This feature first appeared in Journeys Winter 2017.
When the elementary school chimes ring at three o’clock each day, most students head for the buses. But around 300 students walk in the opposite direction, congregating in the cafeterias before heading off to a classroom, gym, or field for an hour of fun, friendship, and skill development. This year Singapore American School has instituted a new approach to the elementary activities and athletics (EAA) program, and kids are enjoying new opportunities as a result.
Started in 2004 with 15 classes, EASA, as it was then known, expanded over the last decade to offer a range of after-school activities and sports to our youngest learners. Choices were not always coordinated within EASA, with other divisions, and with the community sports and activities (CSA) program, however. Also, students were limited to three classes, and some sports teams involved try-outs, gradings, and cuts. Options were also relatively expensive, especially compared with the free activities and sports offered to SAS middle and high school students. In order to follow best practices for such a program, a review was included in the school’s research and development exercise. This resulted in a number of recommendations to make extracurricular offerings more accessible to our younger students and align them with CSA’s and other divisions’ programs. Specifically, the revised EAA program offers “Eagle Pathway” options that match IASAS activities, including art, dance, drama, music, debate, Model United Nations, and six sports (athletics, baseball/softball, basketball, rugby/touch, soccer, and volleyball). Other options are also available, from Animation to Yoga for Youth, with a total of 117 classes offered this season. Students can take five classes per week, and costs for many classes have dropped. All elementary-school faculty are now involved, giving students contact with different teachers in a fun and relaxed setting.
The new EAA program is designed to help students try new activities, both to expand their horizons and to develop healthy habits and interests. The sports program, in particular, has been modified based on the internationally recognized Long-Term Athlete Development Model, which identifies strategies to help children participate in sports in more healthy, balanced, and enjoyable ways. By removing barriers such as try-outs and cuts, this model promotes younger children’s long-term health and well-being, while also giving them the foundations to progress toward high levels of athletic achievement. EAA now encourages all kids to try different sports, which are taught with a focus on fun and age-appropriate skill development. Two Eagle Pathway sports are offered per age group per season, and these rotate throughout the year to cover all six sports for all elementary students. CSA provides further athletic options, and both programs contract with outside academies to provide high-quality, professional coaching.
Judging by the numbers, the changes have been positively received. Student participation has increased by around 50 percent, with over 1,300 class spots taken in the current season. Besides the Eagle Pathway options, students have many other options involving crafts, languages, literacy skills, martial arts, mind stretch, recreation, social skills, and technology. EAA coordinator Bryan Coole notes that he has been pleasantly surprised to see some “niche” activities prove attractive to students. “The Board Games Club, for instance,” he says, “has appealed to kids who want to try something different and have fun with friends in a relaxed environment.” Counselor Colleen Steigerwald explains that some activities may interest parents who see particular relevance for their children. “The social skills classes help kids develop social awareness and emotional well-being. Students who sometimes find social interactions challenging may enjoy a class like Lego Club, which teaches social skills in a fun, novel, and non-threatening environment,” she says.
The updated after-school program has proven a success, but Coole says it is still work in progress. “While we have made the major changes, we are now collecting data, fixing problems, and learning how to maximize our resources and facilities,” he explains. The program will continue to evolve based on parent feedback, student demand, and ongoing research into how best to offer exciting and rewarding after-school options to our youngest students. Judging by the smiles on students’ faces as they head off to be mad scientists, hip hop dancers, rainforest rovers, or soccer stars for an hour, the new and improved EAA is off to a very good start!
- Elementary After School Activities