Since G.O.D. began partnering with Nashville After Zone Alliance (NAZA) in 2014 to facilitate the after-school program we call C.A.S.E. (Character and Skills Education), we have learned a great deal.
Some of it is related to some things you might expect, like how to successfully manage a group of 20 or so middle-schoolers who have already gone a whole day with only 20 minutes of unstructured time (which sounds exhausting to me, as a 34 year-old). Or how to take Tennessee’s common core curriculum and whittle it down to something students can make sense of.
But there are also other elements that we’ve learned along the way that go beyond the scope of measuring academic success. Small things, like how much of a difference it can make to communicate with parents, even for just a minute or two at the end of the day. When parents know how their child is performing (both positively and negatively), know that their child’s after-school tutor cares, and know what they can work on with them at home – it makes an enormous difference.
C.A.S.E. Site Coordinator Craig Duffy says the program is an intervention for some. “Students who attend the program are often at risk for failing Math or English courses. Particularly in areas with a high poverty rate, the chances of a middle-schooler dropping out if they fail in these subjects reaches into the majority.” A 'high poverty' school is one in which at least 40% of the student body is eligible to, or receives, food/housing government assistance. DuPont Hadley Middle Prep, the school from which C.A.S.E. students hail, is at 80%.
This reality has become a strong motivation for our C.A.S.E. team: we work to find ways to make academics understandable for these young people so they don't grow weary trying. And that is only half the goal.
The added emphasis of C.A.S.E. is that the students get the chance to apply their education through learning different skills. Be it woodworking, cooking, robotics, or acting, students are exposed to these diverse skill sets to see that what they are learning in school might actually play out in everyday life. And within this time, we are able to incorporate dynamic lessons that increase social and emotional awareness in students. Teamwork, individual expression, utilizing different skill sets - all come out in these activities.
Figuring out what students enjoy, and coupling that with what they actually need to learn is a real dance. These skill enhancement times enable us able to accomplish both.
Within the last year, the administrators of NAZA have taken particular notice of our program and the emphasis we put on character and skill development and the extra steps the coordinators have made to make themselves accessible to students. They even asked us to teach a seminar for other site coordinators on promoting student’s social and emotional skills.
At the end of the day, it has been our genuine concern for the future of these students that has driven us think creatively and be determined to make an impact in their lives. While there was (and sometimes still is) a learning curve, we are certainly thankful for our site coordinators and other facilitators who have worked with students since the program began and have now become a resource for parents, teachers, students and administrators alike.
The C.A.S.E. program at Dupont Hadley Middle Prep is a program of the Nashville After Zone Alliance. The Nashville After Zone Alliance is a network of coordinated after school programming for Metro’s middle-school students. NAZA is a partnership among the Nashville Public Library, MNPS, and other existing youth-serving groups. It is modeled on successful efforts in other cities and is organized around geographically-defined zones.