Where can students go when the school day is over to learn computer coding, mindfulness practices, STEM, ACT prep and leadership?
If you guessed afterschool, you get a gold star. But you might not have guessed that the students in question are both elementary youth and UNL Honors students.
Nebraska Children was glad to catch up with Shannon Mangram, Coordinator of Community Engagement, Retention, and Recruitment for the UNL Honors Program. With Shannon’s guidance, UNL students are making a difference in their own lives and the students that are participating in the next generation afterschool clubs they are developing for Nebraska youth.
“I feel so blessed to have amazing students who are not only dedicated to helping the community, but who want to learn the ins and outs of building high quality afterschool clubs!” said Shannon.
When we discuss afterschool, we must mention UNL Honors’ partner and one of Nebraska Children’s initiatives, Beyond School Bells (BSB). BSB is a dedicated network of afterschool professionals who create and sustain quality expanded learning experiences, or ELOs. Whether ELOs take place afterschool or during the summer, these programs offer kids and youth the opportunity to undertake challenges and prepare for thriving careers.
By “challenges,” we mean that afterschool lets kids engage in STEM opportunities, mentorship programs, and creative problem-solving activities. These experiences keep kids out of trouble and prepare them with essential 21st-century job skills. BSB, by its design, continues to leverage partnerships with UNL Honors, among many others.
BSB has its work cut out for it. Every day, this initiative debunks the myth that afterschool is just babysitting. Whereas afterschool does provide vital care for children and youth, care that enables their parents to go to work with a peace of mind, that’s only the beginning. ELOs unleash imagination and skills that our young people can learn in a safe environment. BSB’s goal is to support afterschool programs across the state that work with school day educators to excite, engage and inspire the next generation of Nebraska’s youth.
Given our vision of a state where every child thrives, we’re glad to hear Shannon and UNL Honors students as they echo this motivation.
Shannon said that BSB and UNL Honors are partnering on two key initiatives. The first strand is that of the Registered Student Organizations, specifically the UNL Honors Afterschool Clubs, on UNL’s campus. The second one is ACTivate, a test-prep, and mentorship program piloted at Grand Island Public Schools (GIPS).
What about the RSOs? Registered Student Organizations? Yes, They DO Exist…
BSB and UNL Honors have braided another strand into our growing afterschool tapestry – Honors Afterschool Clubs.
Honors Afterschool Clubs meet for the entire semester and are run by UNL’s Honors students. These clubs offer students a paid opportunity to flex their experiential muscles and provide community support. Throughout the club, students reflect and draw from their experiences, both one-on-one and with their peers. During the spring 2021 semester, there are 28 Honors Afterschool Clubs being facilitated by 60 participating UNL students.
Shannon said that Honors Afterschool Coaches, a student-run organization, make up a vital part of this initiative. The coaches are responsible for connecting with the college student facilitators to ensure their curriculum meets the Center For Youth Programming’s (CFYP) standards.
“Club leaders complete a certain number of activities for the honors experience, but the students also need help. The coaches know how to make the club better,” said Shannon.
UNL Honors student, Sejal Soni, said that she was pleasantly surprised when what began as an effort to earn credits turned into a passion. Through creating her learning experience, she blended two seemingly disparate ones: coding and meditation.
Sejal said the real challenge was making lessons engaging for the students.
“I mainly had fourth and fifth graders in my club and initiating a new topic like code was challenging for me to teach and for them to learn,” she said.
“What stood out to me was their determination to learn new things. I think the whole reason afterschool clubs are so important in today’s academic curriculum is that they introduce these young minds to the bigger and brighter possibilities their career path of interest holds,” she said.
Sejal said that afterschool programming is a great way for students to find new interests, strengthen their existing ones, and engagingly meet these goals.
“My main intention starting out was to get honors credit, but now it is so much more,” she said.
“Now, it is learning through helping others and being a valuable resource. Also, helping the kids to have a healthy and happy mind and making them aware of the resources for it, was my primary goal,” Sejal said.
Along with her passion for her students to learn coding and well-being, Sejal discovered something else.
“I am very passionate about encouraging people from a young age to understand the importance of clear thinking and want to make conversations involving mental health more common and comfortable,” she said.
“[During] every club after learning about code, we spent fifteen minutes at a mindfulness activity to become closer to one another.”
Sejal said that she sharpened her teaching skills, which was relevant to her current position as a Teaching Assistant.
