Swimming with sharks, indoor skydiving, rock climbing and more...
Choice is a huge part of the after-school program, from what games and activities the youth want to do but also how to do them. The program is built on the belief that engaging youth in the creation of the program is the key to youth engagement.
Even the names of each respective program, Camp No Name for middle schoolers and Camp Huckleberry for the elementary kids, were chosen and voted on with an overwhelming majority by the kids themselves. But bringing all of those choices to fruition left program instructors scratching their heads on how to bring these adventurous desires to life, while simultaneously supporting an academic environment that is both enriching and fun.
That’s when Rose Prust, the Middle School Program Coordinator, had an idea, “What if we taught middle schoolers not only to express their desires but also advocate for how to fulfill those desires?”
One of the top choices on Camp No Name’s list of ideas for games and activities was virtual reality headsets.
While these headsets would certainly allow them to have virtual experiences of swimming with sharks and skydiving, Prust knew that they could provide the youth with so much more than a mere adrenaline pumping experience, they could also give them a skill that would prepare them for life.
Working with an experienced grant writer, the middle schoolers are collaborating to craft a proposal citing reasons and research to support their desire for virtual reality headsets. “We can’t wait to see where they want to travel to and why,” says Stephanie Stratil, After School Program Director through the LIFRC.
“That’s what makes the After School Program so special, it’s got a whole do-it-yourself component,” says Pat Burleson, Coordinator for the elementary After School Program. “And when you allow that kind of approach to take place, curiosity is stimulated and learning suddenly becomes fun.”
And fun it is! When we asked the elementary kids what they liked best we were flooded with enthusiastic responses like “I don’t know, it’s just really really fun!”
The After School Program is funded by the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant, making it free for Lopez families. 4 weeks into its launch, things are still taking form, but there is no doubt that whatever they do, be it building a synthesizer in order to learn about music, creating their own recipes in order to learn about culinary skills, or polishing their leadership skills by a peer supported homework club, Camp No Name and Camp Huckleberry sound like the place to be.