For almost six months, a community center has been making big changes in the Highlands area to better serve kids after school.
The STREAM Team — Science, Technology, Recreation, Environment, Art and Math — is a free after-school program hosted at the North Highlands Neighborhood Center.
It’s about to receive the 2019 Program Excellence Award at the Washington Recreation and Parks Association conference April 11. The program has several partners and regularly monitors data and suggestions to make sure they’re offering the most they can to the kids.
STREAM began with funding from a Quality Out-of-School-Time Initiative grant of $259,515 for 2018 to 2020, after partnering as a King County Best Starts for Kids program, and funds from the city Community Service department.
The staff partnered with Renton School District and used their annual survey to ask parents what they wanted in a new program, Renton Recreation and Neighborhoods Director Maryjane Van Cleave said at a March 18 Committee of the Whole meeting.
“It was past the day of foosball and checking out balls. (Parents) were looking for something a bit more constructive and substantive,” Van Cleave said of the survey results.
The neighborhood center was previously a drop-off facility for ages 6 to 18 from 3 to 7 p.m. This concerned parents as students could come and go as they pleased and there was no structure.
Now STREAM is available from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m. for kids 5 to 14 years old, with buses dropping off kids from school and parent sign-out.
The center still has drop-off hours from 7 to 9 p.m. Recreation Coordinator Tom Puthoff said it was important to him that no one who originally used the facility was excluded.
The facility has a gym, a lobby with tables and arcade games, STREAM room with TV and projector, a large classroom used for business class, and a craft room.
As of three weeks ago, 149 students had come through the program, with an average of 55 on any given day. STREAM has a capacity of 70 to 75 kids.
Recreation Specialist Keith Green II said they are hoping to fill that extra space with middle schoolers — they currently have eight attending and would like to see 20. Green said this is especially for girls in their Techbridge Girls program, which empowers girls to get into the same starting line as boys in technology.
Puthoff has been at the community center for 25 years. He said STREAM doesn’t just help kids recreate, it cures some of the hurt and emotional issues kids have. He said he also thinks the kids take more pride in the program and the community facility than in the past.
According to a STREAM survey, 75 percent of kid participants believed the program was helping them learn a life skill, and 60 percent said they have an increased interest in learning about their own cultures.
All of the children’s parents said their kids talk about the programs at home, Puthoff said.
“The ultimate goal is to develop kids with self confidence, persistence, positive attitude and an interest in learning after engaging in our after school program,” said Carrie Nass, Renton Recreation and Neighborhoods manager.
The staff with STREAM rate themselves on 87 items that makes sure they are handling children’s needs and their goals.
Their focus is on social-emotional learning, by training those staff involved with the kids. The goals of their social-emotional learning is kids can plan, make choices and reflect on actions throughout the day.
This has changed the game when handling a difficult situation with a kid at the community center, Puthoff said. He said some kids who would be kicked out of the center for months at a time are now able to stay, just needing occasional breaks during the day, who are offered stress kits and calm spaces.
“For a lot of my career, if a kid was doing something there’s a consequence,” Puthoff said. “Social emotional learning is more figuring out the reason behind (kids’ actions) and see if we can help cure the issue instead of reduce the symptom.”
STREAM has several partners that offer the curriculum, including Environmental Science Center, Techbridge Girls, Centru Rendu and Seattle Advocates for Education.
Seattle Advocates for Education are a group of students from Newport High School who sought STREAM out. They created a nonprofit and wanted to teach business and entrepreneurial classes.
The curriculum consists of Kidzmath, Kidzscience, 4H Healthy Living, Scratch (computer programming) Business Foundations and city of Renton staff project ideas. These classes evolve depending on what the kids want, instead of a traditional classroom.
For example, the middle school participants wanted to cook, so STREAM started a cooking class in the 4H curriculum.
Wizards of the Coast also sponsors the Junior Leader volunteer program at the center and its donation helps fund a rewards program for the kids.
Four students presented what they liked about the program and what they wanted to see moving forward at a Committee of the Whole meeting. Puthoff said after the meeting they plan to try and implement all the ideas the kids said, including tether-ball, a sewing class, gardening and service projects for the community.
Puthoff said the addition of two more full-time staff to help with behind-the-scenes preparation has helped them balance out their work at the center. As he and Green work on the program, they are still making new choices all the time to add to STREAM.
“We’re constantly changing things,” Green said.
There’s still going to be two summer camps at the center this year, but they’re launching STREAM as a camp as well. Parents currently enrolled were notified of a summer camp program where they will use a lottery system to fill the 50 spots, Puthoff said. It will be a total of 95 kids and 18 staff members.