Friendship Bracelet: How Lauren Mott Created Afterschool Engagement for Herself and Students  

When Lauren Mott walked into her first job at an afterschool program, she saw children who became restless due to being unengaged.  

Wordlessly, she came into the classroom the next day with a box of supplies, sat down by herself at a table, and began making friendship bracelets.  

Curious, the students walked over to see what she was doing. Pretty soon, she had an entire table of 10 kids making bracelets in the name of friendship.  

When we say Nebraska Children and Families Foundation and its afterschool network Beyond School Bells (BSB) create positive change, we mean it. And Lauren embodies this example.  

Lauren's passion for afterschool learning and STEM echo our mission to create positive change.
Lauren’s passion for afterschool learning and STEM echo our mission to create positive change.

But we don’t stop there.  

We believe that we can enact transformative change throughout our communities and partnerships; Lauren continues in this tradition.  

She’s since graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), developed afterschool and STEM programming passions, and received a competitive White-Riley-Peterson (WRP) Policy Fellowship, which she’ll pursue while serving in her current position as Beyond School Bells Program Coordinator.  

And we sense that this is only the beginning.  

Lauren said she’s always been interested in science and loved school.  

“Ever since I was a kid, I loved doing homework, which is atypical,” she said, laughing.   

“Going through school, I knew I liked working with kids and science, so I thought I’d be a pediatrician.” 

With hopes of attending medical school, Lauren attended UNL and majored in biology. Still, she kept her eyes, heart, and options open.  

“I kept noticing, though, I had recurring interests in a) students and b) classes. I noticed that I did well and prepared well, but I had several friends who couldn’t do that; it was not how they learned,” said Lauren.  

Lauren said that some of her hardworking peers didn’t enjoy the same academic success she did.  

She began to wonder how resources and mentorship could support students’ academic success. Gradually, her passions transferred to quality afterschool programming, where students can enjoy these opportunities.  

After her mentors encouraged her to pursue her passions, Lauren went full speed ahead.  

“I began to rethink things and volunteer in schools,” said Lauren. “I worked in an afterschool club once a week for a few hours for one semester and watched the difference between middle-schoolers who had things to do versus those who didn’t,” she said. 

Lauren said the staff wouldn’t always engage with the students; in turn, they’d grow restless and get into trouble.  

“I decided that if you do something with them, then kids are engaged,” said Lauren.  

This moment brings us full circle to when she showed what quality expanded learning opportunities (ELOs) can do for students.  

By her sophomore year, Lauren decided that she loved problem-solving and science more than medical school. Lauren chose to remain a biology major and still explore options to focus on educational programming as well.  

By the time Lauren graduated, her dreams of being a doctor shifted to another exciting career focus!
By the time Lauren graduated, her dreams of being a doctor shifted to another exciting career focus!

To her delight, her areas of interest aligned with the UNL Honors program, which BSB partners with. One of UNL Honors and BSB’s partnered initiatives include recruiting UNL Honors students to teach Afterschool Clubs to K-12 students for near-peer experiences.  

Lauren became involved in a Design Challenge, which involved BSB overseeing UNL students as they create an engaging, quality college and career-readiness curriculum.  

Lauren said that she loved the creativity involved in planning afterschool learning materials.  

“We didn’t have national and state testing benchmarks, so we got to [implement] some innovative, new ways of teaching. For teachers in school, [this creative curriculum] is harder to implement,” she said.  

While she drew closer to graduation, Lauren saw there was an open position with Beyond School Bells. I said, “‘Sign me up! I love supporting afterschool.’” 

Lauren said that she’s glad to have followed her heart and passion.  

“Everyone said, if you’re doing something you’re excited about, then it will contribute to your future. Just because you think afterschool won’t align with being a doctor doesn’t mean you can’t contribute something valuable,” she said.   

Lauren said that she embraces her diverse areas of study, even when she didn’t have a clear-cut roadmap. 

“My whole job search was so murky!” she said. “I have a biology degree, a minor in business, and I did communications research for my thesis.” 

There are many other incentives, it turns out, for Lauren to work on the BSB team.  

Thanks to a multi-year STEM Next grant, BSB joined a national initiative, the Million Girls Moonshot (MGM). This movement encourages 1 million girls, especially girls of color and other underrepresented groups, to engage in STEM activities and careers. We’re not surprised that afterschool is one of the best places to spark and grow STEM interest.  

Lauren (r) soon realized that she could exercise her passion for science and kids by creating quality expanded learning experiences.
Lauren (r) soon realized that she could exercise her passion for science and kids by creating quality expanded learning experiences.

In addition to her current role, Lauren serves as a Million Girls Moonshot Advisory Board member.  

Lauren said she loves to connect people and organizations that share the common goal of including more girls in STEM.  

“Those who inspire and engage students can connect those people with those students or those people with funding!” said Lauren. 

Lauren said she establishes professional connections among her partners. She creates these afterschool networks by introducing professionals pursuing diverse yet complementary fields to one another.  

For example, Lauren said that when she introduces a woman in STEM, an afterschool leader, and a funding development expert, they make a powerful team.  

Lauren said that when these minds meet, their partnerships continue to create quality educational ELOs for students, especially girls, especially in STEM.  

“It’s a beautiful soup of connecting these people. They WANT to make quality experiences for kiddos, and BSB is the connector,” she said.  

Meanwhile, Lauren and BSB have established partnerships throughout the community to create more of these learning opportunities. 

Lauren continues to connect people and organizations to create diversity and quality learning throughout Nebraska.
Lauren continues to connect people and organizations to create diversity and quality learning throughout Nebraska.

“We’ve been partnering with several communities,” said Lauren. “A big one is the Malone Center and the Career Academy.”  

Lauren said, “[We formed] a partnership with the Malone Center, as it has a high percent of Black students and afterschool and summer programming, while the Career Academy is [comprised of] high school students interested in future careers. Meanwhile, the Career Academy needs a more diverse pool of candidates,” she said.  

Therefore, Lauren said that BSB has put these two meaningful organizations together to strengthen their already-strong quality programming and fill the gaps.  

As Lauren continued to pursue her talents, she recently received some exciting news. She’s among the youngest recipients awarded a 2021-2022 White-Riley-Peterson (WRP) Policy Fellowship through Furman University’s Riley Institute.  

A partner of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the WRP Fellowship is a 10-month national program that works with fellows to develop applicable policymaking skills for afterschool and expanded learning.   

“I’m super excited and nervous,” said Lauren. “None of my backgrounds were political science or policy-related, so this will be a massive learning opportunity, which is why I came to [Nebraska Children] and Beyond School Bells!” 

As Lauren looks forward to the following year, she may not entirely know what her future holds, but one thing is for sure: it looks bright.  

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Nebraska Children and Families Foundation supports children, young adults and families at risk with the overall goal of giving our state's kids what they need to reach their full potential. We do this by building strong communities that support families so their children can grow up to be thriving, productive adults.

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Posted in Middle Childhood

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