Find Out What Lava Lamps, a VIP Dance, and Elephant Toothpaste Have in Common

Answer: They come to life at afterschool programs!

When people hear the term “afterschool program,” they tend to think, “supervision.” But The Child Center of NY’s afterschool programs offer way more than a watchful eye.

“Our youth development programs really enrich youth with the opportunities and support to reach their full potential,” explains Reshma Baig, The Child Center’s Associate Vice President of Youth Development. “Our goal is to make sure young people have the tools to grow into capable, confident, caring adults, ready to succeed in both school and in life. That means we pay just as much attention to their social-emotional development as we do their academic achievement. We know these things go hand in hand.”

You have to look only as far as our COMPASS 273 program in Richmond Hill to see the philosophy in action. In the two months since the year began, the students have completed four STEM projects and organized a VIP dance that gave attendees more than the opportunity to show off their “JuJu on That Beat” moves (though 10-year-old Olga tells us that was her favorite part!).

“STEM happens Tuesday through Thursday at our program for all groups. Day school doesn’t often get to spend time teaching STEM, so our kids are missing out on an important — and fun — subject,” explains Program Director Manisha Singh.

Right before mid-winter recess, the students made lava lamps. The main idea behind the projects was to find a fun way to teach the participants about density, says Jonathan Ortiz, a special education teacher who runs 273’s STEM projects.

Using oil and water in a water bottle, Mr. Ortiz explained to the students that oil is less dense than water, and the two do not mix because of “intermolecular polarity” — a phrase that sounds to a kid like two big, meaningless words strung together, until they see it in action.

The participants dropped in Alka-Seltzer tablets and observed that the gases were brought to the top of bottle and then back down.  Then they added food coloring so they could see the bubbles (gases) more clearly. “The kids loved this,” says Singh. “It was a great visual and hands-on experiment.”

“When we first put the Alka-Seltzer tablet in the bottle, I just thought it would make the food coloring float to the top,” says 6-year-old Ameer. “But it actually formed tiny bubbles and it was really exciting!”

Previous experiments have included “bending water” (static electricity) and elephant toothpaste. “Mr. Ortiz does an amazing job of keeping experiments relevant to what is popular with the kids — like slime and foam,” says Singh.

Mr. Ortiz also makes sure that the activities aren’t just meaningful in isolation. “When it comes to STEM activities, I try to connect our lessons and experiments to what’s happening in the classroom curriculum,” he says. “For example, a lot of the experiments are simple hands-on activities for grades K-3, such as force and motion, electricity and chemical reactions. When it comes to math, I go to the Escape the Classroom website and find topics connected to the curriculum such as multiplication, and now fractions.”

As if lava lamps and elephant toothpaste didn’t provide enough fun, a couple of weeks earlier was the program’s VIP dance, a joint effort with the Parent Association of P.S. 273.

“The original idea was to hold a ‘daddy-daughter’ dance,” says Program Coordinator Christopher Baskerville. “I then realized that, like myself, many of our participants may not have relationships with their dads. I also realized that there wasn’t really a focus on the lack of male involvement in the program. It’s usually our participants’ mothers in the forefront and engaged in our events. The idea then blossomed into a VIP Dance, highlighting important male role models.”

Students were encouraged to invite Dad, Grandpa, Stepdad, uncles, brothers, godfathers, or any other positive male influence in their lives.

They called the event, ” Winter Wonderland: Ties and Tiaras.” All the guests were dressed formally in suits and dresses.

“We wanted them to feel like they were at a ball … and they definitely felt that way,” says Singh. There were passed hors d’oeuvres, and Mr. Chris played the role of DJ and host. “We even had ‘security’ at the door with a guest list.”

The efforts paid off, according to 10-year-old Ariana: “The dance was special to me because my brother came with me and made me feel like a princess!” Ariana told us. “It also meant a lot to me because it was his birthday.”

What really left an impression on the attendees was the opportunity to enjoy the company of loved ones. “My favorite thing about the dance is that I got to spend time and dance with my dad. It meant a lot to me because I barely see him,” says Samir, also 10.

Singh also set up a photo booth so that each guest was able to leave with a special reminder of the night. One attendee, Jayden, told us, “I really like the VIP Dance because we were able to spend time with the people that love you. My favorite part about the dance was when I took pictures with my dad.”

The feedback from the event has been phenomenal. “The kids definitely enjoyed it and are still talking about it,” says Singh.

“All the moms and aunts are now requesting their dance,” adds Mr. Chris. “I’ve taken the hint and am planning to highlight the positive women role models in April.”

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