After-school programs have either been abandoned or overworked

“I like building stuff,” said 11-year-old Isabella Martinez,* describing the appeal of her science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) after-school program, Girlstart. “In school we don’t really do a lot of projects, mostly reading. I like [after school] because it’s more hands-on. It’s being more creative.”

When the pandemic forced Austin-based Girlstart to go remote, the priority for Tamara Hudgins, its executive director, was finding a way to maintain that hands-on experience for the girls in her program, the majority of whom come from low-income households and likely have few other options for this kind of academic enrichment.

“Learning via the screen is a real challenge, for the adults as well as children,” Hudgins said. Her solution was to create physical kits containing all the supplies the girls would need. Before the start of every program, each girl receives, either by mail or drop-off, an entire semester’s worth of materials that correspond to the girls’ weekly activities, whether they are working on a DNA phenotype project or exploring the principles of aerodynamics.

“We built a rocket launch,” Isabella said. “That was really fun.”

Going remote but delivering physical materials is one solution to a problem that has plagued after-school providers across the country — how to continue providing their enrichment and child care solutions during a pandemic.