SPPG, supported by United Way of Central Iowa, officially kicked off activities of the Out-of-School Time (OST) Literacy Initiative in 2013. Afterschool programs that participate in the initiative are supported by SPPG’s two Literacy Coaches. The Coaches assist program staff in integrating literacy into activity planning and in developing useful and appropriate materials through training and one-on-one, daily assistance.
The goal of literacy (reading and writing) in afterschool programming is to encourage students to be well-rounded communicators through lots of opportunities to practice their reading and writing in addition to the high quality instruction they receive during the school day. But it’s not just about reinforcing basic skills.
In afterschool, programs strive to show kids and youth that literacy can be fun and a form of self-expression. Michelle Rich, SPPG Senior Program Manager, leads the Central Iowa OST Enrichment Initiative. “In out-of-school-time, not only are we helping kids to be better readers and writers, we are also trying to instill a love of and respect for both. This is done through activities that integrate literacy into other subject areas, such as a science experiment, and also through activities that use reading and/or writing just for the love of it, like storytelling or poetry. We have so much to offer in this space, and often the kids, themselves, are the deciders. There’s so much to explore in OST.”
We’ve asked our Enrichment Coaches to give their thoughts on an issue related to our work in out-of-school time literacy and enrichment. While their expertise and professionalism are especially high among the two, you will find that their shared experiences are all the more poignant.
A ROAD LESS TRAVELED AND UNDER CONSTRUCTION
Written by Angela Cardamon, Out-of-School Time Enrichment Coach with the Central Iowa OST Enrichment Initiative
Being a Enrichment Coach and being part of the Out-of-School-Time (OST) Enrichment Initiative has and continues to be an adventure. It not only is a “road less traveled” in education, but is also a road under construction. There are many different programs and models being tried around the country, but there is no “one-size-fits-all” fix that has emerged. My job involves researching, assessing the needs and practice of my sites, and working daily with Directors, Site Leaders and Front-line Staff to design and implement intentional programming that will enrich students’ literacy skills and have positive effects on their academic success.
The whole motivation behind our effort stems from a national trend that recognizes the impact OST programs can have on students, especially over the summer. Several major think tanks in Massachusetts and California are conducting research on programming models that have shown promise. Such programs are characterized by intentionality of goals and aligned programming, strong staff support and development, and diverse partnerships. This is a divergence from the traditional custodial care model characterized by a focus on supervision and child safety.
This paradigm shift from custodial care to enrichment is the way of the future. Along with some major metropolitan centers across the country, Iowa is a leader in helping programs make this transition to a more intentional program structure. The road is not without its hazards, however. There are many wonderful organizations that have been serving students and families for a long time. Some are firmly entrenched in their mission, goals, and methods; others have been coasting along as needed. Change is and will continue to be a slow process since every organization is different and their staff are being asked to change the way that things have always been done, in some cases a significant departure from the regular route.
OST programs can and do have an effect on the Achievement Gap, but it is also recognized that they can have an even greater impact on achievement by offering opportunities that schools and families can’t. This is officially recognized as the “Opportunity Gap”: the gap in life experiences that build important skills like communication, etiquette, and critical thinking. The goal of our Initiative is to improve the quality and increase the intentionality of programs in filling this gap. Starting from the top down, programs need to understand and support this ideology. Their commitment to change trickles down through the whole organization. The Enrichment Coach and program management work together to find an approach that will work for their programs. It is a matter of monitoring and modifying as needed.
Although I have a Masters in Education, a Reading and ESL Endorsement, the majority of my career has been spent in public education. Specifically, I was an elementary teacher for grades 1, 2, and 3. These are the formative years that build the foundation of a young student’s educational life. Through my classroom experiences, I feel highly qualified to teach in every subject area and especially experienced with the reading and writing process of young students. My biggest challenge has been to take these skills and apply them to OST programming in a way that is different from how they are taught in schools. It has become perfectly clear that OST programs are NOT schools and that giving students more “school” is not as impactful as offering them ways to learn that are outside the box.
The position of Enrichment Coach also challenges me to think outside the box. Our initiative is in its second year and I have only taken a few steps down this “road less traveled”, but what a journey it has been! Slower than I expected, there are opportunities to experience (not just witness) new vistas every day. I look forward to the rest of the trip and fill honored to be a part of this journey. Improving the lives of children improves us all.