Undercover Learning: Co-curricular and Extracurricular Learning Experiences in Wyoming

Quality learning experiences come in almost every form, and often it’s the ones that take place outside the classroom, away from the textbooks, that lead to the most understanding and retention. These opportunities also provide fresh and varying ways for students to gain inspiration, forge connections with people they might not meet in school, and learn leadership and life skills in new settings.

But don’t just take our word for it! The Hughes Charitable Foundation brought a few key questions to co-curricular and extracurricular learning organizations in our state, and this is the wisdom they had to share…

Kate Foster, Program Associate, Wyoming Afterschool Alliance
Janie Wilcox - State Director, Wyoming Association of SkillsUSA
Cindy Bartz - Board Chair, GAP!

Tell us more about your organization…

Wyoming Afterschool Alliance
The Wyoming Afterschool Alliance (WYAA) is committed to creating conditions where every young person in Wyoming can pursue their passions, grow their skills, and cultivate communities of belonging. We do this by advocating the availability of high-quality out-of-school time (OST) opportunities for all kids, cultivating connections in and across communities that support youth, and by increasing the competence of the adults who work with young people.

As an intermediary organization, WYAA does not offer direct services to youth. We are committed to making connections within communities and throughout Wyoming.

Please watch this video! It says it best and was just created by our national office:
We Are SkillsUSA - YouTube

We are co-curricular, found in the classroom, right alongside the required curriculum. SkillsUSA is America’s proud champion of the skilled trades. We’re a student-led partnership of education and industry that’s building the future skilled workforce our nation depends on with graduates who are career ready, day one.

GAP! provides after-school and summer programming for nearly 250 third through eighth-grade girls throughout the region. GAP! creates meaningful experiences that promote social and emotional development, healthy self-esteem, and positive relationships. GAP! girls might try skateboarding one week and wildcrafting the next. Everything we do is infused with the goal to help girls become brave over perfect.

Why is it important for students to take part in programming and learning opportunities outside of school/the academic classroom?

Wyoming Afterschool Alliance
After-school and summer programs engage young people in enriching learning experiences that help them gain critical life skills and reach their full potential. From hands-on STEM projects and leadership opportunities to solving real-world problems and exploring careers, afterschool and summer programs expose children to new experiences that help them build confidence, teamwork, communication, and other important life skills.

After-school programs put youth at the center and encourage students to play an active role in designing their own learning journey. Programs are flexible and built around students’ needs and interests. Youth have freedom to explore their passions while developing real-world skills like teamwork, communication, leadership, and critical thinking.

Parents’ top concerns are their children’s mental well-being and safety, making after-school programs all the more critical. After-school provides the support parents want for children’s mental well-being and healthy development, including safe opportunities to connect with peers, build positive relationships, learn life skills, enjoy healthy meals, and be physically active. Learn more at wyafterschoolalliance.org/wyoming-after-3pm/.

Leadership opportunities that are co-curricular OR extra-curricular are extremely important for personal growth. SkillsUSA is America’s proud champion of the skilled trades. Our mission is to empower students to become skilled professionals, career-ready leaders, and responsible community members - hence its importance.

GAP! provides a safe space for girls to take risks and push their boundaries with new experiences, without the pressures of academic performance and the limitations of schoolyard cliques. We find that they are able to show up after school and during the summer in a different, often more authentic, way. They need as much support as possible from a wide variety of positive, uplifting, empowering influences.

Source: SkillsUSA Wyoming Alumni and Friends Association, Facebook

How does leadership and skills training/programming positively impact youth?

Wyoming Afterschool Alliance
Today’s students need a robust learning environment where they are empowered to realize their full potential. With true collaboration among after school and summer programs, schools, and community partners, we can meet the needs of kids and families today—and forge a new future where every child is cared for, included, educated, and inspired.

