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.
Greetings fellow VISTAs! My name is Ben Martinson and I am serving with The ROCK Center for Youth Development in Midland, MI. The best way to sum up my experience so far, is that I’m taking in everything, and absorbing it like a sponge. I’ve worked in the corporate environment before, but this is my first experience in the non-profit world. And boy, do things happen fast!
The ROCK’s mission is to build hope and resilience in youth. The team I’ve been working with are motivated, passionate, and determined to make sure this mission is accomplished. The organization is in its 15th year, and provides in-school classes to develop character & life skills, an afterschool program (serving 60-100 kids daily), and also youth-based summer & community events.
My first month at The ROCK was spent sitting in on presentations, trainings, reading manuals, and the most fun part, participating at the middle school afterschool program. It’s so rewarding to form a relationship with some of the kids, and know that you’re helping provide a positive and safe environment for them.
There will be two aspects of the afterschool program I will be growing, both related to academics. The first, being the tutoring program (also known as the “homework room”). The homework room is already pretty well established, in which kids can request on-demand help from a tutor, and can also earn “ROCK bucks”, which can be redeemed once a month for snacks, games, and toys. The areas I helped identify that require room to grow include adding more tutors to the staff, measuring success of the tutoring program, working more cohesively (with parents, teachers, and tutors), and also adding coordinated opportunities like group study & scheduled one-on-one tutoring.
The 2nd aspect of the afterschool program will be a STEM program. The past month I’ve been very busy preparing for the launch of the STEM program, scheduled for December. We’ll be starting with “three buckets” of opportunities including weekly curriculum, drop-in “craft-style” activities, and demonstrations from community organizations (like The Dow STEM Ambassadors). I’ve been experiencing first-hand, the effort involved with volunteer mobilization. I understand why AmeriCorps offers a blend course specifically for this topic! After posting volunteer opportunities online, emailing key contacts at community organizations, getting the word out at DOVIA meetings, and spreading handouts & flyers…after several weeks, I’m finally starting to see some volunteer requests trickle in!
In order to help generate buzz about the STEM program, I coordinated a meetup-style scavenger hunt at The Dow STEM Festival (at Delta College). We had about 12-15 kids show up with their parents, roaming around to different demonstrations and finding examples of science, tech, engineering, and math. The top two scavengers received a gift card! Most importantly, I was able to spend time introducing myself to different organizations that were there, and was able to make 5 new contacts that could come to help volunteer or do demonstrations for the STEM program!
I can’t emphasize enough how important it has been to get out into the community and participate in relevant committees, organizations, and events. I’ve found that being a VISTA, you are able to leverage the “status” you have, to make a first impression on people. Use it to your advantage, to help your organization, as you are out representing in the community!
Each blog post was written by one of our VISTAs!