After-School Programs: Just Getting Started

Kelly Brouse
Kelly Brouse
Elementary school principal; M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction
Students in an after-school computer coding program learn how to build and program a robot vehicle.

Student social and emotional well-being is nurtured in myriad ways in the school setting, including direct instruction on social-emotional learning skills, trusting relationships with adults, and engaging in interest-based learning activities. One of the ways to extend a student’s connection to and enthusiasm towards school is by offering after-school programs.

A comprehensive after-school program with a wide variety of offerings may seem daunting. Still, by starting small and just getting started, you have taken the first step in creating opportunities for students to grow and connect in ways beyond the classroom.

Have a Vision

Before embarking on after-school programs, have a vision for what the club will look like and the goals you are trying to achieve for student learning:

  • Are you trying to promote a new field of learning, like computer science?
  • Are you trying to engage a particular demographic, like your students who qualify for free and reduced lunch?
  • Will there be a finished product or culmination of the learning, like a writer’s celebration or robotics competition?
  • Will the experience measure success week to week?

It would be best if you took time to think through which students you are trying to engage, how many students can feasibly work in the space you plan to use, and how learning will progress throughout multiple sessions before firming up logistics.

Research Your Program 

After-school clubs and activities can be grassroots, where you are designing and implementing your own activities, or you can affiliate yourself with a company that independently runs after-school programs on school sites.

Programs like Girls on the Run, MPower, and Vex Robotics are all organizations that already have complete curriculums to support your implementation at a school site. You may also find local organizations who run programming in schools, whether it is a music or dance theater, art studio, or coding studio like Code Ninjas or NextGen Smartypants.

Teaming with an outside provider certainly benefits you as the organizer since the legwork of planning the program is complete. Programs like this can be expensive, so you may want to think about student access to this type of programming and look into scholarship options for students who may not afford more costly programs.

Alternatively, you may have an idea all your own that you are ready to design and implement yourself. Consider a personal interest of yours like poetry, arts and crafts, science experiments, or something else, and plan a six-to-eight-week unit of activities to implement with students after school. If your town has a local leisure services department, teaming with them can give you structure as far as cost or registration.

Clarify Logistics

Once you have determined the type of program you are looking to facilitate, nail down the specifics of your extracurricular:

  • What day(s) of the week will it meet?
  • How long will each session be?
  • How many sessions will you need?
  • What is the cost going to be, if anything?
  • How will you communicate to families about this opportunity so that all have access to signing up?

Take time to organize the nuts and bolts of the experience so that they don’t get in the way of your vision later on.

Don’t Do It Alone

Be sure that you have a network of support in getting started. Talking with your school administration for support and office staff for logistical organization are essential first steps. You’ll want to make sure your administration has approved your idea and the office staff is aware of and supporting your need for building space and parent communication if needed. It would help if you also considered seeking out a partner to share the load of planning and implementing an after-school program.

This is also an excellent opportunity to engage parents who may be looking to contribute to their child’s school with a specific talent or interest as volunteers. Parent involvement can have many benefits, including the connection it provides them and the expertise they bring, aside from being free!

Be Prepared

Before the club begins, take time to make sure you have all of the materials you need for the student activities planned throughout the sessions: resources, rosters, responsibility. Having clever storage for larger items will make for easy take-out and clean-up to maximize your time with students in the after-school activity (while also preserving the classroom from becoming a mess due to your extracurricular fun!).

You also need to ensure you have complete information for each student participating, including their emergency contact information, classroom teacher, and any critical medical information; you will want to make sure you have multiple family contacts if a child does not get picked up one day. Since your club is after-school, you’ll want to be sure you have planned for the responsibility of sole supervision of students. Administrators and office staff may not be in the building when your club ends, so be sure you have allotted a cushion in your schedule for any unexpected emergencies at the end of the activity.

Know where the first aid materials are relative to your learning space, and build in time to your first session with students to ensure you have reviewed important safety information and expectations. Planning for these responsibilities will ensure you are prepared for any unexpected situation.

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