Arts, science, math, media, environment -- even SCUBA diving -- Berkshire County public and private schools and businesses provide a broad, and growing, range of after-school learning opportunities designed to enhance curricula and spark creativity.
Williams and Berkshire Community colleges and IS183 Art School of the Berkshires are all, for example, expanding offerings to local K-12 students, while the Flying Cloud Institute and Barrington Stage Company continue long-running and successful student programs.
IS183, a nonprofit based in Stockbridge, sends teams of professional artists to schools all over the county, where they work with staff in developing specific curriculum-building activities.
The focus is on creative engagement -- the "transformative power of art-making," said IS183 Executive Director Hope Sullivan.
"Time and again, studies by educational organizations have shown what different ways of engaging and entry points to information can do for students," Sullivan said. "We go into these schools and make a space into a studio."
Subjects integrated into art activities include math, life sciences, vocabulary and language skills and much more. Projects range from molding animals and habitats from clay to exploring the performing, visual, even culinary arts. Sessions are held four days a week for 90 minutes each.
"It's a very holistic approach," Sullivan said.
New Marlborough's Flying Cloud Institute sends its educators to South Berkshire schools.
Flying Cloud's focus is to expose female students, particularly in grades 3 to 6, to topics in science and math. Around 150 area students are currently enrolled in the program.
Teachers -- all volunteers -- include engineers from Sabic, area professors and graduate students and other field professionals.
Alumni boast internships at Google and degrees in robotics; many of them come back and help teach with the program.
"It seems to be having a strong impact," said Kristen Sparhawk, Flying Cloud's summer program coordinator.
Volunteer Williams College students serve a similar function in Northern Berkshire, and increasingly use expanded Berkshire Regional Transit Authority bus lines for transportation to work in schools in Williamstown and North Adams.
In both areas, Williams students teach science and math lessons and perform experiments designed in accordance with state learning standards.
The college in 2008 established the Williams Center at Mount Greylock Regional High School, solidifying a deeper bond between the two educational institutions and providing regular writing assistance to high school students, and supporting other student programs.
Berkshire Community College, meanwhile, has expanded its Kid Academy offerings for area youths.
Classes on cooking, movie production, crafting, butterflies and safe baby-sitting have been popular. New classes this spring on hiking, scuba diving and violence prevention promise to garner still more interest.
"The offerings are a way of getting expanding minds exposed to new things early on to get them thinking about college," said Heidi Weber, the college's public relations manager.
Pittsfield's Barrington Stage Company's long-form, long-running, award-winning Playwright Mentoring Project is an after-school opportunity for area teens.
Students ages 13 to 19, including those struggling in the juvenile justice system, are paired with a peer group, peer and artistic mentors and a professional playwright. The object: write and act in one's own and others' plays after six month's preparation.
"It's really remarkable what kind of impact it has," said Corinne Miller, Barrington Stage Company's director of education. "A lot of these students don't have other outlets and this is a huge release. They're gaining real life skills."
To reach Phil Demers:
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