By Dana Greenblatt | Out of School Engagement for In Class Success, Santa Fe Community Educators Network
As the afternoon sun hangs over late season sunflowers and ripe tomatoes at the Santa Fe Botanical Garden, local elementary school students are deeply engaged in harvesting the summer’s abundant crop. Under the guidance of Cooking with Kids! and Santa Fe Botanical Garden staff, several students ranging from kindergarten to fifth grade are hard at work digging up potatoes and picking tomatillos off the vine. Circled around the hornos, traditional mud ovens, others can be found grinding cornmeal and preparing tortillas for baking led by Cooking with Kids educators.
These students are from Sweeney Elementary’s after-school program, and part of a collaboration between Sweeney and the Santa Fe Community Educators Network (SFCEN). This pilot program unfolded in response to the local need for high-quality after-school programming and a desire for local organizations to play a role in meeting these needs. Every Friday afternoon during the 2018-2019 school year, SFCEN-affiliated organizations provided hands-on programming for Sweeney students both at their school site and on field trips.
Why out-of-school-time matters
The Sweeney after-school program is just one facet of the Community Educators Network’s commitment to addressing the out-of-school time puzzle in Santa Fe. According to a study by the New Mexico Out of School Time Network (NMOST), families across America face a time gap between school and work schedules that totals up to 25 hours per week. In addition, summers offer additional challenges to working families. Accessible out-of-school time programs not only fulfill a critical gap in care for working families but contribute to increased rate of student success.
A growing body of research on this issue reveals that out-of-school time serves as a unique space for skill development through project-based learning as well as an opportunity for career exploration and connecting with community mentors and educators. Exposing students to real-world experiences adds meaning to the topics they are immersed in during the school day and often increases their interest in and commitment to their schooling. As a result, students who participate in after-school programs reportedly attend school more often and are more likely to graduate.
Out-of-school-time programming during the summer months has proven especially critical in supporting student success during the school year. Educational summer programming is a key factor in preventing summer learning loss and ensuring that kids are well equipped to take on a new grade level when the new school year rolls around. This year will be the third summer of collective programming between the City of Santa Fe Summer Program and SFCEN members such as SITE Santa Fe, Audubon NM, and Wise Fool NM.
Another approach to enhancing out-of-school-time programs is through teacher education and training. For three years running, SFCEN has partnered with the Santa Fe and Española Public School Districts receiving the 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant. Colloborative groups of SFCEN member organizations jointly write grade specific after-school curriculum. Close to 150 teachers from both school districts are then trained to implement the curriculum by SFCEN educators during day-long workshops that take place twice a year. The benefits are multifold: teachers receive professional development while students are exposed to experiences that they may not have access to during their school day.
Thanks to these programs and the strength of the collective impact work of Opportunity Santa Fe, SFCEN’s 40 plus member organizations are working together to successfully serve more Santa Fe kids, keeping them engaged, having fun, and learning.