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When youth step outside the classroom, their time becomes an open canvas for honing new skills and exploring exciting topics. With approximately 80% of their time spent outside of school (NCSL, 2023), it’s essential to make the most of these moments by cultivating their interests and inspiring them to reach new heights of exploration and achievement. 

STEM learning experiences provide the perfect avenue for this. By venturing beyond the classroom, students can unlock their natural curiosity and develop a deeper understanding of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. These experiences not only help them discover their interests and potential career paths at an early age but also foster critical thinking, problem-solving, and teamwork skills that are vital in our rapidly advancing world.

Out-of-school time (OST) programs offer a supportive and inclusive environment where children are encouraged to freely explore and experiment. It’s a space where they can take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them, fostering resilience and a growth mindset that sets them up for lifelong learning and the pursuit of their passions.

The Collaborative Approach

One shining example of the power of OST STEM education is the partnership between Stafford County Public Schools in Virginia, JASON Learning, and the local YMCA after-school program. Together, we have created a collaborative approach that bridges the gap between in-school and out-of-school STEM education.

To kick off the program, Stafford provided science pacing guides to guide the lesson content, emphasizing the importance of hands-on learning experiences and reading non-fiction to support students’ reading levels. With JASON trainers adapting their standards-aligned materials, after-school counselors (even those without an educational background) can effectively implement them.

JASON provides two weekly lesson plans for different grade bands, complete with suggested pacing, thought-provoking questions, materials lists, and relevant video and article links. These lessons are shared in advance, allowing the district to purchase and deliver the necessary supplies to the 17 sites where the lessons take place.

Acknowledging the significance of experiential learning, the team at JASON requested that counselors capture students’ engagement through photos and videos and share their #JASONinAction moments. This visual documentation not only ensures we are providing lessons that are enjoyable while students are learning, but also preparing them with the content they need to know in the state of Virginia. See some of these #JASONinAction moments below!

Support & Continuous Improvement

Support and feedback are crucial elements of the program’s success. Weekly office hours hosted by JASON address questions and give counselors the opportunity to share success stories and provide valuable feedback. Regular meetings between JASON and Stafford foster open discussions on lesson content, delivery, and implementation, promoting continuous improvement.

The dedication and enthusiasm displayed by counselors in the Stafford After-school program have been outstanding. Attendance at office hours is consistently high, with counselors actively seeking guidance and providing valuable suggestions to enhance program efficiency. As a result, both students and counselors are experiencing the joy of learning, making STEM education an engaging and fun experience.

The collaboration between Stafford County Public Schools, JASON Learning, and the YMCA after-school program serves as a remarkable model for encouraging STEM learning beyond the classroom. By providing adapted curricula, comprehensive lesson plans, continuous support, and hands-on learning opportunities, Stafford Schools nurtures students’ interest in STEM subjects, preparing them for a future driven by innovation and scientific exploration.

Let’s inspire the next generation of STEM enthusiasts together!

If you’re interested in partnering with JASON to bring fun STEM learning to your out-of-school program, please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Cowritten by Rochelle Sandrin and Jenna Davis