Afterschool STEM for tomorrow's workforce
Chambers of commerce are partnering with the Mott Foundation’s 50 State Afterschool Network to advance high-quality programming for elementary school-aged students across the U.S.
Here are examples of two chambers — one in South Carolina, and one in Washington state — that are teaming up with their statewide networks to help kids get a jump-start on science, math and technology.
In 2010, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce joined forced with the South Carolina Afterschool Alliance to promote STEM learning for students in the state’s public school system.
Initially, the focus was ensuring members' employees could remain productive between 2–5:00 p.m. on weekdays, said Cynthia Bennett, vice president of education at the South Carolina Chamber. Later, as the project evolved, its mission shifted to guaranteeing that networks were providing high-quality, STEM-focused learning opportunities for the entire community.
“We chose to work with the network because there was a common ground for mutual benefits and shared priorities,” said Bennet. “We are the voice of business in South Carolina and our main goal and concern was—and still is—making sure we have an educated workforce that will be able to take over, as opposed to having to be retrained.”
Through their collaboration, the chamber helped the South Carolina Afterschool Alliance increase its visibility and credibility among the state's business leaders, as well as secure funding for additional science and technology exposure.
“As a mom of two boys, I understand being a working mother and having to decide what to do with my kids,” she said. “For me, as well as for the chamber, it wasn’t just about having a program—it was about providing something valuable. Were they offering something meaningful, or were they just babysitting?”
In Washington, Greater Spokane Incorporated and School’s out Washington have worked to promote statewide afterschool learning, with a focus on STEM skills and careers.
“School’s Out Washington is providing quality improvement and professional development support, and GSI is providing connections to business and STEM learning essentials that afterschool providers can use,” said Alisha Benson, vice president of education and workforce at GSI. “One of our greatest strengths as a chamber is our ability to convene many of the entities across the table on education and pipeline issues within the business community.”
GSI has implemented an initiative with SOW called Business AfterSchool, which is a series of industry skills workshops aimed at providing on-site awareness of Spokane’s high-demand jobs to students in the region.
“It’s an awesome opportunity for students to go into a business and take an in-depth look at those careers and how their skills work,” said Meg Lindsay, GSI’s executive director of education and workforce. “I think the really important piece of all this is that, as we enter a business setting, we’re really engaging business professionals in a way that kids just can't get during regular school hours.”