After School Explorers
by Jordan Vogt
Her questioning has been a key to my commitment in keeping the club going for its second year. All of the excited kids that I saw in our first meetings at the end of January show me how valuable it is.
Explorers Club is an afterschool program we offer in Pendleton County, WV. Our goal is to provide students with a positive and engaging after-school learning opportunity. Guided by instructors from Experience Learning, students spend time exploring their schoolyard and surrounding community, playing games to widen their awareness while unwinding from the school day, and having bonding experiences with classmates in a supportive group atmosphere. We aim for students to walk away from this club caring more about the place that they live and to feel empowered in their ability to shape it. This year the program will conclude with a stewardship project of the students’ choice—something that they think will positively impact their community.
Last January, following some shuffling of staff at Experience Learning, I found myself unexpectedly jumping into planning for this program. I threw on the title Explorers Club in an attempt to combine an actual description of what we would be doing with a word that could capture the attention of fourth, fifth, and sixth graders. Now in our second year we have nine students from North Fork Elementary and eighteen students from Franklin Elementary attending the club for two hours a day, twice a week.
Each day, we begin with a welcoming circle. This is a chance for the kids to sit together, have a snack, and freely share stories from their days. Then they’re given a question to get them thinking. For example: If you could explore anywhere in the world—real or imagined—where would you go and how would you get there?
On the first day this sort of sharing with the whole group was very intimidating to some students. Several refused to participate. By our fourth meeting students would confidently share their thoughts. “I would turn into a rainbow flying bird and visit the rainforest!” This activity now ignites some very silly conversations.
Next in each club meeting we go outside. In our first two weeks, our outdoor time has been dedicated to team-building games: challenges that get the kids working together while having fun. After the games, we take a moment to talk about how the game worked.
We conclude our day with a reflection of some sort. This might be a journaling prompt, a mapping activity, or an art project. And finally, right before we all head our separate ways we share our gratitude for the day. The kids go on and on about all of the things they love in their lives. It is an inspiring moment for me every time. We have so many reasons to keep trying every day!
Next week with the club we will begin delving deeper into the question, “What does the word “explore” mean to you as we move beyond the schoolyard and into the surrounding community.” Then as we actually head out into the community we will be equipped with a list of club rules created by the students, some practiced communication skills, guiding thoughts from instructors, journals and field guides, curiosity, creativity, and a group of really wonderful kids.