Having run an after school literacy program for three years I am still looking for the magic formula for: fun, plus some student accountability for skill development.
In years 1 and 2, we ran the program for eight weeks at school. Students got to choose the workshops they attended, from book club, writing, math help, study skills, and science fair prep. We hired a number of high school students as tutors, each in charge of facilitating a small group, and I assembled materials and set out the details of the program. Each learning group also rotated to have a healthy snack and to have a phys ed break. The first year we had about 100 students and the second year, about 85. The total school population is around 250 in grades 5-8. Because most of the students are bused, a late bus was provided to a central point in each of the communities we serve. There is no charge for the program as it is funded by OFIP.
This past year we tried something different. Due to decreased funding it seemed as though we would have a lot of trouble running the program as in the past. Our principal suggested trying to use technology in some fashion to overcome this obstacle. We came up with a Writing Workshop concept that combined in-school and at-home components. Google Docs was used to bridge the gap and maintain the personal connections between the tutors and their small groups of students. The students all attended two sessions at school, based on the first program model: meeting tutors, snacks, gym, and mastering their board emails and Google Docs. The rest of the program was run online.
We had virtually no take-up when this idea was introduced via newsletter, and flyers home. So the Principal did a Synervoice message to all homes, the core teachers helped out with calls to parents, and the idea took off. We had aimed for 20 to 30 and ended up with over 50 participants.
For the next few weeks, I sent the tutors the writing tasks and any Internet links, and they wrote personally to their students. The kids were asked to submit their writing responses, then the tutors sent suggestions for improvement, then the students were supposed to make the corrections and resubmit.
In all three years there were aggravations over organizing and monitoring, and in all years some students showed a measurable improvement in skills. However, I have been thinking about how to modify the program so that more students get the maximum benefit. Stay tuned for the next post!