As ACPS Spring Break approaches, it seems the right time to share an After-School Program update. We have had a wonderful winter with our students at Francis Hammond Middle School. We have continued to spend Wednesday afternoons with students from the International Academy - usually a group of 25 or so sixth and seventh graders - and our Fridays with a smaller group from the LINK club.
This winter, we introduced students to the workings of a compass and the basics of navigation; we discussed trust, and lack of it, and embodied that discussion in trust falls and fun “simultaneous sit-on-the-lap-behind-you” circles; we worked on observation skills, as our students impressively hunted for toothpicks spread out across an acre or more of field; we even did a touch of yoga.
Our Wednesdays and Fridays could not be more different, despite sharing the common factor of being an hour outdoors with young people. On Wednesdays, we usually host twenty to thirty students, none of whom have English as their native tongue and many of whom have been in the US less than a year. We hear Spanish, Arabic, Dari, and Amharic spoken as well as English. We hear students helpfully translating for one another to ensure that everyone knows what the Wilderness Kids teacher has just said. And we always get active to keep this rambunctious group engaged - whether through relay races, scavenger hunts to find trees with various characteristics, or through movement games that help students to see both how diverse the group is and how much we have in common.
On Friday, we typically are working with about seven students, all native English speakers. The smaller group tends to lead to more conversation—talks about friends, peer struggles, classes and teachers, social media ups and downs, and more. We still engage in learning around observation, navigation, tree identification, and so on; but, the experience is more like a small dinner gathering, rather than the raucous banquet of a Wednesday.
In both cases—Wednesday’s time with our International Academy students and Friday’s time with our LINK students — we so enjoy these bright, engaged young people. And, they enjoy their time outdoors. Their teachers report that news to us as do the kids directly. Recently, we asked the Friday group to jot down their thoughts about their experiences with us and here is what a few of them said:
"What I most enjoy is your company and doing some fun activities and learning new things about life and the environment with y'all."
"I am thankful for everything [in this program]."
"I have learned that it's ok to be yourself and that it is also ok to talk to someone."
"I am thankful for getting to see y'all every Friday and making my day better!"