WYAA is a partner of the Million Girls Moonshot, a national program seeking to re-imagine who can engineer, who can build, who can make. Together, we are working to inspire and prepare the next generation of innovators by engaging girls in learning opportunities through after-school and summer programs. WYAA’s MakeHER Scholars program used resources from the University of Wyoming Coe Student Innovation Center and Albany County 4-H to engage after-school program leaders in new ways to inspire young people to see themselves as makers, an important aspect of building a STEM identity. This was an especially useful strategy for educators who would not have considered themselves science or maker-oriented.

One example was Emily Haver, Carbon County 4-H Youth Development Educator. Emily explained that she saw the importance of STEM education in 4-H but knew that she needed to develop her own engineering mindset. Through MakeHER, Emily was able to practice these skills. After exploring MakeHER, Emily hosted two workshops with the Boys and Girls Club of Carbon County in Rawlins. She now feels empowered to expand STEM offerings through her 4-H programming and beyond. Emily said, “We all used to be makers, and we can all be makers again. And then, just encouraging girls to fail. Try, try; fail, fail; try again. It’s the incapable part that the maker movement works to totally demolish. If you believe you are capable, you are automatically less vulnerable to outside dissenting voices and natural obstacles. You don’t succeed unless you fail a few times first.”

I have personally watched this program change lives as well as silence the noise of non-traditional career pathways. Our [Career and Technical Education] CTE teachers in Wyoming are preparing our future workforce. SkillsUSA is also in these classrooms providing leadership training and opportunities while celebrating a student's technical skills every step of the way.

Early adolescence is a fraught time for girls. The negative impacts of social media start showing up in late elementary school, which is why we start building relationships with girls long before middle school. Girls' self-esteem often drops by 30% in middle school, and they are bombarded daily with social media messages that challenge their self-esteem, body image, and peer relationships. According to CDC data released this spring, nearly 3 out of 5 of America's teen girls felt persistently sad in 2021, a nearly 60% increase and the highest level reported in the past decade. The number of girls experiencing sexual violence has increased at least 20% since 2017. The impact of GAP! Is best expressed by the girls themselves: “GAP! really helped me, kind of like, understand that when they say ‘you run like a girl,’ you don’t have to take that as an insult. You can take it as a compliment because you are a girl and girls are awesome.” Or “GAP! is a safe place to tell your emotions.” Or “I used to care what people think about my clothes and what I wore and everything about me, but now I can embrace it."

How does access to quality youth extracurricular learning opportunities benefit the community?

Wyoming Afterschool Alliance
When every young person can access high-quality opportunities, they can deepen their interests, strengthen their skills, and cultivate connections of belonging. However, for every child in an afterschool program in Wyoming, three more are waiting to get in. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 14,719 students were enrolled in afterschool programs, while 43,240 were waiting for an available spot.

After school is a lifeline for millions of kids and families. It is especially critical now as parents are concerned about their kids’ well-being and safety. Parents value after-school and believe their kids benefit from it. There is strong, bipartisan support for public funding for programs to expand opportunities for kids.

We also know that Wyoming employers need access to a well-prepared workforce and after-school programs have a role to play. After-school programs open a new world of opportunities to help young people prepare for the jobs of tomorrow. Young people gain hands-on experience and learn to communicate, collaborate, and lead. Businesses want to hire responsible problem solvers and team players, and after-school develops these skills. After-school programs are locally-driven solutions that help children learn and grow, families balance work with home, and employers hire the workforce they need.

The SkillsUSA Framework clearly defines learning expectations for SkillsUSA programs in Wyoming. When students learn each area of the Framework, they gain a consistent and specific skill set that is often lacking in today’s graduates. That’s just part of “the SkillsUSA difference” that sets our students apart as the career-ready graduates industry is desperate to hire and the focused servant-leaders our communities need more than ever. Here is a link to the page that offers a video regarding our Framework for you:

When our kids do better, the whole community benefits. GAP! has a powerful ripple effect, and GAP! girls grow up to be leaders in our community and beyond. In fact, Jackson Hole’s current mayor, Hailey Morton Levinson, was a GAP! girl!