Using Community Partnerships to Deliver Engaging STEAM Learning and Career Pathways Support
Y4Y recently had a great conversation with Simone Miranda, Community Learning Center Project Manager for the Schenectady City School District (SCSD) in New York, where she manages the 21st Century Program. The district’s one high school, all three middle schools and one of its 11 elementary buildings are involved in their 21st CCLC program. Schenectady exceeded its target enrollment of 750 for the 2019-20 school year, reaching an unprecedented 900 students because of the flexibility that remote learning allowed. Ms. Miranda was kind enough to chat with us about the amazing community partnerships that allow their program to deliver incredible STEAM learning and career pathways support. [Podcast]
Y4Y: Ms. Miranda, please share with our listeners the details of the “Chopped Challenge,” programming that your staff developed and delivered last summer during virtual learning.
SM: In the summer of 2020 during the pandemic, we shifted our summer program to a virtual platform. We served middle and high school students in our summer program. In efforts to keep students and families engaged and to maximize the number of students we served, we decided to offer a culinary arts program. The program partnered with the Schenectady Urban Farms, and the teachers documented working on the farm and shared it virtually with students in the program. The farm gave the teachers the harvest of the week for every student, which we delivered once a week to the student’s home. The following day after the basket delivery of harvest from the farm, the teacher would conduct a live culinary arts session with the students to prepare and cook a dish. As part of the “Chopped Challenge” program, the students learned how to prepare various food items; developed knife skills, tool and equipment handling, sanitation in the kitchen; and the ability to describe the characteristics, functions, and food sources of major nutrients. In addition, math and science was embedded into the lessons to further develop skills and practice of various concepts. As a result of this partnership with the farm, we learned that a former high school student now enrolled in an agriculture degree program at a nearby college was recently hired to oversee the medicinal plants section on the farm. We invited this student to do a live connection with the students. The SCSD graduate explained her background and the work she is doing at the farm. This was the most popular day and session attended during the summer. The students were extremely engaged and asked some exceptional questions. The word got around the entire summer program about this medicinal plants session, and other grade levels wanted to share it with their students. We were fortunate that the virtual platform allowed us to record our session, so we shared that recording with staff to use in their classrooms.
Y4Y: It’s a lot trickier to run a program like a farm partnership during the winter, but you all got creative! Tell us how you continued this project through last winter.
SM: The buzz of the “Chopped Challenge” from the summer program was getting some excitement from students and staff. I put my thinking cap on and began brainstorming on how to incorporate this into the school year for the afterschool program. The idea of a multicultural recipe book was born. I met with my staff and shared this idea of incorporating culturally responsive lessons and family engagement with the now-evolved “Chopped Challenge.” Now, we were doing this program in every 21st Century site in our district, which includes grades 3-12. The staff took the approach of student choice and had them choose the country they wanted to research each month and then choose a recipe to cook virtually with their families. Some staff got very creative and used surveys or polls if the students did not agree on the same recipe. The anticipation of the recipe winner made it fun for the students. Since we were unable to partner with the farm in the winter, the staff incorporated budgeting into their lessons and the students made a shopping list, which I would use to shop and deliver the items to the students’ homes. This was challenging during the winter, as we did get a few storms in Upstate New York, but with the help of my own family I managed to always make it to every student’s home. At the end of the school year, all the recipes the students cooked with their families were integrated into a recipe book that the students designed with pictures from their very own plated dishes throughout the year. The recipe book was printed and delivered to students before the final end-of-year showcase.
Y4Y: The best news is that for the summer of 2021 you’re back in person! Can you please share with us how this programming looks now?
SM: This summer, we are excited to return to in-person programming. This program has now progressed into partnering with another community organization called Schenectady Greenmarket. We are planning to once again partner with the Schenectady Urban Farms and bring groups of students to the farm to engage in farming and harvesting produce. The Schenectady Greenmarket came onboard to explore college and career opportunities with the students. They just launched a free trolley service in the City of Schenectady with the Capital District Transportation Authority to connect residents from neighborhoods with no access to the Greenmarket. The plans are to discuss how produce from the farm gets to the Greenmarket and then to consumers. Students will explore careers and colleges that focus on agriculture, marketing, business and other related fields. We are fortunate to have a local college in the area that focuses on culinary arts so we are planning either an in-person or virtual tour. We are also planning to do a tour at the Greenmarket to immerse the students in some hands-on experience of what it looks like to have your business at the Greenmarket.
Y4Y: On the topic of college and career readiness, your program clearly focuses more on older students compared with many programs around the country. Tell us a little about your most effective high school recruitment and retention efforts, and how college and career readiness factors in.
SM: Our high school program has been the most highly attended, with about 300 students served in a year. While many other programs struggle to get students at these grade levels, we have seen great success. Most of the credit goes to the staff in the program and at the school. I work closely with the school-day staff to promote the 21st Century program throughout the school year and encourage them to recommend the program to students in need. Students who need academic tutoring to propel them to graduation are encouraged to join the program. These students are usually first-generation college students that participate in the program and shape their pathway to move on to college. Many of the students attend the program for extra academic help, while others are attracted to the enrichment opportunities such as physical fitness and art. In addition, the staff in the program are usually school-day teachers and paraprofessionals, so the students come to have extra time with the staff and to develop connections in the program community. It is so important for the students to feel that sense of belonging — and they find that in the 21st Century program. During the pandemic, students shared with staff that they needed more physical activities and to share their feelings and emotions. The program used this information to develop a sports club and art lessons to meet the students’ needs. The sports club incorporated virtual physical activities designed by the sports specialist, which included yoga, Zumba, fitness challenges and other physical activities. In addition, literacy was embedded in the sports club by using books written by male, female and diverse sports athletes. Some of the art lessons focused on social-emotional learning and critical thinking, allowing students to communicate their ideas and/or emotions through art. The art specialist used themes such as Black History Month and Earth Day to engage students in creating art.
Y4Y: For 21st CCLC programs to be so successful with older students is a true accomplishment, and I know your activities are going to inspire a lot of listeners. Can you share any final words of wisdom, or key ingredients to that success?
SM: It is important to have all voices at the table to develop and shape programs and activities. These voices include students, families, staff, administrators and community stakeholders.
Simone Miranda is the Community Learning Center Project Manager at Schenectady City School District (SCSD), where she manages the 21st Century Program. Ms. Miranda began working for SCSD more than seven years ago and enjoys working with the diverse students and families in the district. She oversees programs in five school buildings/sites that serve grade levels 3-12 for afterschool and summer programs. Her passion is helping students develop their social and intellectual skills so they are able to transition into adulthood and the workforce.