My initial desire for blogging in this forum was really to share my exoeriences of starting up an ALC in Mexixo. Many of the challenges that one has to face when starting a school are probably more or less the same everywhere you go. Others are cultural and unique to every place. I thougth it could be interesting sharing the process, expecially considering someone ele might find it helpful. Then, obviously, caught up in the daily operations, I found myself with less and less time. However a year has passed, and next week I start Explora´s second year. That is worth celebrating with another post!
The pros and cons of an after-school program
The pros are easy! I think the main thing has been that we don´t feel the pressure that comes with a full-time school. We can focus on only having fun and enjoy the work with the kids.
This has led me to be able to focus more on my kindergarten (which is not an ALC) and assure the economic sustainability for the smaller kids. That´s been very important, because it´s proven so much easier to get families to enroll in my kindergarten than in Explora. They understand the concept and they need it. So, by focusing on the kindergarten I have been able to set up the house, pay the bills – and keep both projects floating. Also, many of the kids in the kinder will continue to Explora once they turn seven., so it makes sense to focus on what eventually will make Explora grow.
Having the two projects in the same house has been great. They share facilities but son´t use them during the same hours. The kindergarten is adapted to 1-6 year olds – which for instance means the gate is always closed so the little ones won´t wander off. In the afternoon we open up the gate so the Explora kids can roam around freely.
The Agile Learning concept works really well for an after-school program. We´ve just had to adapt it since we don´t run it that many hours per week (only nine: Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, three hours every day). That means we almost never have the time for change-up meetings. We only do them when we´ve got something serious to talk about. Sometimes the kids don´t see the point in setting their intentions: the time they´re there is short and they want to get out and have fun.
The cons have been many, mainly because I didn´t know how things were going to work out and have had to quickly adapt the project on the go, so to speak (see older posts). The biggest con is lack of parent participation. They simply don´t see the point. If they can just drop off the kids at Explora, why have to particpate in a meeting, or learn about self-directed education? Most parents are not interested in a full-time substitute for a school, and during what other after-school activities do you have to get involved as a parent?
This also means it´s hard for me to promote Explora as a full-time project, because the parents simply don´t get what it´s about. They don´t understand how broad the concept is, and what their children are really experiencing and learning there. They also have a tendancy to freak out with all the freedom we give their children. Since they´re not interested in finding out about self-directed education, they don´t approve of kids climbing the wall, making fires or using machetes unsupervised.
I think Explora is the most diverse program for kids where I live, because they can do so many different things every day. But it still seems I need to add on some chunkier stuff in order to make parents really see the benefits of the program (such as having an English speaking person come in a couple of times a week doing activities in English, or for instance music exploration, dancing or carpentery).
What would I recommend for someone else who wants to try the after-school concept?
I would start with three days a week, and I would do three days in a row.
I´d make those three days mandatory. Letting families choose how many days per week, weakens the project economically and – more important – affects the kids negatively. It´s so much harder to create a respectful culture when not all of the kids are there at the same time, or even know each other. The kids that come in only once a week don´t benefit as much from the agile concept, and we haven´t really seen any changes in those children in comparison to those who come in every day.
I wouldn´t freak out so much about the fact that time is short and adaptations are necessary. You simply can´t have the change-up meetings you might want, and reflection time is limited. But that´s okay. It´s still so much better than any other program.
You can use the after-school format as an incubator for starting up a school. This is probably the thing that excites me most at this moment. The thing is, it gives me another year to learn, plan and grow. And – just because the plan is to turn Explora into a full-time program, it doesn´t exclude the idea of an after-school program.
You see, I want to continue using the afternoon slots for the older kids. On one hand, because I want to go on separating the kinder and Explora. I could rent two spaces for that, but honestly, why? I know for one thing that I have no desire whatsoever to have to deal with TWO houses, TWO rents – well TWO of everything that comes with that idea. It´s just all the contrary of agile.
Then, on the other, I really want to give the kids the opportunity of sleeping in and letting them start the day when they are ready. Not when socitey says they should be ready. Starting at 2 pm makes that possible.
And… that means I´ll be able to run both a full-time school AND an after-school program simultaneaously in the same place. Monday to Friday from 2-7 pm I can have a school. And Tuesday to Thursday form 4.7 pm I can complement that and receive kids who´s parents aren´t interested in a full-time option.
That means I don´t need to turn people down just because they´re not interested in a school. The consequence is I might not need such a big group of kids for the school as I first imagined. The after-school program will grow during this year when more and more people find out about it, and that might actually be what makes it economically possible to run a small scale school at the same time.
Again, I think I´m on to something important here, but only time will tell how it´ll actually work out in reality.
If you have any questions about how to run an after-school program, please feel free to contact me!