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Professional Development

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Inspiring Continued Learning Beyond the Bell: After School Zone

Every weekday, students in 29 Orange County public middle schools have a choice: They can either sit at home or participate in the Florida county's award-winning After School Zone. Since its 1999 inception, over 245,000 youth have chosen the Zone and are better for it.

The Zone, an Orange County Government funded program, includes a collaborative partnership with Orange County Government Citizens' Commission for Children, Orange County Public Schools, Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, and YMCA of Central Florida.

The Zone is committed to reducing juvenile delinquency and improving academic performance for middle school students by providing inspired learning beyond the bell. This is done by equipping and empowering youth to become successful in life through quality programs that promote the 21st Century Learning Skills "Four Cs": Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Critical Thinking Skills.

"Through the inclusiveness of the Zone, we are able to reach a number of our great students" said Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings. "This innovative partnership enhances the learning environment for students and helps us support families throughout Orange County."

The Young Entrepreneur's Shark Tank is one of the most sought-after programs in the Zone. An educational path along the strategic road map of premier youth development, it meets our students' academic and career exploration needs. The Tank provides its club members from all backgrounds opportunities they wouldn't otherwise have to become successful in life.

The purpose of the eight-week Young Entrepreneur's Shark Tank Program is to provide financial literacy training and entrepreneurship exploration for middle school students, ages 10 to 14. It provides life-changing relationships with positive adult role models that include BGCCF program staff and business mentors. The Tank equips young people to be successful in a global work environment through team-building activities that cultivate the 21st Century Learning Skills "Four Cs."

Teams make their business presentation at the Young Entrepreneur's Shark Tank finale event, to a panel of community business leaders. The panel of judges evaluate the team presentations based on criteria including the team introduction, creativity, the "pitch," and product/service benefits.

The Zone also has a strong focus on literacy. The YMCA of Central Florida After School Zone Summer Climb Literacy Program prevents the summer academic regression typical among middle school students. In partnership with Orange County Public Schools, the YMCA Summer Climb Program curriculum includes a morning Performance Task segment and an afternoon Digital Reading Lab component.

The Performance Task segment and the Digital Reading Lab engage students in their specialized areas of interest. During the afternoon Digital Reading Lab, for example, students choose literature that includes but is not limited to topics related to film, dance, cooking, sports, adventure and drama. Experience has shown that summer campers can be reluctant readers. The Summer Climb Program creatively infuses disguised learning through relevant literacy options for students. It offers units in Media, Culinary Arts, STEM, Sports, Fine Arts, and Adventure Camps with a variety of hands-on activities, writing exercises, and other integrated mediums.

The After School Zone, funded by Orange County Board of County Commissioners through the Citizens' Commission for Children, is a collaborative effort between Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida Inc., YMCA of Central Florida, Inc. and Orange County Public Schools. For more information, please contact the Orange County Citizens' Commission for Children at 407.836.7610.

This article originally appeared in AfterSchool Today.

Photo courtesy of After School Zone.