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Report: Tap STEM-Rich Institutions to Help With After-School Initiatives

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By guest blogger Alyssa Morones

At a time when interest in offering STEM-focused after-school programs is rapidly growing, a new report highlights the potential of "STEM-rich institutions" to serve as partners to make this a reality.

"The after-school environment provides a space for rigorous, hands-on STEM learning and engages a diverse group of children and youth," says the report from the Afterschool Alliance. Additionally, because these programs are set outside the formal school day, the report notes, they allow students to better match their learning experiences to their interests and skills.

This is the first of two issue briefs from the Afterschool Alliance that focus on ways to bring more STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning opportunities into schools through outside partnerships. Drawing from its Afterschool STEM Impact Awards, announced earlier this year, the briefs address two major topics of discussion in the after-school field: The first looks at partnerships with STEM-rich institutions, such as science centers, aquariums, STEM-focused businesses, or even federal agencies like NASA. The second will discuss computing and engineering in after-school settings. This second brief also will feature some of this year's winners of the STEM impact awards to illustrate the value of these types of programs.

(The issue brief was developed with support from the Noyce Foundation, which also supports Education Week's coverage of STEM education and other issues.)

Partnerships withoutside organizations can be a valuable resource, as they provide many of the characteristics that good STEM programs should include, the new report says, such as possible mentors, real-world materials, and opportunities for hands-on learning.

According to the report, young people who participate in high-quality afterschool STEM programs show:

  1. Improved attitudes toward STEM fields and careers;
  2. Increased STEM capacities and skills; and
  3. A higher likelihood of graduation and pursuing a STEM career.

A 2012 report by the advocacy group Change the Equation found that less than 20 percent of households have children enrolled in such STEM after-school programs. These programs need support, though, in order to grow. In a 2011 Afterschool Alliance poll, programs ranked funding as the highest need for maintain STEM programming. A desire for partnerships with STEM professionals and STEM-rich institutions was a close second.

The report details the role that these partnerships play in successful after-school programs. For example, it says science centers, museums, and other cultural institutions offer a wealth of resources and staff with STEM and educational expertise, as well as exhibits, artifacts, and equipment to give students a hands-on learning experience. Many also offer opportunities for teacher professional development. In addition, many businesses also getting more engaged in efforts to address the shortage of individuals with STEM skills. Company employees in the STEM fields are good mentors and role models, and businesses also help students get a behind-the-scenes look at operations.

Also, government agencies like the National Science Foundation and NASA invest substantial resources in STEM education initiatives, the report explains. Many of these agencies run programs to help develop and assess after-school programs. Also, like universities and business, they can act as a vast resource of STEM professionals who can engage young people.

For a closer look at the larger issue of learning about science and STEM outside of school, check out this Education Week special report.

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