Guest post by Jeff Buehler
Across informal science education, community leaders are advancing efforts at local, regional, and state levels. Organizations are developing partnerships, disseminating curricula, scaling professional development, and measuring quality in ways that are making differences in youth programs; the youth development field as a whole appears to have taken the next step in meeting the needs of youth; and professionals have shown impressive commitment to convening and employing intentional strategies for sharing exemplary practices.
The most recent example of such practice-sharing was seen at the fifth Midwest Afterschool Science Academy (MASA), held in Kansas City, MO, from April 7 to 11. Over the years, MASA events have been built on the vision of Midwestern, informal science-education stakeholders coming together to share ideas and resources while connecting to and learning from national experts. This year, MASA played host to a confluence of multiple national initiatives with the common goal of developing systems to support accessible, equitable STEM learning experiences for all youth.
Leaders from Every Hour Counts cities, Statewide Afterschool Networks, and National Girls Collaborative Project collaboratives came together to learn from one other’s experiences and to determine strategies for coordinating future efforts. Altogether, over 100 leaders explored promising strategies for the establishment of policies and allocation of resources supporting youth development professionals’ efforts to provide more, and more high-quality, STEM learning opportunities.
Traditionally, city leaders have interacted with other cities, and state leaders with other states. Information has been shared primarily through formal presentations and publications. While those approaches hold value, the process of actively working together across multiple levels has resulted in a new dynamic that recognizes that local and regional efforts always take place within state contexts, and statewide successes are rooted in effective local and regional efforts—we cannot have one without the other. Together, we can achieve the cohesive field of informal science education that our youth and communities deserve.
Jeff Buehler is Director of Project LIFTOFF, a Midwestern initiative to elevate science learning after school through the development of statewide systems for informal science education.