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Woo-Labs Transforms After School Programming in Worcester, Compliments School Day Instruction

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

When the school day ends, a whole new world of learning opens up for Worcester youth.

Woo-Labs isn’t your grandparents’ after school experience. Developed by the Worcester Education Equity Roundtable, an initiative of the Worcester Education Collaborative, in partnership with Edward Street and out-of-school-time providers, Woo-Labs offers culturally responsive, project-based learning opportunities for historically marginalized K-6 students.

How is climate change affecting Worcester—and what can we do about it, right now, as an after school group?

How do construction workers read and use building plans on the job? How can girls pursue a career in construction later in life?

Math and English learning compliments the work of WPS teachers and staff

Each Woo-Labs program supports Worcester Public Schools’ efforts to meet or exceed Massachusetts’ grade-level academic standards.

“We’re raising out-of-school-time to the same level of importance as the school day, by amplifying learning objectives—only without the kids even knowing it,” says Worcester Education Collaborative Deputy Director Emily Dodge. “Projects begin with a community problem or challenge; solutions require the use of English and math skills.”

At Mass Audubon’s Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, children learn through inquiry-based environmental and nature programming. The 2021-2022 school year included lessons in the challenges of climate change and a hyper local solution: water filtration systems, which students built themselves.

In 2021, children attending Girls Inc.’s program improved their STEM skills, thanks to a visit by Consigli Construction and the National Association of Women in Construction. Students learned how to use power tools, gained a basic understanding of electronic wiring for construction purposes, took part in a Lego building competition, learned to read construction plans, and were shown pathways to a career in construction later in life. They even took turns sitting on an excavator.

At African Community Education, students researched their heritage then planned and created projects, including visual artwork and even a play!

The work of many yields many opportunities for families

“One unique aspect of this network,” says Dodge, “is that all of our partners have been at the table since the beginning and have co-created and designed this entire experience.”

Edward Street played a key role early on.

The organization chaired the subcommittee of the Worcester Education Equity Roundtable that architected Woo-Labs. Edward Street also secured a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Funds supported the development of Woo-Labs programs by providers who operated remote learning spaces during the pandemic. This ensured young children would be included in Woo-Labs’ programming.

The grant also helped Woo-Labs create professional development opportunities for Woo-Labs partners. Staff trainings in culturally responsive teaching practices increase understanding of students’ lived experiences, improve trauma awareness, and help educators support children’s social-emotional development. (Trainings are also available to the broader community of non-Woo-Labs providers.)

Woo-Labs keeps growing; eleven programs will be offered this school year

Five of the original ten Woo-Labs partners launched programs in June 2021. The remaining five launched in September of that year. This summer, a program run by the Guild of St. Agnes was added, yielding a total of eleven Woo-Labs after school programs. (Eight also run summer programming.)

To date, Woo-Labs has served more than 1,800  students across 11 programs:

Are you a provider or a parent? Learn more about Woo-Labs and get ready for the school year

  • Families interested in Woo-Labs after school programs should ask their kindergarten or elementary school about available options. Additionally, many after school and summer programs exist outside of the Woo-Labs network. A comprehensive list will be released in September, so stay tuned to Edward Street’s social channels for more information!
  • If you’re a family services provider interested in joining the Woo-Labs network of summer and after school programming, please contact WEC’s Emily Dodge at .

Edward Street develops programming and advocates for early childhood, families, and equitable economic growth in Worcester. Stay tuned on Facebook and LinkedIn. Please donate today!