One word that comes to mind when we think of Nebraska’s afterschool programs – resilience. As we look back on the past year, we’ve seen afterschool programs’ innovative efforts to prepare our youth for successful careers, provide STEM skills, and deliver problem-solving activities.
To top off these efforts, we’ve seen our afterschool programs combat the pandemic with creative and relevant activities for young people. Today, we visited with Austin Casselberry, Norfolk Public Schools 21st CCLC Grant Project Director. The school is also the home to Aftershock, their afterschool program that delivers intentional quality learning.
Nebraska Children and Families Foundation is on board with purposeful afterschool programs like these. We are home to Beyond School Bells (BSB), a dedicated network of afterschool professionals who create, sustain, and enhance quality expanded learning programs, or ELOs.
BSB recognizes that traditional school days can’t always provide the extracurricular and hands-on activities that kids and youth need to be competitive for the job market, engaged in creative problem-solving, and up-to-speed with STEM skills, just to name a few reasons why afterschool is important.
Beyond School Bells is always glad to catch up with one of our partners and afterschool programs like Aftershock, which recently began a podcasting club. Say what you will about afterschool and summer programs, but they are anything but just babysitting.
Despite this occasional misconception, as we spoke with Austin, it became evident that throughout Nebraska, initiatives like the podcasting club are one of many that allow kids to experiment, become career-ready, and have fun in a safe environment.
Austin said that when the high-tech equipment arrived, it was put to immediate use. With an upcoming band and orchestra concert, the school wanted to engage the parents while remaining socially distant. This is where the equipment for broadcasting and podcasting came in handy.
“We then recorded the band and orchestra concerts,” said Austin. “So, the parents were able to watch their kids!”
Austin said that from there, parents received clips of their children’s performance within a few days. “It was a huge stress relief for teachers,” he said. “The band and music instructors just had to run the concert.”
Soon after, the cameras and filmmaking software continued to be put to good use. Students in the afterschool podcasting club began to exercise their creative skills and a series was born. Austin said that the club allows students to exercise a great deal of freedom in how and what they engage for the podcasts.
“The kids pick the topic, they do the branding, then they do an episode of interest. They even try to identify professionals to be interviewed.”
This is where afterschool truly makes an impact. When kids can speak to admired professionals in a field of interest, this is the possible beginning of a career. Whether that career is in marketing, communications, or the interviewee’s field, one thing is for certain – students are spending their time wisely. They’re gaining soft and hard skills that will prepare them for the 21st century job market.
Austin said that in addition to providing career exploration and technical expertise, the students exercised even more creativity with holiday themes.
“For episode one, for Halloween, we featured paranormal activity in Northeast Nebraska, so we interviewed the president of the paranormal activity organization!” said Austin.
Although Austin said that perhaps the students won’t pursue a ghostbusting career, they’re still learning a valuable lesson.
“The kids realize adults aren’t scary!” said Austin. “And they realize, ‘I can ask them about their job.’”
Episode two, meanwhile, was a podcast on the history of all games. Students explored the backgrounds of video games, board games, and animation. And they’re not showing any signs of stopping.
“Now they’re working on an episode about less common sports,” said Austin. “The topics are fun, and kids get one hundred percent input on what the topics are and how to put them together.”
Austin said one of the most memorable moments was after a long wait period, watching the students finally test out the new equipment.
“The kids were skeptical at first, thinking, ‘Why do we need this?’ Then, they heard their voices with those nice mics and speakers, and they lit up. It hooked a lot of kids, it was really cool,” said Austin.
As with so many afterschool activities, the possibilities are endless. Austin said that one highly desired career and skill set is content creation, which students can learn throughout podcasting.
“Marketing has shifted to social media; someone has to produce ads, it’s a fast-growing career. Kids have the opportunity to be content creators,” he said.
Austin said his sincere hope is that students will explore career options in content creation or through networking with their professional guests that can spark an interest.
As far as the future goes, the podcasting club continues to flex their innovative muscles.
“Moving forward, we’ll invite more partners and be intentional about the career aspect,” said Austin. One of the possible future initiatives include the local radio station and college teaming up with the afterschool program to supply more equipment.
Above all, Austin shares BSB’s view that afterschool is truly where the magic can happen, as the curriculum is developed with the next generation of professionals and community’s needs in mind.
“Afterschool programs have provided hands-on expanded learning,” said Austin. “It’s intentional. I don’t know a single afterschool program that doesn’t take a good hard look at their community’s needs in order to prepare the next generation for the workforce.”