SOS - Save Our Schools With After School Programs Part 3

Let me ask you to put aside any of your concerns with starting a program for a minute and ask you a couple of questions.

1) Are you really passionate about something like art, engineering, theatre, math, a foreign language, programming, etc?
2) Can you devote a couple of hours a week after school?
3) Do you believe that every student has potential to do great things?

If you answered yes to all of these, then I would encourage you to start an after school program! Your kids need you!

You might have doubts (I know I did):
  • I am not good enough to run a _______ team or group: 
    • You will never be able to keep up with your students desire to learn, all you can do is keep the energy high and support them. I had found this to be true no matter how learned you are, students just have too much imagination and energy.
    • The MorTorq robotics team was started by a woman who had no engineering skills but was excited and passionate about working with students.
    • This is how the Virtual World emerged in my robotics team. I found this software called Blender that while I knew nothing about, I gave it it to a couple of students who I thought might be interested. A couple of weeks later they had created a video game that the whole school wanted to play. There skills continued to grow until they were making huge virtual worlds and that is how the science festival came about.
  • There isn't enough money:
    • There are so many organizations and companies who want to give money to innovative and effective programs like yours. Do a Google search on "education grants" or grants for ______ and you will see that the list is huge. Additionally your community will love to support you whether it be a company seeking to create future employees or the pizza place down the street that will let you do a fundraiser, the money is there.
    • If you are lucky, you might have someone in your district who rights grants as part of their duties. Were it not for our own Lisa Davis helping us raise funds and support us, it would be impossible to do all that our team does.
So hopefully, you have the courage to start a team, so what do you need to do?

1) Find initial funding: If you are creating a robotics team you are looking at a few hundred dollars, if it is a painting club then it might be significantly less. I would check with your school, district, parents, and community. You never know who you will find that would be willing to help so be sure to ask anyone you can.
  • A note: many after school programs have disappeared because they relied to heavily on one source of funding. You should always seek to be self sufficient through donations and saving. This ensures that your program will always be around and not dependent upon other people's decisions.
2) Find support: After school programs can take a toll on your time. No matter how committed you are, it is important that you continue to be able to spend time with family, friends, and your primary teaching duties. While you might think that your program will only take a little time, ask any robotics teacher or Patrick Yurick of the Graphic Novel Project and they will tell you that once your program takes off it can take up as little or as much of your time as you will let it.
  • Ask fellow teachers or parents, you will be surprised at how many community members would love to help out. I have seen artists, engineers, college students, politicians, writers, even a Disney Imagineer and LAPD Bomb Squad member come to our rescue. Plus the students love to see outside people with real world expertise come and advise them.
3) Find a project: You may think that passion is enough to fuel a group of students but I can tell you it is otherwise. In my opinion, the sole determinant of the success of an after school program is having something to work toward.
  • For my robotics team it is the competitions, for the Graphic Novel Project it is publishing two Graphic Novels a year, for a theatre program it is the productions, for a Japanese club it might be a field trip downtown to order lunch or to the cultural center. Whatever it is, I would encourage you to find something and have it ready to announce to the students on the first day as this will help fuel the program.
4) Let the students be the fuel for the fire: If your goal is to get students excited about a field, discipline, idea then once you have given them the tools let them run with it. They will come in with new ways of doing things and innovate right before your eyes. 
  • When a few of my students 2 years ago made a video game in Blender, it took them 6 months. They then showed a couple of my Freshmen how to do it, and one of them ended up recreating the game in a couple of hours. Now the bar was raised and there was a huge new influx of energy into learning and creating.
  • However, I do caution you against letting them have complete control over the class. I have seen this happen and it either devolved into just hanging out or the project dragged on (deadlines, deadlines, deadlines). 
  • Have fun but keep it professional otherwise people might bring in their friends that just want to hang out as opposed to wanting to help the project. I have been firm about asking people to leave the program in order to protect it from those who just want a place to mess around.
5) Market yourself: Neglect this point at your own peril. I am grateful once again for Eileen Kahn teaching me the importance of marketing. This is not just for fundraising, you may be in a situation where your program is taking up resources (students, room space, materials, funding, etc) from others and if you do not constantly extol the importance of your program then people will not know that it is necessary to keep around.
  • Some ways of easily marketing yourself are youtube videos, a website, yearbook photos, Facebook/Myspace, appearances before the city council/school board, appearances at school events, newspaper blurbs, referring to it in your classroom, posters, etc.
  • I cannot stress enough the importance of doing this. You may never know when it will be important to have the community on your side.

Finally, a message to the community:

Please, please, please seek out a way you can help out in your schools. Whether an after school program or otherwise you will make an impact that will extend beyond what you can imagine. If you are able to donate money, or have an expert in a certain field, can provide space, or materials, you will make a powerful change in student's lives. 

After school is the most powerful use of your resources. With little or no overhead, your donation goes directly toward the passion of a student that they may not even know they had. The ripple effect into the community will be incredible and I thank you for your time and involvement in one of the most important things you can do.