By ANN RICHARDS
- YouthQuest afterschool program uses real life experiences to reinforce learning
- “Big Sales Night” fosters entrepreneurial skills in young students
- Expanded Learning and Afterschool Web site links communities with resources
| Video By: DUANE M. ELLING
It’s not every day that a third-grade class has the opportunity to produce and market its own music CD. But at Freeman Elementary School in Flint, Michigan, Jef Johnson, a learning guide for the YouthQuest
afterschool program, used his skills as a music producer to introduce an enthusiastic class of 9-year-old singers to the recording industry.
The end result, The Blue Dragons Mix Tape, was one of eight different products and services showcased at the school’s “Big Sales Night,” held in early April. The culminating event of an eight-week afterschool unit using entrepreneurship to sharpen academic and personal skills, the “Big Sales Night,” raised $606.50 for two local charities. About 70 to 80 people — mostly Freeman school parents, family members and friends — attended the event.
“It was a lot of work, but it was so much fun,” said Kate Potts, the school’s YouthQuest site team leader. “The kids learned how difficult it can be to run a successful business, and as a plus, we were able to work in the idea of charity and how hard people work to help other people.”
Each of YouthQuest’s seven, multi-week sessions during the school year is designed around a theme, which gives the afterschool staff the opportunity to exercise creativity around an established lesson plan, Potts said.
“We’re able to learn what works and what doesn’t from the experiences of other afterschool teams and try some different approaches. The theme helps guide our planning and keeps us from getting into a rut,” she said, noting that Freeman’s final eight-week session will be devoted to the planets and space travel.
“We try to work with our classroom teachers to weave afterschool activities with classroom activities,” Potts continued. “This session was particularly useful for our younger students, who are learning about coinage and currency. Before we brought each class together to outline their business plans, we spent some time learning how to count money, how to make change. Our older students learned about profit, and why businesses need to be profitable.”
Although they considered creating “play money” that students could use to start businesses and purchase products and services, Potts and her eight-member team of learning guides ultimately decided that the rigor of creating and marketing actual products and services would encourage teamwork and challenge students’ creative and decisionmaking skills.
“We ended up with some interesting businesses — a waffle restaurant and art gallery, jewelry, photography and school supply stores, a lemonade stand and CD and DVD sales.”
Freeman is one of 15 elementary and middle schools in Flint and Genesee County offering free YouthQuest afterschool programming. Supported with an annual grant of $3 million from the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, YouthQuest is managed by the Genesee Regional Chamber of Commerce. Taking a whole-child approach to learning — using engaging and experiential activities to connect with and expand lessons learned during the regular school day — the program serves approximately 2,800 children each year, according to Rhetta Hunyady, the chamber’s vice president.
A graduate of the University of Michigan-Flint’s School of Education, Potts began working for YouthQuest while doing her student teaching. After graduating, she stayed with the program because of the inventive teaching opportunities offered through afterschool.
“So much learning comes from exploration, from working through problems and making mistakes — afterschool offers that kind of creative time for teachers and more importantly, for students,” she said.