Kids watched in wonder last week as King County Executive Dow Constantine sprayed water on a model town, simulating a rainstorm. “There it goes!” one child exclaimed as water gathered and flowed through storm drains and into the imaginary Puget Sound. “That affects salmon,” explained Larry Reymann, a Volunteer Educator with the Environmental Science Center, “And who eats salmon?” A chorus of voices chimed in, “Bears! Whales! Us!”
With Reymann and Executive Constantine’s help, the kids were learning about rainwater runoff and how pollutants on land eventually end up in the Puget Sound. It’s the kind of experience every child should have in the summer: a hands-on opportunity to take what they’ve learned in school and apply it in a new, fun context. But before Best Starts for Kids funding, this kind of engaging program might have been too expensive or too far from home for many of its participants.
In partnership with School’s Out Washington and 31 community-based organizations, Best Starts for Kids is expanding after-school and summer programs in communities who face financial and geographic barriers to access. In 2018, our partners provided over 23,000 hours of out-of-school programming. From hands-on opportunities to master a new skill to field trips that expose kids to a new career path, these programs do more than enhance academic skills. The high-quality programs Best Starts for Kids supports give young people the opportunity to learn about themselves, explore the world around them, and build confidence in their abilities.
Last week, we joined School’s Out Washington, several of our Out-of-School Time partners, and Executive Constantine on a tour to of two programs to see how they’re making a difference for kids and families this summer.
Expanding partnerships in Renton
The runoff demonstration was part of STREAM Team, an after-school and summer program the City of Renton launched using Best Starts for Kids funding. STREAM stands for science, technology, recreation, environment, art, and math. In partnership with Techbridge Girls, the Environmental Science Center, and Centro Rendu of St. Vincent de Paul, STREAM Team brings technology education, environmental science, and Spanish language and culture enrichment under one roof, rounding out the recreation and enrichment activities available from the City of Renton.
“We can figure out what [our students] are interested in and bring those passions out in them. We have a lot of kids that are interested in science, but they don’t have the ability to do that at home, so we can do science experiments and science projects here,” said Keith Green II, a Recreation Specialist with the City of Renton. “Our students can figure out what they’re interested in and keep building on those passions.”
Before receiving Best Starts for Kids funds, the Highlands Community Center in Renton operated on a drop-in basis. Students as young as first grade could come and go as they liked, with little dedicated programming. Best Starts for Kids funding allowed Renton to hire enough staff to have a custodial program, provide transportation to and from the program, and bring in partners to provide engaging daily programming. The City of Renton received funding through a Place-Based Partnership strategy, which funds collaborative partnerships in a school or neighborhood without access to high quality programming.
Earlier this year, STREAM Team received an Excellence Award from the Washington Recreation and Parks Association in recognition of the innovative changes they’ve made to their programming. For Green, who grew up in Renton and spent time at the Highlands Neighborhood Center himself, the real reward is seeing the change in program participants. “Seeing the difference in their attitudes after one year doing this program is huge,” said Green. “Growing up in this community, and now seeing kids that I’ve known for a couple of years wanting to learn, wanting to come somewhere where they can express themselves and be themselves is just a huge difference in our community.”
Subscribe to the Best Starts Blog and stay tuned for the second installment of this two-part series on our Out-of-School Time strategy. Next week, we’ll see how a career exploration program in Seattle’s Othello neighborhood is opening doors for King County kids.