The “After” Class

A new age of after-school programming

At MICDS, teachers know that learning doesn’t stop after students are dismissed at the end of the academic day. For younger students, there are still hours of time to explore new activities and ways to engage their minds. And for older students who have already established other interests, there’s time between class and the start of sports and extracurricular activities to get ahead on their work or spend more time with their teachers to better understand the material.

That’s the thinking behind the MICDS after-school enrichment programs: take advantage of the time at the end of the day by having students explore, inquire and learn. Whether it’s the weekly chess club in the Lower School, the Academic Support After-school Program in the Middle School, or the Academic Center in the Upper School, MICDS students have ample opportunity to keep learning outside of class.

Lower School: Exploring Opportunities with Extended Day

For students from Junior Kindergarten through sixth grade, the Extended Day program gives them time after the school day to try out a variety of enrichment activities they may not otherwise experience.

“These enrichment classes are a learning experience for the children much different than the school day would be,” said Matt Blair, Director of Extended Day. “They give students an opportunity to learn new skills, hang out with friends and try things they normally wouldn’t necessarily do.”

One of the longest-running and most popular activities is an after-school chess club for students from senior kindergarten through fourth grade. “Picture a five-year-old playing chess,” Blair said, laughing. While having a child that young playing one of the most mentally taxing games is certainly unusual, both the students and parents love it, Blair said.

Other popular enrichment activities include Icky Sticky Science, where students get hands-on with introductory experiments, and Supersonic Superheroes, where children get to dance off some of their cooped-up energy. For the latter, MICDS partners with the Center of Creative Arts (COCA) to teach students movement exercise and dance routines based on a superhero of their choice that culminates in a performance for parents.

Each enrichment activity happens once a week and lasts for six to eight weeks. The activities rotate across four seasons: fall, winter, spring and a newer season, called “late fall” by Blair. In late fall, rather than partnering with St. Louis organizations, MICDS teachers design their own enrichment programs for the students.

That’s not to say all of the classes are decided without student input. Blair is always looking for new classes and welcomes student proposals for new activities. One recent student proposal resulted in a new field-hockey enrichment program.

Middle School: Structure and Study

A few years ago, a homework club for Middle School students had recently dissolved and parents bewildered by a curriculum different from what they had experienced were turning to tutors. Jen Schuckman, Head of the Middle School, had an idea.

So many students stay at school until 4:30 or 5 p.m., waiting for their practices to start, that Schuckman saw an opportunity to make that time fruitful. The Academic Support After-school program, popularly known as ASAP, was born.

ASAP officially started during the 2016-2017 school year and is included in tuition fees. From the beginning, a thoughtful format was established to ensure success. “We wanted to make sure that we had a really structured area where students could grow academically,” said Callie Bambenek, Director of ASAP.

ASAP focuses on providing resources to help students finish their homework, including having both humanities and STEM teachers present. More importantly though, ASAP seeks to help students organize and plan their weeks to build “executive functioning” skills that will be needed in the Upper School environment.

“We try to push them, especially as they go into ninth grade, toward what independence is,” Bambenek said. “We ask, ‘How are you going to take a look at your week and know all these different organizational things that you need?’”

Having those planning skills also allow the students to be fully present when they do go home for the day. Diane Li ’24 said, “It gives me a quiet environment where I can focus on my homework and get it done efficiently.” Her classmate Jeremiah Clay ’24 agreed, saying ASAP lets him finish all of his homework before football or track practice.

“We talk with teachers about work-life balance,” Bambenek said, “and I think this helps advocate for a work-life balance for our students, too.”

Upper School: Making the Difference

Vicki Thurman, Director of Student Services, remembers the mother of one ninth grader coming to her last spring determined to find a tutor for her son. The student was smart but underperforming in Integrated Math One, and his mother thought a tutor could help him improve. “Have you tried the Academic Center?” Thurman asked.

One session later, after working with Aaron Proctor, Upper School Math Teacher, the student came home and said, “Mom, Proctor’s great. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe he helped me out.”

Over the rest of the trimester, the ninth grader improved his grade in Integrated Math One into the A-range and his mom saved the money on tutoring. In general, the after-school hours offered at the Academic Center on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays can beat outside tutoring because STEM and humanities teachers familiar with the intricacies of MICDS curriculum are always there. “Having a teacher who actually knows what those units of study are and what the flow is in the sequence is really beneficial,” Thurman said.

In part, that’s where the initial idea for the program came about. It began as a design-thinking concept between Athletic Director Don Maurer and Upper School leadership. “We were trying to think through how we could meet more students’ needs without increasing cost to our families,” Thurman said.

Now, a wide range of students uses the program. From students like the ninth grader looking to improve his grade to athletes coming before their practices to get extra help, Thurman says she sometimes sees 30 or more students coming in on a given day.

But one of the best things that has come out of the program, Thurman says, is that students are seeing it’s okay to ask for help, and they’re becoming more comfortable with reaching out to teachers to get it.

With all of these academic resources available to every student from Junior Kindergarten through 12th grade, staying after school is a good thing after all.