“I have been a Teaching Assistant at UNL for over a year now, but I have never had any experience with primary or elementary kids. This was such a great learning experience, and I question some concepts myself to make sure I deliver them correctly to my young and curious audience,” she said. Needless to say, the young people in her club benefited from having such an enthusiastic and dynamic role model as Sejal to direct their learning.
Sejal’s story is no fluke. Salman Djingueinabaye, another UNL Honors student and Honors Afterschool Club leader, said he too has grown his career through his involvement in afterschool clubs.
“I started as a club curriculum designer,” he said. “I worked with a friend to develop a Lego robotics club for middle schools.”
For Salman, what began as a quirky interest quickly turned into full-blown labor of love.
“Soon after, I worked with a team of honors students to create a STEM curriculum for rural k-12 students,” he said. “I also recently worked with another team of honor students to create an ACT prep course for socioeconomically disadvantaged youth.”
In terms of insights, Salman said he has one main takeaway.
“I learned that I am passionate about creating opportunities that will lower the barrier of entry for ambitious but disadvantaged people,” he said.
“I grew up around a lot of talented friends with potential, but whose circumstances pushed them into undesirable positions. I’ve learned a great deal about the transformative effects of empowering disenfranchised youth from the various afterschool programs I’ve volunteered in.”
Salman said he regrets that these opportunities weren’t available to his friends. Nonetheless, he hopes his current work ensures that disadvantaged youth in upcoming generation are equipped to thrive.
“I’m confident that if my friends had been given the support and motivation I received, they would have been able to lead exceptional lives,” he said.
Every strong program, however, needs a coach to oversee its quality. This is where the UNL Honors Afterschool Coaches come into play.
Shannon said that coaching responsibilities include sustaining, reporting, and recruiting students.
She went on to say that the coaches and BSB are even planning an end-of-year awards ceremony and that the students’ enthusiasm is energizing.
“They have a genuine desire to see the value of afterschool and expanded learning,” Shannon said.
“[UNL Honors students] are helping to push forward the experiences. It’s one thing to hear from me, but when you see it, it’s a whole other thing. Students are taking ownership of the community!”
Kelly Wong, President of UNL Honors Afterschool Coaches, said she’s dedicated to spreading the word about afterschool’s importance and involving her peers.
“Working as the president of this organization, I have been able to speak with and spread awareness about everything I love about teaching afterschool programs, as well as recruiting others to participate in this amazing opportunity,” she said.
Kelly recalled a pivotal moment that drove home afterschool’s impact.
“I remember one lesson plan when my co-club leaders and I were instructing students in how to create ‘edible water bottles,’” she said.
“As we stirred the gelatin mixture needed to create the water bottles, I had two or three students constantly asking questions, and it was in this moment that I realized that the lesson we were conducting that day actually engaged students,” she said.
Kelly continued to witness moments where she saw firsthand students’ interest in afterschool programming.
“Not only were they having fun [with] the various science projects we were doing, but our lesson plan had intrigued the curiosity of students in STEM-based principles behind the hands-on experiment,” said Kelly.
“This moment made me realize the lasting impact afterschool programs can have on students and their future interests in the long term.” That is exactly what BSB wants to see – afterschool and summer programs and experiences that excite, engage and inspire young minds, setting the wheels in motion that will someday drive Nebraska’s economy to new heights.
Kelly said that leading these courses has developed her leadership skills, too.
“Through UNL [Honors] Afterschool Clubs, I have been able to work and often learn from students throughout the Lincoln community from so many different backgrounds, learn how to form and execute a quality lesson plan, and gain countless skills in communication, public speaking, organization, and decision-making,” she said.
“I can one hundred percent say that the leader I am on campus and in my community today was formed through my involvement with afterschool clubs, an opportunity that I will always be grateful for,” said Kelly.
The UNL Honors Afterschool Clubs are a win-win. UNL students exercise innovation, communication, and agility. Community partners gain an energetic mentor and club leader, and participating youth engage in quality, hands-on activities.
These experiences, moreover, may swing open the floodgates to a new career or passion. UNL students can even create and house their teaching materials for public use: go.unl.edu/hpclubrepository.
“I’m super-excited about the future,” said Shannon. “We underestimate the power of young people and college students. They WANT the opportunity to grow in a safe environment and gain feedback. Honors Afterschool Clubs provide them the opportunity to do both – all while serving the community.”
We couldn’t agree more. As an organization that envisions positive change enacted through community engagement, BSB is thrilled to partner with UNL Honors to launch and support these kind of afterschool projects that leverage the time, talents, and enthusiasm of Nebraska’s best college students to create a better Nebraska, not to mention college-ready and career-driven learners!