THE LOW DOWN: For many families with working parents, finding
after-school childcare can be a daunting task. While a typical workday
might end at five or six in the afternoon, a typical school day ends
hours earlier. This leaves a large time gap during which many children
go unsupervised in empty homes. While many public high schools and
elementary schools offer before- and after-school opportunities for
their students (like kids clubs, team athletics, teacher-led clubs,
etc.), middle school students often do not have access to the same types
of extended day programs. Seeing this void, Collective For Youth and
Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands partnered with administrators at
Morton Magnet Middle School to create a ground-breaking program that
provides not just a place for kids to go, but a place for them to learn
and, perhaps most importantly, belong.
THE CHAMPIONS: Gwyn Williams, program director - Collective For Youth; Shawntal Smith, site supervisor for Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands, Jeff Cole - Nebraska Community Learning Center Network; Matt Brandl, principal – Morton Magnet Middle School.
THE SOLUTION: Traditional after-school programs have typically been viewed as childcare. While finding a safe place for children to spend their out-of-school time is important, with the right partners this time can expand the learning environment and make those hours count. A well structured program can build on academic lessons from the traditional school day, and also provide the social and emotional support that is imperative to the development and wellbeing of all children.
In 2008 at Morton Magnet Middle School in Omaha, a partnership with Boys & Girls Club of Midlands (facilitated by Collective For Youth) was created to address students’ social, emotional, and academic needs. The program – named Panther Pack after the school’s mascot – was initially focused on accomplishing three key goals:
- Encouraging students to be more engaged in school.
- Ensuring students are making constructive use of the time between 3 and 6:00 p.m.
- Targeting kids with low level reading and math scores and using the time to help bring them up to grade level.
Panther Pack organizers worked to create structured programming that addresses the unique needs of Morton students, including economic differences and what one organizer termed “middle school emotions.” Students spend half the time working on homework with tutors, and half the time participating in fun team activities, like sports or hands-on projects specifically designed to link back to their school work. Many of the hands-on projects are facilitated by outside providers.
Site Supervisor Shawntal Smith meets regularly with teachers to find out what they’re working on in the classroom and identify ways in which those lessons can be supported and amplified. The result? Interactive and hands-on learning opportunities that make lessons come alive while teaching collaboration, creativity and other valuable 21st Century Skills.
Panther Pack also focuses on holistic development and supporting the kids’ social and emotional wellbeing. The school offers several programs, including “Real Talk”(for 7th and 8th grade girls) which allows girls to hang out, express their feelings, share problems, receive positive role modeling and guidance; “Passport to Manhood” (for African American boys, ages 12-18) which provides an outlet to express emotions in a healthy way and guidance around how to handle their feelings, and “Learning through Loss” to help deal with those specific emotions related to the death of a friend or relative.
In its first year the Panther Pack included 50 students. Today the group is made up of more than 420 students, proof that the program is, popular, needed and effective.
THE RESULTS: National studies have proven that students who participate in these types of high-quality extended day programs see positive improvements in the “A, B, Cs”: Attendance, Behavior and Coursework. Morton’s Panther Pack is no exception. The school has seen a direct correlation between Panther Pack participation and improved attendance numbers, and more than 60 percent of participants have seen boosts in their math and reading scores.
Whereas most after-school programs are dominated by female students, the Panther Pack team made it a priority to find ways to engage boys. Their club basketball team is free for boys and helps keep them stay focused on keeping up their grades and staying in school.
But perhaps most important are some of the results that are harder to measure: the sense of belonging, and the confidence that goes with feeling supported and prepared.
- Partner for Success: Collaboration between school
administrators and teachers, parents, and community organizations like
Collective For Youth (facilitators between schools and community
organizations) and the Boys & Girls Club are what makes the Morton
- Integration is Key: A successful after-school program starts with a
strong partnership between teachers and the extended day staff. In the
case of Panther Pack, Boys & Girls Club staffers spend extensive
one-on-one time working with students. This gives them unique insight
into a particular students’ needs or issues, information they can then
relay to the child’s teacher. The most effective extended day programs
expand on (but do not replicate) what students are learning during the
traditional school day, making the partnership between teachers and
extended day staff critical to success. Providing hands on, meaningful
experiences will make lessons come to life and keep students engaged.
Program coordinators should work closely with teachers to track lesson
plans and additional academic needs.
- Teachers Wanted: Academic support through tutoring and homework help
is a key benefit of the Panther Pack. Because budgets are tight,
program directors rely on teachers to volunteer their time after school
to work with students. Teachers are paid to come in after school to work
with students. They also work closely with program administrators to
ensure activities expand on the curriculum being taught during the
traditional school day.
- Relationships Rule: Though academic enrichment is an important element of Morton’s extended day program, supporting the students’ social and emotional development and wellbeing is equally as important. Program administrators and volunteers make the time to truly learn about each student so that they can provide guidance and a sense of belonging for each.
· Collective For Youth
· Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands
· Nebraska Community Learning Center Network
· Urban League of Nebraska
· YMCA of Greater Omaha
· Girls Inc. of Omaha
· Morton Magnet Middle School web site