After 10 years of work, the Coalition for Science After School will sunset operations at the end of June. To celebrate the accomplishments of the STEM in OST field and (more importantly) to advance the next decade’s work, in March the Coalition held a Summit that brought leaders in the field together for three days of reflection and discussion to envision the next decade of STEM in out-of-school time.
The Summit was a great opportunity for networking and forging connections across the field. Some attendees had been involved in the Coalition since its inception, while for others, the meeting was their first exposure—all were forward-thinking and committed to advancing more opportunities for quality STEM learning in out-of-school time.
Together, we co-created a history of the field over the last 10 years. Lots of great work has happened over the past decade, but a few things came through loud and clear: 1) The expansion and impact of state and regional after school networks is a significant development that has momentum; 2) There is an emerging conceptual framework that describes supportive ecosystems for STEM learning across settings; 3) While great strides have been made in connecting out-of-school STEM learning and science-rich institutions, important work remains to be done.
Diagram that maps conversation at the Summit regarding the last decade of work in the STEM in out-of-school time field.
Looking toward the future, the meeting also illuminated some important opportunities and challenges facing us moving forward. As a movement, we need to:
- Define and implement quality STEM programming in out-of-school time – to make quality programming a reality in every local community, program staff need effective professional development.
- Ensure that STEM learning experiences are equitably distributed to young people across the country – in order to accomplish this, we need clarity on what equity looks like, responding to local needs in different communities
- Confront the leadership gap – emerging leaders at the program level need professionalization, training and support to achieve quality STEM learning for all young people; leadership at all levels of the field should also be nurtured.
- Produce more research and evaluation to help make the case about the importance of STEM in out-of-school time settings for both cognitive and non-cognitive outcomes. Research findings must be communicated to practitioners and funders to advance the field through evidence-based practices.
- Deploy savvy advocates at the state and national level to champion quality STEM learning, and create shared messages and a vision for the future of the movement that will help make the case to the right people at the right time.
- Meaningfully engage important stakeholders like scientists and other STEM content experts as volunteers and mentors for youth and program staff.
- Pursue concerted collaboration with formal education systems, especially in light of the new Next Generation Science Standards and Common Core Standards.
- Increase collaboration in online offerings—to ensure they build upon and work in concert with each other
- Invest in capacity building and strategies to sustain successful initiatives
- Keep talking – the field needs sustained communication and connections to encourage deep cross-pollination of ideas. Periodic gatherings of leaders are needed to illuminate differences in perspective and generate ways in which different part of the field can work together.
Lots of ideas and connections came out of the Summit that may lead to work to address many of these challenges.
As the Coalition for Science After School passes the torch on advancing the cause of STEM in out-of-school time to the many other organizations engaged in this important work, now is the time for each of us to ask, “How can I chip away at these opportunities in my daily work?” And as a collective movement, how can we contribute to providing access for all young people to quality STEM experiences in their local communities?