Searching for after-school activities to suit your child can be a daunting task. While the possibilities are unlimited, so are the sources of information unlimited. There is no one place to go or one person to ask. You have to start looking early, searching many haystacks hiding the proverbial needle. Eyenga Bokamba, the executive director of Sprockets, may help you get a head start with her uniquely broad perspective on youth programs.
City of St. Paul
25 West Fourth St, Suite 400
Saint Paul, MN 55102
Eyenga Bokamba is the director of Sprockets, a network of many different after-school and summer programs for youth in Saint Paul. It is a collaboration of community organizations, the City of St. Paul and St. Paul Public Schools. As an experienced educator with a diverse background in youth work, Bokamba has collaborated with parents, staff, teachers, artists and literacy tutors to create learning experiences designed to advance the social, emotional and cognitive development of youth. She holds an undergraduate degree and teaching certificate from the University of Minnesota and a graduate degree from Harvard University.
Tip 1: Determine Goals For Out-Of-School Time
What do you want your child to learn in out-of-school time? Pick a few skills you want them to focus on and find programs that highlight these skills. Every program will have teaching points they will focus their activities around. Do these teaching points align with the skills you want your child to learn?
Tip 2: Focus On Welcoming Staff
Not all out-of-school time activities are of equal value. In fact studies show poor out-of-school time programing can be harmful to your child’s growth. Look for structure and leadership from staff. Ask about staff qualifications and training.
Tip 3: Focus On Safety
Safety is one of the first things you need to look for. Is the space or building safe (fire extinguishers, first aid kit, emergency phone)? Does the program have an emergency plan? Does the organization do background checks? Does staff ever have one-on-one contact with youth? These are all questions that need to be answered.
Tip 4: Look For Belonging
Look for welcoming, sociable interactions among all the participants. Look for the young people having fun and wanting to participate. These are good signs that they are growing and succeeding. Spend some time watching how the young people interact. Are these healthy interactions? Are there strong relationships being made?
Tip 5: Look For Spark
Look for young people having fun. Whether it’s through physical movement, private reflection or small-group teamwork, participants should be energized, focused, eager and on task. Laughter is a good sign. Are the activities hands on? Do participants help choose or plan the activities?
For starters, St. Paul residents can visit the Sprockets webpage at www.sprocketsstpaul.org. Look at the program finder, which has over 184 separate programs in the database: sprocketssaintpaul.org. You can search based on your child’s interests, age, gender, the distance of the program from your home, the cost of the program and whether or not the program staff members are bilingual.
Robin Johnson was born in Annandale, Minn. and graduated from Richfield High School and then the University of Minnesota where he studied Political Science, Business and Industrial Relations. A writer for Examiner.com, he also consults with a variety of organizations and individuals helping them develop and grow. His work can be found at Examiner.com.