It’s no secret that an American classroom is an excellent place for students to cultivate their academic skills. Our teachers are trained to assist students in the development of subject mastery. What we know today is that academic skills are not enough. Students need to develop a wider range of social, emotional, and cognitive abilities to thrive in society once they graduate high school. These skills are addressed partially in the classroom, partially on the playground, partially at home, and partially through after-school enrichment, when it is offered.
After school enrichment is one of the few ways schools foster equitable learning to youth who learn through different modalities. After school enrichment typically provides students with experiential learning--a multimodal and multisensory experience that combines theory and application in real time. Once students enter high school, before and after school enrichment can provide the single most important factor in a student’s ability to overcome social, emotional and cognitive barriers. One reason for this is that these activities are often formed as clubs or teams and they are almost entirely student-led. Student led learning facilitates a number of critical, positive changes to the quality of students’ individual and collective school lives. It helps to foster interdependence and highlights students’ unknown skills, talents, and contributions which builds mutual respect among the student body. It can also address missing or inadequate areas of enrichment within the school’s curriculum, including recognizing the unique needs of persons of color. Student led enrichment can close the gap on learning potential for students from communities with fewer resources--communities in which the students may not have the mobility or financial means to access expensive resources, visit museums or take trips to historic sites.
After school enrichment empowers students to engage with and be responsible for some new aspect of the school, whether that’s a budding robotics program or new acapella choir. These endeavors vary in length and duration and may rotate frequently throughout the year to give new students opportunities to engage. They also, through mixed socialization, break down perceived differences in students of different races, ages, genders, class, and other orientations. Enrichment such as Writer’s Club, Lego STEM, and Role Playing Game (RPG), are usually open to students in a range of grades, and with varying levels of expertise. They offer an important window into the age, race and gender biases students carry and help to debunk stereotypes about individuals on a similar basis.
Some of the most innovative student-led enrichment opportunities are being hosted in EduBoston’s schools. A visit to the over 100 school websites provides an expansive array of before and after school engagements for students of all types. This article highlights a few we feel are offering exceptional learning experiences that extend well beyond the classroom:
Project Semicolon ; “Your Story Doesn’t End Here”
Students at Saint Peter Marian High School run a club focused on suicide prevention and awareness. The students’ content is aimed at providing resources for those in need, including fostering a safe place for students to talk about their stress and their feelings which offers constructive outlets for the management of anxiety and depression. Mental health is such an important aspect of student development. Students’ social and psychological well-being is dependent upon many factors but improved universally by the knowledge that an individual feels supported and that he or she belongs. Kudos to Saint Peter Marian students for recognizing the importance of student mental health and for your proactivity in addressing students’ emotional and psychological needs.
The Ethics Committee
Charlemont Academy has its own ethics committee. The student led and run group spends much time evaluating, defining and designing a policy that reflects the school’s moral and ethical codes. This committee involves students in mature processes including assessing student and teacher conduct, assessing the rules and regulations within the school, and developing new approaches to complex moral and ethical dilemmas that require an evolved perspective. The students help to keep each other accountable and spend much of their time ensuring their school is practicing justice and equity at all levels. Bravo, Charlemont Academy! The Honor Code that guides your school must be both thorough and thoughtful in its constitution.
Another socially conscious student led group is that of Rachel’s Challenge at St. Mary’s Lynn. This is a group of morally & socially aware students who participate in many volunteer activities throughout the year. Rachel’s Challenge students working in soup kitchens, raise money for those in need, and among other important deeds, coordinate a program where students and families "adopt" needy families during the holidays, ensuring these children have gifts and tokens of celebration.
The Princeton Peer Leadership Program
While not strictly after-school enrichment, it is worth noting Hamden Hall’s Peer Leadership training program. Each year Hamden Hall chooses six male and six female seniors to serve as group leaders with the freshman class. Known as “Freshman Mentors”, they are chosen through a highly selective process for their demonstrated leadership, their potential as role models, and their diversity as representatives of the entire school community. “Princeton Peer Leadership” is a challenging, Honors-level, full-year academic course in leadership training which entails rigorous writing, planning, presentation, and evaluation components as well as group leadership and program planning and execution. For over 20 years, Hamden Hall has greatly benefited from the dedicated service of our Freshman Mentors as highly visible role models to younger students and builders of our school community.
Innovations Pursuit Program
An Innovation Pursuit (IP) is a completely student-driven and student-directed endeavor at Berwick Academy. The subject choice is dependent upon each individual student’s passion. Student inquiry is personalized and the outcome is deeper learning and a greater appreciation of the topic. Students who complete an IP do so in addition to their academic commitments and the focus of their IP falls outside of what is offered through the Berwick curriculum. Innovation Pursuits directly foster and instill the skills required in 21st-century education. Students conduct original research and critically think about new ways to problem solve. Each IP includes creative elements of originality. Students collaborate and make connections with other experts in their fields, and Innovation students strengthen communication skills and share their projects outside of the Berwick community. And it all begins with student choice!
These schools showcase just a fraction of the number of extracurricular and programmatic enrichment being offered at our schools. Some schools boast as many as 50 unique enrichment opportunities over the course of the school year. Student-led and student facilitated organization makes that possible. If you are a new student to the school, there is no better way to show what you know and learn about something or someone new than through extended learning outside the classroom. While you are developing much of your supreme cognitive ability inside the classroom, you can address your mind, body, and soul in the time before and after. Schools should offer students full-circle or 360-degree development. If you are not being offered these experiences, it may be time to look at what EduHup’s schools can do for you