Guest Column

Afterschool programs helping prepare children for STEAM-related careers

By Tiffany Wutzke and Shannon Christian
Posted 1/21/21

As vaccine-laden trucks roll across the United States, it is impossible to miss the vital role that scientific research has played in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tiny vials of …

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Guest Column

Afterschool programs helping prepare children for STEAM-related careers

Posted

As vaccine-laden trucks roll across the United States, it is impossible to miss the vital role that scientific research has played in the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The tiny vials of vaccine headed toward a bicep near each of us will likely save hundreds of thousands, even millions of lives in the United States and across the globe.

As educators, a lesson stands out for us: the vital role that the STEAM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, arts and math), play in our lives, now and in the future. It’s why afterschool programs in Wyoming and elsewhere have put so much focus on the STEAM fields in recent years. We recognize the importance of STEAM lessons and experiences in sparking students’ interest in a host of STEAM-related careers. And we know, too, that afterschool programs are uniquely suited to the kinds of sleeves-rolled-up activities that are so vital to STEAM education.

That’s why, pre-pandemic, many afterschool students were busy every afternoon building robots, learning computer coding, investigating soil conditions for community gardens they were planting and more. Since COVID-19 struck, many afterschool programs have taken on additional challenges, such as delivering meals to families, supporting distance learning and more to help students adapt to school systems’ new schedules and methods. Through it all, programs have continued to find ways to deliver STEAM curriculum such as Zula Science, Kidz Science, Project Lead the Way, Lego Robotics, Digital photography with 3D printing, NASA, Mango Math, and Coding, often providing take-home kits for students to use on their own or with their parents, or developing lesson plans that involve everyday materials found around the home.

A new survey offers insights into STEAM instruction in afterschool programs. In the recently released America After 3 PM survey, the Afterschool Alliance found that the overwhelming majority of parents reported that their child’s program offered science, technology, engineering, and math  learning opportunities. Not coincidentally, fully 91% of Wyoming parents were satisfied with their child’s program.

Unfortunately, that same survey found that nationally, for every child in an afterschool program, the parents of three more were unable to find a program. Here in Wyoming, it’s about the same: for every child in an afterschool program in Wyoming, three more are still looking for a program.

In that same survey, respondents also recognized the role that afterschool programs play in supporting the economy. About half of Wyoming parents with children in an afterschool program – 48% – agreed that afterschool programs help them keep their job or work more hours. And 83% of parents overall – with or without children in afterschool – agreed that afterschool programs provide working parents peace of mind. As the pandemic’s grip on our economy loosens, that aspect of afterschool will be all the more crucial, since it will allow parents to Wyoming work in the afternoons, free from worries about what their children, unsupervised, might be up to.

Finally, an overwhelming majority of respondents – 100% of Wyoming survey respondents – recognize that afterschool programs provide a safe environment for children in the afternoons, echoing years of research that underscores the value parents place on making sure their children are under the watchful eyes of caring adults in the afternoons.

Doubtless that’s the reason Wyomingites recognize the need for the public funding that would make it possible to address the critical shortage of afterschool programming. Fully 80% of survey respondents from the state said they supported public funding for programs that provide afterschool opportunities.

Not all our children are headed for careers in the STEAM fields, of course. But many are, and all of them will need at least a baseline understanding of science, technology, engineering and math. That’s among the many reasons we need to make sure families have readier access to afterschool programs in the weeks, months and years to come.

 

(Tiffany Wutzke is the Youth Clubs of Park County’s Director of Programming and Training. Shannon Christian is the Worland Youth Learning Center’s Executive Director. They each serve as Wyoming Afterschool Ambassadors for the Afterschool Alliance.)

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