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Invisible Learning: SVVSD Community Schools extend school days with purposeful play, leadership, and collaboration
Learning is always happening. Whether within the walls of classrooms and auditoriums, out in the world, we are continuously registering and processing new and repeated information and determining what to do with it. There are times this can be overwhelming at any age, to say the least. For SVVSD Community Schools’ students and families, great pains are continuously taken to ensure the experience is engaging, inspiring, playful, and purposeful... whatever each participant needs, as an individual and as part of the collective whole.
St. Vrain Valley School District’s Community Schools offers onsite school-age childcare as well as after-school and summertime extended learning opportunities for preschool students ages three and four, and school age care for ages five through thirteen. Programs are available in all district elementary schools, all three K-8th grade schools, and at SPARK; additionally, wraparound care for preschoolers is available in six locations. Ongoing efforts are made to make care as affordable as possible while being the very best it can be.
Community Schools’ quality programming, which provides safe, affordable care and enrichment enhancing academic, social, and emotional development, can’t be summed up by words alone. Behind the scenes, dedicated teams work tirelessly, collaboratively and creatively to deliver tailored experiences aligned with each child’s school day, interests, and needs. “We’re a true extension of the school day,” says Community Schools Coordinator Susan Zimmerman. “We’re part of the district; we’re licensed childcare, but we’re so much more than that.”
The more Zimmerman refers to may not be overtly seen, particularly within the quick glimpses available during hurried drop-off and pickup times. It is certainly felt, however, and reaps lifelong benefits for students. “We work closely alongside the Department of Curriculum, and closely with administrators and teachers in each school to tie in student learning to afterschool care,” Zimmerman explains. “We’re always asking, how do we support learning, how do we make it fun, and how do we make it work for everyone?”
How does Community Schools provide fun, meaningful enrichment for every student? In addition to strong, caring teams who consistently grow through ongoing professional development and training, one way is through sheer variety. An extensive menu of evolving enrichment classes offered before and after school reflects the interests of students and families at each location: from noncompetitive robotics to cooking classes; focused art to martial arts, music and language classes; there is something for everyone. “Extra classes give students opportunity to try out new things,” Zimermman says. “It may be a one-time class, a twice-weekly offering, or as much as a 26-week, twice weekly program. We work with high quality vendors, train our own staff, and partner with teachers already in the schools.”
While enrichment classes open up worlds of varied opportunities, there is nothing basic about the general childcare available. “We ARE an extension of the school day, with hands-on opportunities for extended learning with a lot of peer collaboration,” says Soaring Heights Community Schools Program Manager Jena Gratsch. “Foremost, we really want to develop a lifelong love of learning.”
Gratsch, as well as all Community Schools Program Managers, makes a point of regularly meeting and connecting with teachers, sharing observations and insights. “Being a parent at Soaring Heights as well, I have the unique chance to see curriculum implementation from different perspectives,” she says. “It has allowed for such a great foundation—our program really partners with administrators, teachers, the PTO, parent volunteers…we’re all involved and invested in student development.”
Given varying schedules, age range, and too many variables to list, Community Schools’ teams are masters of flexibility. They are further masters at setting stages for invisible learning: open-ended activities guided by student interest, peer collaboration, homework assistance, teacher-guided activities, arts and crafts, outdoors, social-emotional support and more.
“In the morning, we offer times for students to engage with peers in a variety of STEM-based activities as well as others,” Gratsch says. “This year, students were hugely motivated by robotics, K’NEX, and building in general. Our staff ask lots of open-ended questions, and encourage conversations about what students are working on, as well as peer collaborating and mentoring.”
Afternoons run similarly, Gratsch shares, with homework help offered, as well as that broad variety of STEM activities and choices that serve as a platform for students to develop other fundamentals that will serve them for a lifetime, not least collaboration, physical activity, and learning through play. Programming evolves to fit each group, from materials to incorporation of student leadership. For instance, while robotics and building were highlights throughout this school year, Gratsch says chess concepts are proving to be of key interest this summer. Older students are invited to develop leadership roles, helping to design programs and mentor younger kids.
Throughout Community Schools, student interests serve as a guide. Teams work assiduously to ensure programs fit the students versus the other way around. While the learning that takes place may at times be invisible, the results are not. “One of the most joyful things is seeing students say to parents, ‘oh man, we have to leave already’,” says Gratsch. “That’s so reassuring to me, as both educator and parent. “Seeing how engaged students are and reluctant to leave…that shows me we’re doing things right.”