Greetings fellow and future VISTAs! My name is Ben Martinson and I am a first year VISTA serving with The ROCK Center for Youth Development in Midland, MI. It’s exciting to be able to reflect upon everything I’ve been involved with since I started my service 8 months ago.
It seems that each project I work on becomes “my biggest accomplishment”. However, the one that I’m most proud of is the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) program I designed and integrated into The ROCK’s after-school program (a.k.a. ROCKIT). This project was challenging as all the components needed to be created from scratch. The ROCK is particular to branding their programs, which is perfect because I consider myself an armchair marketing specialist! I spent quite a bit of time researching the properties of a successful STEM program. I wanted the students who participated in the program to learn something, have fun while doing it, and walk away being able to repeat what they learned at home. Basically, “learning by doing”. I also wanted to expose the students to different “types” of projects which ended up involving 1) hands-on activities that we design ourselves; 2) hands-on activities that STEM-centric organizations in the community lead; 3) small group classes.
I’ve been able to partner with some great organizations in the community that visit the after-school sites with projects. This is beneficial for the students because they get to learn directly from the experts (of the project’s topic). It’s also great for The ROCK because the organization supplies all the materials for free! A few of the projects organizations have led include making slime, creating “seed balls”, and learning about UV light.
There have been three different 8-week classes available to students including “Science+” and “Google CS First”. Science+ is a curriculum designed specifically for the after-school environments. This was originally designed so the same group of students came each week, but it ended up being more of a drop-in style class. Each week, students did a different project related to a core science concept. In “Google CS First”, students learned about computer science by developing their own projects using the Scratch programming language.
As of today, there has been 228 hours of STEM programming by 209 unique students at The ROCK’s afterschool sites. To learn more about ROCKit check out http://www.therockc4yd.org/rockit/.
After reading the last paragraph, you might be asking yourself, “how did you track and tally those numbers, Ben?” To answer your question I’ll happily refer to my VISTA Year Initiative – a database for capturing student information, programs, program activities, and attendance. The ROCK averages over 200 students a day in their after-school program across 3 different sites. This results in over 40,000 attendances per year! Until last fall, The ROCK was using Excel spreadsheets and a slowly dying Access database. I have a background in working with databases so I researched a reputable cloud-based database provider (Caspio) and did the grunt working of transforming their legacy data into a full-fledged relational database. In the end result, they have concrete data about students and attendance that can be accessed quickly for purposes such as grant writing, estimating staff requirements, and trends.
The project I’m currently working on allows me to apply one of the skills I’m passionate about – web development. I helped rebrand The ROCK’s employability skills training class (a.k.a LevelUP), update the curriculum, and develop a web app that accompanies the class. During the class students participate in a recurring game where they earn a virtual paycheck. Their paycheck is deposited into a virtual bank account in which the students must use to pay bills and loans. The app allows students to manage their bank account, pay bills, upload documents (resumes, cover letters, etc.), and access helpful resources.
To learn more about LevelUP, visit http://www.therockc4yd.org/levelup/.
I’m thankful to be serving with an organization with such a solid group of people who have enabled and assisted me to pursue the goals in my VAD. I look forward to finishing my VISTA year in a few short months and know that I helped make a positive impact on youth in the Midland area.
Each blog post is written by one of our program's VISTAs!