Extending Learning Time for Disadvantaged Students - Volume 2 Profiles of Promising Practices - 1995
A r c h i v e d I n f o r m a t i o n
After-School, Weekend, And Summer Kids Crew Programs
Brooklyn Children's Museum
Brooklyn, New York
- Community involvement
Kids Crew, started in 1991, is one segment of a community-oriented outreach program for at-risk neighborhood youth sponsored by the Brooklyn Children's Museum. The museum was one of the first in the country to encourage children to attend without their parents, and the outreach program is a natural outgrowth of that policy. The outreach program tries to build "enlightenment, responsibility, and achievement" in students through cultural education; mentoring of children by teenagers and of teens by adults; and career training. Kids Crew offers after-school, weekend, and summer programs to children between the ages of 7 and 12; structured activities include homework help sessions, story-telling, art classes, and off-site study trips. The sessions focus on enhancing children's literacy and are organized around monthly themes inspired by the museum's exhibits, galleries, and collection. Students who regularly attend programs and exhibit enthusiasm and a sense of responsibility may become volunteers or, as teenagers, paid interns.
About 750 children participate in the Kids Crew program each year, with an average of 30 to 40 students attending every day. The museum is located in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, a diverse community with 100,000 residents including African Americans, West Indians, Hispanics, and Hasidic Jews. About 40 percent of the students in Kids Crew are African American, 50 percent are Caribbean, 5 percent are Hispanic, and 5 percent are from other racial and ethnic groups, including Hasidic Jews. The community is primarily low-income, with an unemployment rate between 12 percent and 17 percent; 34 percent of the families receive public assistance. Half of the families earn less than $10,000 a year, and 61 percent of the families are headed by single parents. The dropout rate in local schools is more than double the average of all public schools in New York City.
The program has only informal relationships with the local schools, but program staff are establishing a more formal relationship with the elementary school closest to the museum. Up to 90 percent of Kids Crew participants come from this school; only a handful of students come from nearby private schools.
Major Program Features
- Planning and design. Kids Crew is the first and largest part of a program called the Museum Team, which allows neighborhood kids to "grow up" with the museum. Started in 1987, the overall program began as an attempt to organize educational activities for the large number of neighborhood children, usually from families with limited resources, who visited the museum each day. When the Museum Team received funding from the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund YouthAlive! Initiative in 1991, it refocused Kids Crew and the other components of the program, using the funds to hire staff and provide more planned activities for the children who attended on a regular basis. Kids Crew now is so popular that the museum staggers enrollment to maintain the quality and individual attention given to each child; interested children then are put on a waiting list and allowed to join the program either at the beginning of the summer or the beginning of the school terms. The main requirement for participation is parent or guardian permission.
- Academic focus. On a typical day, Kids Crew participants sign in at the program desk, where they receive a badge and decide what activities they want to participate in by looking at the program bulletin board. Students can choose to: (1) participate in a daily natural science project; (2) take part in an ongoing arts project, such as making collages or drawing a community map; (3) join one of several literacy projects focused on a monthly theme and based on exhibits in the museum's galleries and collections (usually a commitment of 40 minutes to an hour); (4) attend a homework help session (offered only during the school year) supervised by the museum's teenage volunteers; or (5) go on a regularly scheduled, academically oriented field trip. Sessions and projects are offered between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, and from 12:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. on weekends, holidays, and summer vacations. Recently, a computer database was set up to monitor the children's attendance and participation.
A recent theme on community included sessions in which children read stories, finish a half-told story, or write their own story; an ongoing project in which participants created a neighborhood mural with a map showing all of the sites Kids Crew visited that month; and study trips to other neighborhood museums and cultural institutions, such as the Brooklyn Historical Society. As part of another theme, "What's Up?" students studied cloud formations, visited the Empire State Building, and watched skydivers jump out of a plane. In the summer, Kids Crew offers courses or clubs. In 1993, students could join an Explorers' Club and take a field trip each week, or take a course on African dance, jewelry-making, or other topics.
The program encourages regular attendance. Off-site study experiences and film/video screenings enhance the thematic programs. In addition, some participants attend lectures or demonstrations by visiting artists twice a week.
- Organizational management/structure. The overall Museum Team program, of which Kids Crew is one component, is supervised by a director of youth programs, the coordinators of youth and adolescent programs, and an assistant coordinator. Four paid part-time instructors (usually college students) and paid interns provide additional support. The assistant coordinator evaluates the conduct, interest level, and participation of Kids Crew members; this evaluation and the student's own interest determine whether the participant will move on from Kids Crew to the next component of the Museum Team program. In addition, a librarian from the museum's Children's Resource Library leads programs for Kids Crew (although the library is temporarily closed for renovations).
