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Structuring for scale-up success: Adaptive program model

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Structuring for scale-up success: Adaptive program model

By Meeta Sharma-Holt, vice president of programs and strategic partnerships at Techbridge Girls. This is the fourth in a four-blog series: read the previous blog, Structuring for scale-up success: Organizational structure for sustainability & scales, or head to the first blog, Structuring for scale-up success: Techbridge Girls shares lessons from its 5-year scale-up of STEM programs

Our afterschool programs strive to meet girls exactly where they are. To surmount the barriers that have prevented the STEM fields from realizing equity, we provide students with tools tailored to their cultural and gendered experiences. Our adaptations to the specific needs of our girls have come from extensive research and landscape analysis. Working with school districts and partner organizations whose structures may differ across regions has required us to become adept in the styles that serve a specific constituency.

Adapting to regional needs has been crucial to our curriculum’s success. Of our two major regional adaptations, we first augmented our curriculum to allow 4th grade girls to participate. While the original curriculum was intended to serve girls no earlier than in 5th grade, the student demographics in our newest region, Washington, D.C., did not allow for enough girls to participate if 4th graders could not also enroll. Our second adaptation, again in Washington, D.C., allowed our program to operate within the school day, as there were safety concerns for elementary school-aged girls going home later in the evening. As a result, girls could participate in the program during the last period of the day, rather than staying after school. Both adaptations greatly increased student participation.

As we progressed, we also changed our curriculum for middle school girls, allowing them to identify specific problems in their communities and empowering them to use STEM to formulate solutions. We instituted this adaptation to mitigate dwindling spring-time attendance, as research shows that girls are better engaged in STEM if they can use STEM as part of a solution to a problem.

For example, one of the schools we serve in D.C. has been housed in an older building that lacked potable water. In response, middle school  girls in our ChangeMakersTM program devised a smart water bottle that would filter water for students to carry during their school days. Adapting to serve school spaces in different regions has meant listening carefully to the needs expressed by our students and educators. When we keep the voices of our students at the center of the work, we can create dynamic afterschool programming with lasting impact across diverse regions.

Some of the most significant programmatic and curricular shifts were created to respond to the challenge of financially sustaining our existing afterschool model. We realized that the existing model did not vary developmentally; we were providing the same basic structure for elementary through high school-aged girls. Also, the existing model did not leverage our growing expertise in building educators’ capacity to provide high-quality STEM enrichment. Taking stock of these three factors, we made bold steps to adapt our program models and pilot new approaches in each region.

First, we developed a new elementary school-aged program model called Inspire. In this program, 4th and 5th-grade girls participate in an abbreviated, 12-week (instead of 30-weeks) STEM program. The program, delivered by school teachers, provides training, curriculum, pre-kitted materials, coaching, and evaluation. Schools provide the teachers' stipend, secure space for the program, and recruit the girls.

Next, we redesigned our high school model to better equip girls to pursue post-secondary college, career, or credential tracks in STEM fields. We also began re-structuring our school partnerships to enable feeder patterns, where girls could sustain their engagement with Techbridge Girls from elementary through high school. Two such STEM pathways are now complete in two of our three regions.

Techbridge Girls’ mission has attracted like-minded supporters and allowed us to forge crucial partnerships with individuals and institutions who have helped us expand our reach exponentially over our organization's history. In scaling up, we have used data and in-depth research to identify needs in the landscape and to adapt both our programming and organizational structure to reach girls where they are with life-changing STEM enrichment. With every adaptation, we have always put the voices and lived experiences of those we serve at the center of our work.

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