At the end of the day, as students begin packing their backpacks, many prepare to leave the classroom behind, but learning doesn’t end with the last bell nor should it stop once they leave school. According to the New Mexico Out-of-School-Time (NMOST) Network, our students only spend about 20% of their waking hours in a traditional classroom. This is why out-of-school time (OST) programming and family support is so important to students’ success. These programs expand safe and positive learning spaces for children and youth that align with their interests, broaden awareness of their capabilities, and provide meaningful connections to adults, peers, and community. Afterschool and summer programs also provide crucial support for working parents, ensuring that children have an engaging place to explore and learn instead of remaining at home, alone and unsupervised, or in an expensive childcare setting.
Programs like the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Outreach Center housed within New Mexico State University equip and support schools to build capacity for OST learning. The STEM Outreach Center, partners with approximately 300 teachers per semester and provides necessary professional learning on high quality, research-based strategies to best support student learning. This work spans four districts: Las Cruces Public Schools, Gadsden Independent School District, Hatch Valley Public Schools, and Farmington Municipal Schools to offer outreach to underrepresented students and their families. Programs are held in 23 schools within each district, sponsored by 21st Century Community Learning Centers, a U.S. Department of Education funded grant; 14 schools sponsored by Spaceport; and 6 schools sponsored by the Arizona Public Service Foundation grant. All programs work together to increase interest and engagement in STEM fields, reading, and social development. Each program component promotes an active learning environment that reflects the latest research in the neuroscience of learning.
Students are embedded within the larger systems of families and local communities, which can have great influence on their exposure to new learning concepts, materials, and support. Research shows that parental involvement in a child’s school or activities contributes to higher grades and test scores, graduation rates, positive attitudes & behavior, attendance, expectations, quality of work, and plans for the future. OST programming has the flexibility to support family learning in addition to student learning, bridging the gap between school and the home environment to strengthen familial or caregiving relationships, provide opportunities for skill-building, enhance leadership, and reinforce families’ ability to advocate and support their child’s education both in and out of school.
This is why the STEM Outreach Center and Ngage New Mexico are working together to promote family engagement. Collaboratively, we hope to strengthen and empower families’ ability to support students through the new 21st Century Parent Engagement Coordinator position hosted under Ngage in partnership with the STEM Outreach Center. The STEM Outreach Center currently coordinates over 60 family nights, festivals, and/or workshops that support community involvement with parents each year. Twice a year, each school site invites families to celebrate their students’ personal and academic growth through an award ceremony. The hope for this new position is to expand family learning opportunities based on parent and caregiver feedback and promote innovative strategies to increase communication between families and OST programming. Upcoming plans include computer and internet skills workshops, family cooking demonstrations, and a series on strategies and techniques for helping children with homework.
Our families are committed to their child’s success, but may face barriers or other commitments that limit their ability to become actively involved in school activities. It is our responsibility to provide families with the tools and techniques to create a culture of learning at home and connect families with the resources necessary to thrive in school and beyond.
For more information about the STEM Outreach Center, please contact Wanda Bulger-Tamez at email@example.com, Sara Morales at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call (575) 646-1397.
Laura Silva joined the Ngage New Mexico team as the 21st Century Parent Engagement Coordinator, after graduating with her dual Master’s in Social Work and Public Health with a minor in Integrated Behavioral Health from New Mexico State University in May 2019.