Monday, May 16, 2011

Middle School Innovation: Policy and Practice #a4aChallenge

For all students, middle school is a time of extraordinary challenge. Students experience significant social and emotional changes as academic expectations increase. On average, grades and test scores plummet during the transition to middle school and continue to decline through 8th grade. Schools become more dangerous places, and students become more likely to disengage from family, experiment with unhealthy behaviors, and devalue education.

The challenges of middle school are exacerbated in at-risk communities, where students are more likely to lack quality schools, quality out-of-school-time activities, and positive role models — and where they are more likely to be surrounded by poverty, to encounter violence and gangs in their neighborhoods and schools, and to face significant barriers to learning.

This morning's Afterschool for All Challenge conference session, Middle School Innovation: Policy and Practice, was a great deep-dive into the unique issues facing OST middle school providers. Some takeaways for these providers:

- coordinate with city and school services with the goal of attaining a seamless integration with the principal and school

- learning should be hands-on and project-based - focused on real-world application active learning

- face the unique needs of middle school students head-on - provide peer learning and structured leadership opportunities that support middle school youth... ultimately giving youth a sense of belonging, a place where they matter.

- have diverse and authentic staff/volunteers who are passionate about what they do - people who young people want to be around and can look up to!

- devote attention to program culture - be deliberate here

- monitor quality and outcomes!

- expose youth to future possibilities/career/college aspirations beyond their own communities

Stay tuned for more from the conference!

- Rachel Gwaltney, Chief of Programs

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