STEM sounds like a typical after-school program – snack followed by homework, then a chance to play. But, it’s hardly typical.
In fewer than three months, the program has reached capacity and students who needed help interacting with others are now spontaneously giving each other high-fives and hugs. The group, described as a “melting pot of personalities,” chooses activities as a team and can even work out disputes on their own.
“I’ve developed a special bond with each child, which has allowed me to guide them in forming secure true friendships with each other,” explains Lauren Suman, a Trident Academy teacher and STEM leader. “We’ve created a place where they genuinely care, trust, understand and respect each other and me.”
The after-school program is Monday through Thursday from 2:50 until 4:50 p.m. A 4:1 student:teacher ratio is maintained and currently enrollment is split evenly between students in The School for Language-Based Learning Differences and The School for Asperger’s/HFA.
The program is designed to help students develop social skills, learn self-awareness, and find appropriate ways to express themselves. See what STEM stands for. Once homework is done, the students can decide what to do – the catch is that they have to talk it out fairly and decide as a group. Options include hockey, tennis, soccer, playground, writing positive quotes in chalk, science experiments like making slime or crystals, and any art project they can imagine.
“We ALL work together as a team,” Ms. Suman says.
At the end of the day, everyone sits in a circle and uses circular breathing to calm their bodies. They lightly hold hands, one on top one on bottom while in a circle, sitting down, to talk about the day. This creates positive energy and calm bodies when walking out the door to meet their parents.
“It is important to me that parents know how their child did that day, so I speak individually with them every day,” notes Ms. Suman. “I share quotes they have said while playing or give examples of how they worked together and the ways they went out of their way to show how much they care about each other and did the right thing.”
Teachers and parents have noticed a difference in students in the STEM program. Ms. Suman says the biggest areas of improvement are the children’s awareness of others emotions and feelings.
“Regulating emotions is a big part of the program. But what I love is the way they reach out to each other now, without my help, if anyone is sad or frustrated. They are now aware of all of these feelings and that’s where the hugs come in!”
While social development is the focus of the STEM program, academics are reinforced during homework time and students work on both the gross and fine motor skills during play.
The growth in their confidence and social skills impacts every aspect of their lives. To learn more about the STEM program, contact Lauren Suman at firstname.lastname@example.org.