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Here you will find articles on how to help students get the most out of after-school programs and camps. We welcome your contributions. Please send your articles to articles@CampDepot.com. We reserve the right to edit or reject any submission.


Setting Up an In-School After-School Program

Chances are that your students will benefit from an after-school program. If your school does not have one, you might be surprised to learn that it is relatively easy to organize and implement a program, particularly once some initial interest and enthusiasm have been generated. "Why?, Who?, What? When? Where?" will serve nicely as a way to present an overview of a program model that is effective and does not require a large budget.


Why?

After-school programs yield many benefits and are very popular with all the constituent groups that participate. The regular school day is short, given the tremendous amount that must be accomplished (Someone researched all the regulations affecting elementary schools in New York state and found more than 300 mandates!). An after-school program provides the opportunity to give children experiences that are not possible during the regular day. Drama, a painting class, tennis, or an introduction to a foreign language often have to be set aside for ever-increasing demands in the fundamental areas of language arts and mathematics. Since students must choose the after-school classes, their motivation will be high. That motivation often results in increased learning and is self-perpetuating. Children who like art and choose it will work harder and do well in an art class; children whose parents value language study will learn a great deal from an introductory language class.

The impact of an after-school program on teachers and parents should not be overlooked either. Teachers, parents, and community members often have interests that they are anxious to share with children. Such people are usually more than willing to teach a limited number of sessions for a modest fee. Teachers, in particular, enjoy the opportunity to pursue some part of the curriculum that they really like but do not have time for during their busy day. Reader's theater, hands-on problem-solving activities in math and science, and writers' workshop all are great topics for small groups of interested young people. Teachers and students alike are stimulated. Finally, parents love to see their children learn new skills or develop a special talent or interest. They also appreciate the opportunity to participate in their child's education in a more direct way through these kinds of programs. The message sent to them is that the school knows and cares about each child as an individual.

Who?

After-school programs in a school setting can benefit the children, parents, and teachers alike. When organizing a program, it is important to consider the needs and concerns of all three groups. Both parents and teachers want to see children participate in activities that will enhance their education. These programs do this by exposing them to activities and experiences that cannot take place during the regular school day. Parents, in this era of single moms or dads and two-income families, often are concerned with high-quality, productive child care. Boys and girls themselves love hands-on activities and doing things they have had a hand in choosing. Many teachers like to work with children on topics of particular interest to them. Since all these groups have their own points of view, it is a good idea to organize a steering committee composed of one or two members of each group to assist in creating a plan that will best suit your particular situation. When creating a plan, you and your committee will need to provide for a student population in small groups, instructors to conduct the classes, and some supervision for the transitions between the regular school day and the program and at dismissal time. It also is helpful if this supervisory function can include providing an extra pair of hands to troubleshoot, while the classes are actually going on. Depending on the size of the budget and local circumstances such as the willingness of the school itself to be involved, a sponsoring organization such as a parent-teacher organization may be desirable. An informal, home-grown program like this can be self-supporting and run by volunteers. If the school itself sponsors the program, then contractual agreements between the district and the professional staff will influence staffing, financial compensation, and perhaps other aspects of the program as well.

What?

The program brochure is the heart of the program. In it, you will describe every aspect of the plan to your clients: the parents and their children. Once you have that, you have a program. The brochure will describe the program's general nature, its rules and regulations, and each course offered. It should be very clear about generalities such as the schedule, selection criteria, absences, registration procedures, procedures for handling behavioral problems, class size limitations, parental responsibilities, and fees. The name and phone number of a contact person should be included for questions because, where children are involved, there will be questions. An informal program such as the one being outlined here should take place during a specifically defined, consistent, and limited time period. For example, each class might meet for one hour from 3 to 4 p.m. on the same day each week for eight weeks. The course descriptions themselves need a course title, location, instructor, and one or two (catchy) sentences describing what will occur. For example:

Math Workshop -- Ms. Descartes
Grades 1 and 2, Room 2 

Explore the interesting and fun world of mathematics. Learn problem-solving strategies, work on brain-teasers, play math games, and try some mathematics. This class will meet on Wednesdays.

The brochure also needs a registration form for the students and their parents and a calendar of class meetings to make the time commitment crystal clear. Teacher responsibilities need to be detailed elsewhere, but are just as important. Instructor responsibilities include time (how many hours on what days at what time), instruction, keeping student attendance records, supervision of the students, and -- very important -- what to do if a class must be canceled. When this occurs, a system needs to be devised so parents of the students in the canceled class and their classroom teachers can be notified quickly and simply. One good method is to establish a telephone chain that is initiated by the instructor him- or herself.

When?

Since the classes meet only once a week and only for eight weeks, a class meeting of one-hour class is reasonable, even for young students. The classes should begin as soon as possible after the conclusion of the regular school day to minimize the need for supervision during the transition time. As soon as the last daytime student has left the classroom, the after-school class can begin. If transportation home from the program is the parent's responsibility, then parents and care-givers should be notified of the after-school program dismissal time, so that children can be picked up. Nevertheless, a program supervisor should be provided to take care of inevitable foul-ups and miscommunications that occur at any dismissal time, especially with young children.

Where?

When your program takes place in a school, not only do you have the advantage of the students already being present, but you also have the potential availability of many rooms containing the spaces and materials needed for educationally oriented programs of any type -- another big advantage. The most important factor here is the support of the school's principal -- do not even begin without it! Secure the cooperation of the principal before discussions are held with anyone else. Point out the educational advantages to the children and the staff. Encourage the principal to participate in the planning. This will ensure a smooth-running program that is a good neighbor in the school. A well thought-out schedule, which does not conflict with the regular program schedule also is critical. Perhaps most important of all to the continued well-being of the program are instructors who understand they are guests in other people's homes -- that is classrooms in which other teachers and their students work all day, every day. If possible, recruit staff from the regular teachers in the building. Often, this makes it possible for them to teach the after-school classes right in their own rooms. Then, conflicts about how a room is used are minimized. When this is not possible, take steps to see that there is a good relationship between the after-school program instructor and the teacher who uses the classroom during the day. It is a good idea to have the ground rules carefully spelled out and understood by both parties. (For example: leave the room as you found it; use materials in the room only with the regular teacher's permission; do not allow the after-school students to touch anything belonging to the daytime students, etc.) The two teachers should meet before the start of the program to establish good communication.

The Next Step

An informal program sponsored by a non-profit community group like the PTA or an ad hoc committee can be self-sustaining. Each child can be charged a tuition fee and the fees paid directly to the instructor. For example, a fee of $20 to $25 per pupil coupled with a class size range of 8-12 students produces a stipend to the instructor of from $160 to $300 for the eight hours. If fewer than eight students enroll for a course, that course is not offered. Materials needs are usually minimal. If necessary, a materials fee can be added to the cost of a course. The numbers above can be adjusted to suit your local circumstances. Sometimes a program can be subsidized to keep fees low. The supervisory role can be filled by volunteers.

Conclusion

The essence of an in-school, after-school program is to match up people who have something they like and want to teach with students who want to learn it. With this premise, you will have a program that cannot fail to bring out the best in your students, your colleagues, and your school!

This article was written by a CampDepot.com staff member who is a retired elementary school principal. As a principal, one of his responsibilities was to set up his school's after-school program. Contact us if you would like to reproduce this article.