by Seth Perkins, City Year New Hampshire AmeriCorps member, serving on the Beech Street Elementary School team generously supported by Dartmouth-Hitchcock
In elementary education, the course schedule is fairly fixed. Teachers light up the classroom with creative lesson plans and unyielding energy. However, there is no class for getting tangled up in yarn or gluing leaves to construction paper. After school programs offer students a chance to further their education in a unique manner that cannot always fit in the daily schedule. At Beech Street School, City Year New Hampshire, in partnership with twenty first century clubs, provides some of the finest examples of silly learning. Thus far, City Year has enchanted children with Enviro-Art, Knitting, Newspaper Detectives and of course Starfish Corps.
Enviro-Art--led by my fellow AmeriCorps member, the incomparable Amelia Shubert--emerged students with sticky glue fingers into lessons on the environment. Envrio-Art provided important information on the Earth, and used art as a tool to teach about resources. Students walked outside breathing in the crisp air, as Ms. Shubert frantically gathered up the racing leaves blowing about the playground. Meanwhile, up the stairs and down the hall nestled a giggling crew of yarn acrobats. AmeriCorps member Jia He created a club where students could be actively engaged, but also reflect on the day while crossing soft thread between their fingers. Students learned the basics of knitting, something I personally am still unable to comprehend. In these sixty minute blocks, offered once a week, students learned life skills and important facts on the world they are to inherit. Left to their creative thoughts and given a platform to teach, my teammates empowered students to learn more.
During the same session of Enviro-Art and Knitting, I played around with newspapers. Newspaper Detectives offered students a lesson on civics, some extra ELA time, and the confidence to be diligent truth seekers. Our call and response to quite the group was me belting out “speak truth,” and them replying “to power!” It did not do the best job of silencing them, but it sure was fun. As a group we would tear up newspapers to read different articles, and then share our thoughts on them. Students would be given news sources and would have to decipher whether it was factual or not. My favorite experience with this fact checking activity was when a student pointed out that the “Flat Earth Society,” had a graphic noting that the truth “would be known around the world.” Newspaper Detectives allowed students to learn and discuss relevant civic matters in an open, free-thinking space.
An open, free-thinking space is what City Year provides in its afterschool programs. Students are given many opportunities to learn every day in a structured environment. However, afterschool provides no pressure to know anything. If you did not pay attention the last time you were knitting, just try again. If you did not read the whole article at club, there is no grade, so do not worry. Afterschool learning is a challenge-by-choice atmosphere, one where City Year thrives. Students are welcomed to the table at every club and encouraged to take something away from it. In Starfish Corps, students have completed their peace project by encouraging friendliness and leading games at recess. Starfish Corps, and all other clubs offered by City Year, challenge students to learn a little more each week with no fear of testing. Most importantly, City Year provides choice to students which helps grow their desire to learn outside of the classroom.
If you or someone you know is interested in joining City Year, click here for information about the application process. The next application deadline is April 13th.