Program Profile: Quincy Junior High School Promotes Hands-on Learning through Afterschool Science Clubs

At Quincy Junior High School (QJHS), part of Quincy School District 172’s afterschool program, students learn science concepts and practices by choosing and leading activities that interest them. Serving some 85 students in sixth through eighth grade, QJHS offers two tiers of science programming: the site provides tutoring and homework help for students who are recommended for academic intervention by teachers, parents, or themselves, and it also offers club-based enrichment programming that is open to all students. 

Students select clubs from a range of topics, including chess team and art guild. In the area of science, QJHS has offered an environmental club, STEM club, and a general science club. Each club is offered one day a week for the duration of the academic year, allowing students to participate in more than one club if they want to. All club activities are aligned with school-day instruction and academic standards. This often means providing labs, experiments, and hands-on activities that teachers cannot offer during the school day because of time constraints. For example, some of the general science club’s planned activities include building roller coasters and testing the designs for speed and other qualities and crafting baskets to protect eggs from breaking after students drop them from increasing heights. Afterschool staff schedule these hands-on activities to take place when students are studying corresponding topics in the classroom (like force, mass, and acceleration for the roller coaster and egg drop lessons), providing greater context and reinforcing school-day learning. 

The various clubs have also offered students experience in problem-based learning and community engagement. For example, students who participated in the environmental club helped the school acquire a PaperGator, a large paper recycling bin. The students researched local providers, brought the information to school leaders, and worked with them to secure the PaperGator. All staff and students now participate in the school’s recycling program, and the school now receives funds from a local recycling company for their recycled paper. This year, students plan to create a vertical garden, where plants are suspended from a panel and trellis—a space-saving setup for indoor gardens. Students are working with an instructor to research vertical gardens, determine what materials they will need, and present their request to school leadership. 

The 21st CCLC clubs also help students develop leadership skills. As illustrated by the PaperGator and vertical garden examples, students recommend projects and clubs based on their interests and also go on to lead them. “If students have been in the program since sixth grade, they are ready to run it by eighth grade,” says QJHS site coordinator Martha Hogge. “Teachers are there for support, but we try to let students lead when we can.” Other signs of the 21st CCLC’s success include reports of student efforts to start similar clubs when they are in high school so that they can continue to participate in activities that interest them. 

The QJHS team uses several strategies to align afterschool programming with school-day learning. Many of the afterschool instructors teach school-day classes, including science. This structure means that students who participate in homework help and tutoring can work with a teacher from a specific content area if they need to. The structure also informs club activities, as teachers who are also afterschool instructors can work with their school-day colleagues to determine what afterschool activities would best support school-day learning. QJHS has also incorporated 21st CCLC programming into the school’s instructional planning and content-area teachers’ monthly professional learning community (PLC) meetings. During these PLC meetings, teachers discuss which students need academic support in the 21st CCLC, what enrichment activities would be suitable for afterschool, and how the 21st CCLC can support school-day learning, and vice versa. Hogge sees student interest and participation as a sign of the 21st CCLC’s success in engaging students in hands-on science activities. She also reports that the school’s science MAP scores have exceeded national norms. 

For 21st CCLC practitioners who want to offer more than tutoring and homework help for science, Hogge recommends the afterschool club model as a way to engage students and give them choices. She also cautions that a thriving afterschool club will not happen in one year, but instead urges afterschool leaders to start small and build on their successes.