For the fifth consecutive year, 500 Providence middle school students spent four weeks this summer engaged in experiential learning, thanks to a partnership with the Providence After School Alliance (PASA), and learned to build, play guitars and explore Narragansett Bay.
From July 7-30, middle schoolers met at Nathan Bishop Middle School (East Side Zone), DelSesto Middle School (West Side Zone) and Gilbert Stuart Middle School (South Side Zone), Monday through Thursday, for the annual summer learning program that engages rising 6th-9th graders in hands-on learning focusing on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) topics. The three Summer Scholars camp sites drew participants from all seven PPSD middle schools.
The Providence After School Alliance (PASA) and the Providence Public School District (PPSD) sponsor the AfterZone Summer Scholars Camp. Participants were able to choose from a variety of different STEM programs offered in partnership with 12 different community organizations including Roger Williams Park Zoo, Save the Bay, South Side Community Land Trust, and the Community Boating Center.
All programs were planned and taught by a team of three educators: one certified PPSD teacher, one educator from the community organization and a third “AfterZone” educator who was typically an experienced youth worker but not yet a certified teacher. The curriculum developed by these educators and community partners was focused on hands-on learning to build math and scientific reasoning skills, as well as building 21st Century Skills including critical thinking, communication and collaboration. All programs spent two days a week off-site in the community or on a field trip and the other two days in or around the school.
In the afternoons, campers also had the opportunity to choose from different enrichment programs like sports, dance or art. All campers were provided with transportation to and from the program and with two meals and a snack.
New this year was the Build It! Program in collaboration with DownCity Design. One program was located at the West Side Zone and one at the South Side Zone. Each team had a community educator from DownCity Design work with the groups.
Campers worked together to identify a need in their school or community and then developed plans to build to meet that need. The West Side team decided to add to the playground at General Street Park. After brainstorming and creating plans, the youth decided to build a seesaw. During the remaining program time, the team learned about safe tool use, went on a shopping trip to Home Depot to buy materials and worked on their project in a workshop space at the Providence Career and Technical Academy.
The Build It! Team at the South Side Zone decided to design and build an outdoor classroom for Gilbert Stuart. They went through the same process of creating designs, shopping for materials and learning about tools and construction. They decided to build a square of benches in front of the school and cover it with a canopy so that Gilbert Stuart classes could sit outside. They split their time between the workshop at PCTA, where they could use the tools to build and assemble the benches, and at Gilbert Stuart, where they dug holes and poured cement to install the benches.
Science of Guitars was a new program this year that was offered in collaboration with Brown University at the East Side Zone. Campers were able to learn basic guitar skills like chords, rhythms and notes. Offsite days included trips to the RISD Museum, Brown University and a harpsichord warehouse. In the last week of the program, the team took a trip to Middletown to record a song in a professional recording studio with a professional bassist. All of the youth received CDs of the recording.
There were two Explore the Bay programs in collaboration with Save the Bay, one at the West Side and one at the South Side. These programs taught about Narragansett Bay and included trips to Rhode Island’s shores to look for living specimens and test water for salinity, pH and other quality measures. Students were also able to visit the Save the Bay Exploration Center in Newport and the Resource Recovery Center in Johnston.
In the classroom, they researched ocean animals, dissected squid, and discussed some of the threats to our oceans and the life in them. In the third week of the program, both groups participated in a service learning project in partnership with the Department of Environmental Management where they marked storm drains in their neighborhoods to educate the public about the harmful effects of dumping and pollution.
The Providence After School Alliance (PASA) was launched in 2004 as a public/private venture to develop a citywide system of high quality, free after-school and summer programs for Providence youth. The AfterZone initiative provides afterschool and summer programming to PPSD middle school students through collaboration with PPSD and community organizations. The after-school AfterZone program will be offered this fall in five PPSD middle schools during the school year.
Information for this article was contributed by Sarah Summers, AfterZone Scholars Coordinator for the Providence After School Alliance.