St. Vrain students continue to connect to their community through afterschool programming

Though their learning is taking place online, students across St. Vrain Valley Schools continue to connect with peers for extracurricular enrichment activities. Clubs allow students to socialize outside of academics and maintain connections to their school community during this period of blended learning.

Mead Middle’s school focus is Extracurricular Engagement and Learning (EXCEL) with a longstanding belief that students succeed when they become involved and are connected to the school, which has been steadfast during online learning.

Mead Middle Physical Education Teacher, Felicia Clifford, meets with her running club members twice a week. The students connect over WebEx and begin the club by stretching and sharing highlights of their days with one another. They discuss running goals in terms of time and miles and then plan a route for the day. After completing independent runs, they reconvene to end each meeting by sharing their journeys.

“Students are finding joy in belonging to a group and doing something they love,” said Clifford.

The group has decided that they would like to run for a purpose and researched the app “Charity Miles,” in which they can select a charity and donors will make a contribution based on the total miles run.

Meanwhile, coding enthusiasts at Mead Middle meet regularly to tackle various computer programming challenges.

Math and Special Education Teacher, Amanda White, says the program is important for students because they can connect with peers who are outside of their scheduled classes.

“Students are able to find that common interest with peers that they may not have known before,” said White.

During in-person learning, students gather in the computer lab, and the group has pivoted to meeting virtually where White provides a coding challenge and the students share their work on the group screen. Club members can view each other’s coding creations and laugh together as they see visuals like a hamburger exploding across the screen or a dog dancing to a song.

At Westview Middle School, clubs have continued during blended learning due to the strong culture of student agency within the school community. Students in the filmmaking club, WTV, have been producing their news stories remotely since March when online learning unexpectedly began. Math Teacher and Club Leader, Dave Kline, attributes the strength of the club during challenging times to students’ passion for it.

“Students were able to continue the program remotely because it was their program and they wanted to see it continue,” said Kline.

With the start of the 2020-21 school year Kline received permission to set up the “Socially Distant Film Studio,” so members of the club can film segments of the show using the school’s equipment, which is now housed on a portable cart outside the school.

Kline also gives the students different film challenges that they can tackle remotely, such as telling a knock-knock joke in the style of film noir and recreating a famous movie line in many different scenes.

“Through programs like WTV, students are able to maintain that connection and routine,” continued Kline. “It’s easier for students to see this as a temporary setting when they are able to continue established routines, even if it is a remote setting.”

Westview Middle also emphasizes student leadership. As a school that follows the Student Teacher Progression model, where students and teachers stay with the same group for each year of middle school, students grow into the role of school leaders and mentors by the time they reach eighth grade.

Westview Science Teacher and leader of the school’s Plains to the Park program, Dan Cribby,  attributes the success of the program during online learning to the culture of student agency and leadership embedded within the Westview community. Students that were once apprentices in the program during their sixth and seventh grade years take on a higher role when then become the oldest in the clubs.

With Plains to the Park, typically Cribby takes a group of middle schoolers on experiential learning trips to Rocky Mountain National Park or Button Rock Preserve to study wildlife behavior based on data retrieved from field cameras. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how the club runs, with Cribby now driving up on his own to collect the data and share back with the students over WebEx. Still, the eighth graders meet online regularly to plan how the program will continue with lower grade-level students starting in the second semester, and it will be the students who determine how the program adapts.

“All of our students feel they have ownership in the program, and feel confident moving things forward,” said Cribby. “The thing that makes this program successful during online learning is that students have agency in their work. They are able to shape and design the program to suit the needs of the times.”