Planning and decision making for the museum education program is led by a director of youth programs who implements and evaluates project ideas and curricula. The director keeps a curriculum journal that describes all of the activities, projects, lesson plans, documentation of the project (e.g., samples of the final products or photographs of the project), and project evaluations from the children. A youth advisory council composed of children from the programs meets twice a month to provide feedback to museum staff on potential and existing projects. The museum is establishing a parent and program advisory committee, which will provide external feedback on operations.
- Parent and community involvement. The program has many activities focused on or located in the neighborhood. Most family and community involvement occurs informally. Parents receive mailings about museum and Kids Crew programs and activities and occasionally articles about child development. Museum staff know many of the parents well, through formal and informal meetings in the neighborhood or parent visits to the museum. Parents are contacted whenever a child has a disciplinary or behavior problem; if the problem is serious, staff can offer the family access to free counseling through a social service agency in the community. In addition, the program holds an annual, one-day parent orientation. Future plans for parent involvement include the parent and program advisory committee and the development of a parents' newsletter.
- Professional environment. Each department in the museum holds its own orientation for new staff, including the part-time instructors and volunteers involved in Kids Crew. Staff development is arranged by the museum's education office; staff are encouraged to visit other museums, institutions, and programs to view alternative methods of running programs.
- Funding. The Kids Crew annual budget falls under the Museum Team program, and foundation staff were unable to provide funding amounts. Program staff could not provide an estimate of per-pupil expenditure because they only recently started tracking the amount of time each child participates. The program began with a startup grant from the Altman Foundation. For several years, the program has been funded by the New York City Department of Youth Services. Beginning in 1991, the Museum Team program received a three-year leadership award as part of the YouthAlive! Initiative sponsored by the DeWitt Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. Kids Crew does not receive federal funds.
- Cultural inclusiveness. All museum staff receive training twice a year that focuses on ways to develop curricula reflecting diverse cultures. Many Kids Crew programs focus on cultural diversity to take advantage of the many racial and ethnic groups represented in Crown Heights, a community that in 1991 exploded in racial conflict. Activities for one theme, "Celebrations and Traditions," included a walking tour of the neighborhood with staff who explained the religious meanings of different decorations and how each religion celebrates the holidays during December. According to the coordinator of youth programs, this tour helped expand the children's horizons because many had never been into other parts of the neighborhood. Students took photographs during the tour and in later sessions discussed the differences between Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas, as well as the relatedness of the cultures. Other activities demonstrate how different groups cook, talk, paint, and relate to each other.
- Assessment and accountability. The quality of Kids Crew's curriculum is evaluated as part of the YouthAlive! Initiative; a YouthAlive! evaluator examines the program's structure and develops case studies on individual participants. The case studies are longitudinal and focus on about ten participants each year, identifying what skills are learned through the program and how well participants' needs are met. The evaluator also inspects the coordinator's curriculum journal, which includes comments about how each activity or project might have been changed or improved. This journal gives the children some input and helps program staff determine which techniques work best and what participants are learning from the activities.
The program was designed so that participants, many of whom are considered at risk, can gain easy access. Although children sometimes must wait to join Kids Crew, there are no selection criteria that restrict access to the program; even though the program is a neighborhood outreach program, it has no residency restrictions.
Transportation and safety issues do not pose problems for the program. The museum is in the middle of a residential area, and most of the Kids Crew members live within a five-to ten-block radius. Kids Crew staff work with a child's parent or guardian to make sure that students are not walking home alone in the dark during the winter; children will be paired with others who live in the same area, or parents or older siblings will come to pick up the children. The structure of the Kids Crew and Museum Team program actually eliminated some of the museum's security concerns because children now are more likely to participate in supervised activities.
One of the challenges for this program has been addressing the special needs of urban, at-risk children. For example, many of the children live in areas of high poverty, crime, and drug use. Program staff said they must form relationships with community leaders and be aware of local counseling and family resource programs so they can refer participants who have problems, rather than trying to provide counseling themselves.
Program staff typically have an informal relationship with the local schools. Often program staff attend school performances or events to show support for their participants. The coordinator of youth programs recently attended a staff development session at the neighborhood school, explaining the various types of programs and exhibits offered and inviting teachers to bring their classes to the museum. As the program evolves, organizers hope to formalize the relationship between Kids Crew and the schools through more frequent contact with teachers.
Evidence of Success
Most of the evidence of this program's success comes from the evaluation done by the YouthAlive! Initiative. According to these case studies, students credit Kids Crew with helping them develop social and problem-solving skills. For example, they learn to resolve conflicts among themselves without adult intervention and learn to get along with people from different cultural backgrounds. The curriculum journal identifies specific knowledge that students gain through each project, such as better community and cultural awareness, but the program does not have any formal academic evaluation efforts in place. This may change as the program develops formalized relationships with the local schools. Other anecdotal evidence also comes from museum staff, who report dramatic improvements in children who had "big behavior problems" when they came to the program. Academic success also is affirmed by the fact that since the Museum Team program was formalized, 100 percent of the program interns have gone on to college.
[Public Housing Development After-School Study Centers]