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Project promotes learning beyond school activities
By Sarah Shields
MSU School of Human Sciences
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Recognizing that learning is not confined to the classroom, the Mississippi State University Extension Service is promoting quality learning environments in programs for school-age children.
“A child’s learning doesn’t stop at the end of the school day,” said Brittney Rye, project manager of the Out-of-School Project.
Children learn from their environment, whether it be listening to music or playing sports. Families can influence the lessons their children learn by choosing quality after-school programs that offer stimulating environments. The Out-of-School Project aims to help these programs provide enrichment in their services for school-age children.
“We want to help the centers create the best possible environment for kids,” Rye said.
The Out-of-School Project is a part of the Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Network, a program of the MSU Extension Service. Since it began in 2010, this statewide project has encouraged the support of inclusion, physical development and academic enrichment of programs for school-age children outside of school settings. Those programs include activities after school, during winter holiday, and at church or summer camps. They also include other programs like the Boys and Girls Club programs.
Centered on nationally set and evidence-based standards, the Out-of-School Project assesses programs to create specialized plans that build on a program’s existing strengths. Enrolled programs receive at least 30 hours of one-on-one active technical assistance from Out-of-School staff members who demonstrate how to enrich the learning environment with games and materials.
The Crossgates Methodist Children’s Center after-school program in Brandon has seen positive results from enrolling in the project.
“The teacher receiving assistance has increased her understanding of methods to manage the classroom with success, and activities have been a model for the other teachers to follow,” said Colleen Smith, director of the Crossgates center. “I think we have all noticed that the children are more willing to participate in appropriate ways.”
Research has shown that after-school programs can have lasting impacts on children. After-school programs can help encourage higher self-esteem and higher aspirations, including college attendance. Studies also show that children in quality settings are less likely to become involved in illegal activities or drop out of school.
“The Out-of-School Project was established to work with the school systems and child care programs to encourage positive growth and foster enduring understanding and life-long learning,” Rye said.
The Out-of-School Project also offers a Quality Rating and Improvement System, awarding centers stars based on quality indicators. Through technical assistance, the Out-of-School Project helps centers reach goals they set for themselves.
“Out-of-School providers have the opportunity to expand on the learning that happens in the regular classroom through hands-on activities, field trips and other community involvement,” Rye said. “These activities help children have a more enduring understanding of what is being taught in the classroom and how to apply it to their everyday lives.”
The Out-of-School Project also offers training sessions on topics such as incorporating physical activities, nutrition, language and reading development, and bully-free environments. By participating in these sessions, providers gain knowledge to enhance children’s learning through activities and their environment.
“Programs can improve learning environments by creating interest centers using the materials that are already on hand,” said Tara Dickerson, technical assistant with the Resource and Referral Network.
One of the most valuable aspects of the Out-of-School Project is that its staff remains available to the centers for any questions.
“If I have any questions, I know Tara is available,” Smith said.
For more information about the Out-of-School Project, contact the Mississippi Child Care Resource and Referral Network at 1-800-706-8827. The network is funded by the Mississippi Department of Human Services, Division of Early Childhood Care and Development.