures as among the top ten most popular environmental education programs for K-12, and the Biodiversity Education Network cited it as one of six exemplary models of successful program development and implementation.
The Audubon Adventures After School Syllabus and Activity Guide supports Audubon's goal of reaching 1 in 4 schoolchildren in the United States with our mission.
- Afterschool Alliance, "America After 3 p.m.," 2004
- Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, 2002
- Harvard Family Research Project, "Moving Beyond the Barriers: Attracting and Sustaining Youth Participation in Out-of-School Time Programs," 2004
- State Education and Environmental Roundtable, "Closing the Achievement Gap: Using the Environment as an Integrating Context for Learning," 1998
- U.S. Department of Education, "21st Century Community Learning Centers: Providing Quality Afterschool Learning Opportunities for America's Families," 2000
Is this program right for you?
When thinking about whether or not to implement the Audubon Adventures After School Program, consider these advantages and potential drawbacks.
- Engages Community
- Involves parents, youth, schools, and other groups in a community-related or center-oriented project, such as a site cleanup or a habitat restoration.
- Provides a way to develop relationships with nearby sponsored Audubon Adventures classrooms.
- Operates with or without a center building or site, providing a way to build a constituency in communities where Audubon Centers are not yet present.
- Inspires Education
- Enables children to learn about nature outside of the classroom, which is especially helpful for students who respond well to alternative teaching styles.
- Is flexible in the age group served and the content covered, highlighting Audubon campaigns, local issues, resident wildlife and ecosystems, IBAs, etc.
- Builds upon knowledge learned in the classroom by allowing children to apply it to real life circumstances.
- Elevates Your Center
- Utilizes your site during slow periods.
- Allows for student-to-student mentoring by engaging interns at your center to help run the program.
- Brings in revenue through grant funding or tuition fees, thus making it sustainable and possibly profitable.
- Integrates and enhances existing programs
- Integrates various Audubon initiatives such as, Audubon Centers, Audubon Chapters, Audubon Adventures, Audubon At Home, Citizen Science programs, and internship programs.
- Supports Audubon education goals of long-term programming, repeated visits to Audubon Centers, and outreach to diverse, under-served communities.
- Incorporates the elements of the Audubon Education Experience: Outdoors, Respect for Learners, Science, Interaction and Inquiry, and Leading to Action and Local.
Strategies for Dealing With Potential Challenges and Roadblocks
Lack of interest or enrollment
How you advertise the club, how you select your participants, and how you design the syllabus is key to capturing interest. With a carefully planned approach, this program can become an effective way to attract students who will thrive in the club atmosphere for the chance to spend time with peers with similar interests in a safe and fun club setting. You may be surprised at how eager some students are to get their “hands dirty” in real activities. We found the following to be helpful.
- Work with teachers, principals, and parents leaders to identify potential club members
- Send an invitation to prospective participants to create an air of prestige so that students view the club as a special opportunity, not a chore.
- Design a stimulating syllabus with a student-centered focus to keep participants fully engaged
- Have participants and their parents sign a commitment pledge, which gives them a stake in determining the program’s outcome.
Some middle schoolers have full after school schedules
Some students may already be overwhelmed with existing extra-curricular activities, homework, or responsibilities at home and may not be able to commit to an after school program. However, other middle school students may be searching for such an offering, without which they may turn to less productive activities. In our pilot test, students who had a plethora of choices still chose to commit to our program, largely due, we believe, to the way we presented the opportunity.
Hunger and fatigue after school
After seven hours in school, students are hungry and tired, and eager to move around! A healthy snack and outdoor exercise such as walking to the program site may be all they need. A transitional ice-breaker scheduled before the main activity will give students the mental transition needed after a long day indoors. In most cases, on most days, we found their enthusiasm to be very high.
You can expand your capacity to staff an after school program by doing the following.
- Partnering with a local organization such as a “Y”, a PTA, other youth organization, or a community center.
- Training volunteers and interns from your Audubon center or local Audubon chapter.
- Integrating club activities with center initiatives, such as restoration projects, biodiversity inventories, and citizen science programs, thus cutting down time commitments elsewhere.
- Borrowing and adapting from existing programs.
Lack of funds
Costs can be reduced if you use programming for which you already have the necessary equipment. Also, after school programs are a source of earned income. Consider charging tuition for the program for students who can afford to pay. Research the tuition for other after school programs in your community to find out what parents are used to paying.
Transportation and location
For those centers that are less accessible, such as in a rural area, and for which a weekly program is impractical, the club syllabus can be modified for use as one or two week long summer day program. In this way, the participants can meet all day for two weeks, for example.