Thursday, March 4, 2010

A Look Into Learning Clubs

This post was contributed by Kevin Broydrick, AmeriCorps Museum Outreach Educator serving at the Kent County YMCA.

One of the most rewarding things about leading Learning Clubs in the schools of West Warwick is watching what a transformative experience our activities can be for the kids. Some of our club members come into the Museum Club setting with certain expectations, but for many of them the experience is an entirely new one and it takes some adjusting. In the best cases these experiences enrich the child not just in the club setting but in the larger school environment. There’s no better example of this than Andrew, a 7-year-old child in one of our clubs with a high functioning form of autism.

When Andrew first started out in our clubs the experience was a very challenging one both for him and for us as educators. For the first few weeks Andrew had a lot of difficulty grasping some of the core concepts of club, things like transitions between activities, taking guidance, and, most notably, being willing to work in collaboration with other students toward a common goal. As soon as we introduced the materials and activity for a given day’s club, Andrew was already formulating what he wanted to make and how he wanted to do it. He wasn’t interested in sharing his ideas with the other kids or building something together, and he certainly didn’t want to feel like anyone else’s ideas could trump his own.
It was a very slow process, but as the weeks went by Andrew began to feel more comfortable both with the club format and the other kids he was sharing the experience with. By the time our first 10-week session of Learning Clubs had ended Andrew had shown huge improvements all around and he was eager to return for our next session.

From the very outset of second session it was like Andrew was a totally different club participant. He was much more responsive to direction and attentive when we were reading a book or explaining the day’s activities. The best moment came during the second week of our second session when Andrew offered to help another child with the construction of his “beak” for a game we were playing called “Eat Like a Bird.” That action was something that, at the start of first session, would have never happened. Seeing his improvement has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced in this job. Andrew has an aide accompany him to clubs and those aides have also told us what a positive experience learning club has been for Andrew; he has been more attentive in his classes and has been getting along with his fellow students better than ever before.
Education is a career in which it’s often hard to see the direct fruits of one’s labor, which makes it that much more gratifying when an experience happens like the one we’ve had with Andrew. In the setting of Museum Club he’s had fun and grown as a student and a person, and knowing that we’ve played a part in that makes all the challenges worth it.


Carly Loeper said...

It sounds like this Learning Club experience for Andrew was one that met him where he is. He looks pretty happy just being himself in that photo - isn't that the best we could ask for?

Cathy said...

Kevin, kudos to you and your teammates for being patient and letting Andrew emerge at his own pace. You clearly paid attention to what his interests were and created an environment and presented activities that gave him "hooks" into learning. What a nice partnership between educator and learner.