At a Woodcrest Spanish Immersion Elementary School site leadership team meeting months ago, staff brought up a small group of fourth-graders who were struggling to engage in learning, Principal Elizabeth Linares recalled.
Pokemon cards and Minecraft were the only topics that seemed to interest them.
“How might we use what kids are already really excited about during the school day so that they feel engaged, inspired (and) a sense of belonging while they’re learning?” Linares remembers the group asking.
That design question led to the birth of 15 CARES clubs in the Spring Lake Park Schools building.
Since February, the clubs have met for one hour each month during the school day.
All second- through fifth-grade students participate in the multi-age clubs, which range in membership size.
“Much to our surprise, the Cooking Club (has) the most robust membership,” Linares said.
The School of Rock Club is the smallest with just three members.
“If there are only three in a club, it’s still a club,” Linares said.
Staff, parents and community volunteers help run clubs. Linares herself leads the Projects to Help Others Club.
Folkloric Dance, Minecraft and Soccer clubs have all attracted kids.
Parent volunteers Monte and Meranda Wacek supervise the Engineering Club, but all clubs are ultimately led by the kids.
Engineering Club students wanted to build solar-powered robots, a little ambitious with an initial budget of $30, Meranda Wacek said, laughing.
The Waceks have brought in Popsicle sticks so that kids could build Ferris wheels and windmills, scrap wood that allowed kids to create various structures, supplies that enabled kids to design egg protectors ahead of an egg drop and more.
Broken electronics that kids were allowed to disassemble were a big hit, Meranda Wacek said. “Those kids went crazy. I couldn’t believe how much they were into that.”
The only specific topics adults are asked to insert into club discussion are district-wide CARES values: cooperation, assertion, responsibility, empathy and self control.
Linares said kids look forward to club time.
“Right now it’s sort of an in-school field trip. It’s a special event,” she said. “I would like it eventually to become a part of our everyday experience.”
Linares calls the clubs “the first step toward a more systematic way to align with our district goal of personalizing learning and really thinking outside of the box.”
Meranda Wacek said she hopes the clubs continue next school year.
“The kids seem to be having a great time, so this is hopefully something that the district can carry forward,” she said.
Contact Olivia Alveshere at [email protected]