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Real story #1: How bugs beat out video games

Part one of our four-part Real Stories series; read more in our 2017 community report

The Teen and Youth Center (TYC) in Seward was at a low point. Attendance was declining, and grades were dropping – especially after summer break.

“Kids just wanted to stay home and play video games,” explains Josie McClain, coordinator of TYC, a city-run program offering afterschool programs and summer camp for elementary and middle school students.

When Josie saw an email from the Alaska Afterschool Network (AAN) – a program of Alaska Children’s Trust – about an upcoming Science Action Club training on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), her eyes lit up. “I said, ‘I want to explore this!’”

“Investing in our children safeguards their well-being today and assures the future success of our state and nation,” explains Thomas Azzarella, AAN director. “Research shows that afterschool programs increase student’s attendance, grades, and graduation rates; decrease expulsions; increase self-esteem, causing a reduction in suicide; and builds the protective factors to overcome trauma.”IMG_1102

Josie received a grant from AAN and attended her first STEM training – on bugs – last October. “I don’t even like bugs, but it was so cool,” she says. After completing the training, she brought the curriculum kit back to Seward and launched a pilot program for middle schoolers.

And that’s when the tides began to turn for TYC.

“Before, we didn’t have these kinds of programs in Seward. It helps us reach kids we don’t normally see, and we are seeing more and more of them,” Josie shares. “Kids interests began to change, and we started to see them light up.”

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The STEM afterschool program was so well received that Josie built the entire summer program around STEM. With coaching from AAN, Josie wrote and received a grant from the Seward Community Foundation to help cover summer activities. “We were full for the first time in years,” she says. “We even had a wait list.”

As part of the summer program, kids visited botanical gardens, explored the Imaginarium in Anchorage, and went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Alaska Zoo. “It was the coolest summer, and I have been doing this for a long time,” says Josie, who has been at TYC since 2005.

While increased participation is exciting, it’s the change in the kids that is most powerful. “Kids are having conversations, partnering more and asking good questions. They want to do activities, not just hang out. And they are having a lot of fun – they don’t think it’s work,” Josie shares. “It is really cool to watch the changes.”

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One student in particular stands out to Josie – a middle schooler who has always struggled to fit in with his peers. This summer, as part of another Science Action Club STEM curriculum on birds, the student was put in charge of researching the different kinds of birds that the group saw.

“He was very meticulous. He went beyond what the lesson was – he researched more and then came in and presented to everyone,” Josie recalls. “It gave him the opportunity to be the hero. He still had rough times but to watch him shine in those moments was so special.”

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Josie is looking forward to continued opportunities through AAN, including a Science Action Club training on clouds this winter and the Alaska Afterschool Conference in November.

“I am so grateful to the Alaska Afterschool Network for helping open the door for Seward,” Josie says. “None of this would be possible without organizations like AAN bringing this information to smaller communities.”

The Alaska Children’s Trust 2017 community report is full of inspiring real stories like this one about how our supporters are making a real difference in the lives of Alaska’s children and families. Read more on our website – and if you’d like to help us make a difference, please consider making a gift to ACT. Thank you!

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