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Bringing teachers and afterschool providers together around STEM

by School's Out Washington | | Posted under STEM

by Krista Galloway, Quality Initiatives Program Manager

I was thrilled to kick off the first ever STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Afterschool Matters Fellowship a few weeks ago with my co-facilitator Pam Forbush. We have led the Fellowship for the past 2 years, and have been privileged to witness teachers and afterschool providers coming together to build relationships, discuss common beliefs and issues, break down the jargon that we all use to segregate our areas of expertise, and support each other through the hard work of conducting action research and writing a meaningful paper.

One goal of the Fellowship is to help teachers and afterschool providers find their common ground. As one of our first fellows described, it becomes easy to get so involved in your own work that you forget to look around, sometimes even within your own building, to see the other adults who are supporting “your” kids. We sometimes get territorial. We sometimes are under so much pressure to do what we need to do in limited time that we don’t have capacity to reach out to others.

When we give a small group of teachers and afterschool providers the time, space, and a common end goal, we see “a-ha” moments happening around a variety of issues.

The Fellowship

Another goal of the Fellowship is to get the “voice of the field” out into the community. Each fellow works all year on the action research topic of her/his choice with the end goal of a publishable paper. The originators of the Fellowship, the Bowne Foundation (the major funder), the National Writing Project and the National Institute on Out-of-School Time (NIOST – the national administrators and conveners), all believe that action research – research done by educators and youth development professionals – has inherent value and great potential to positively influence the field and ultimately benefit youth. Our fellows have explored and written about their questions with passion, brilliance, insight, grit, and sometimes heartbreaking honesty. This isn’t easy work we do. 

Last spring, NIOST told us that the Noyce Foundation was interested in funding a STEM-specific group, and asked if Seattle was the place for it. Pam and I deliberated. Our supporting organizations, School’s Out and the Puget Sound Writing Project, considered the opportunity. Informal STEM education is a particular interest of mine, so I was excited. But Pam and I both wondered what we might miss by limiting our topic focus. Ultimately, we decided that it was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up. We’re kind of fond of being ground-breakers (OK, and sometimes rule-breakers, right, Pam?).

It did turn out to be challenging to find enough applicants to run the fellowship. The narrowed focus was probably the major reason for this, but there were a number of of contributing factors (e.g. trying to reach out to teachers over the summer, etc.) So it was a very happy day for Pam and me when we got to meet the new Fellows!

At our first meeting, we led some icebreakers, developed a group agreement, began the important work of reflective journalling, and practiced reading articles critically. And that was just the morning. In the afternoon, the Fellows who have been working on their research since last year (we sometimes accidentally say “our old Fellows”, but that just isn’t right) presented that research to the newcomers. That day was a lot of energy and activity packed into our little SOWA office. And the new community began to develop.


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