When the Colene Hoose Elementary PTO in Normal, Ill., identified a big need for after-school programs, it got the ball rolling for some new, wildly popular clubs that have enriched students’ education and built school spirit.
Two years ago, parent Alexis Astorina and some fellow PTO members approached principal Adam Zbrozek about adding more student clubs; at the time, there was only a chess club. Zbrozek was equally eager to expand the offerings and said yes right away.
“We were really looking for a variety of ways to continue to reach out to kids in school and outside of school,” he says. “We were running the chess club for a number of years, and we knew we had people very interested in after-school activities. We wanted to see what else was out there.”
As the PTO worked to fundraise, get donations, and implement two clubs for the following school year, a Lego club and an art club, the principal worked on securing a grant.
“Everything sort of fell into place,” says Astorina, now secretary of the PTO.
The new activities garnered immense interest. Almost 100 students signed up for the Lego club, which included robotics as well as building with plastic bricks, and 200 registered for the art club. There was a lottery for the Lego club the first year because the school had a limited amount of kits from the grant, so 80 kids got a spot. They were divided into two one-hour sessions per week, running for six weeks.
PTO leaders realized they would need more hands on deck, so they reached out to the Illinois State University art department. A talented graduate student helped come up with educational, creative art club projects for the children and also recruited more volunteers. The art club volunteers—a combination of college students, school art teachers, and parents—manned three art rooms during each weekly meeting.
At the end of the 2015-16 school year, the art club culminated with two large shows featuring the students’ artwork. Each child had a large poster board featuring four or five pieces.
A running club got its start during the year, too—the Heart and Sole club, aimed at building self-esteem in 4th and 5th grade girls.
Zbrozek runs the Lego club on his own, with the PTO setting up supplies in advance and assisting with coordinating the club’s curriculum. Some students learn how to program Lego robotics kits on laptops, while others work with free-build brick bins and complete challenges, like building mazes and pyramids.
The PTO secured donations of plastic bricks, art supplies, and cash from 24 local businesses. To cover the cost of additional supplies (and thus allow more students to participate), the PTO held restaurant fundraisers and a parents’ night out event.
In fall 2016, more than 200 students expressed interest in the Lego club and 243 children signed up for the art club. To accommodate everyone and avoid another lottery for the Lego club, the school now has four two-hour sessions per week, running for four weeks; the art club has four rooms running simultaneously. The PTO alternates the age groups of the clubs: Lego club starts with 4th and 5th grades, while the art club starts with kindergarten and 1st grade. The groups then switch, so students can participate in both clubs.
The art club costs $20 per year and Lego club $10, but the PTO waives the fee for families in need. Zbrozek calls the PTO and involved family members “essential” to the success of the clubs.
The undertaking hasn’t been without its challenges; the PTO must consistently look for both funds and volunteers to keep the clubs going. Still, Astorina says the clubs have made parents want to be more involved—and helped them like their kids’ school more. “This school is a very different place,” she says. “Before, school spirit wasn’t very high. The clubs have brought everybody together.”
Colene Hoose Elementary PTO
520 students, grades K-5
Expanding the After-School Clubs Program
- Hold fundraisers
- Apply for grant funding
- Partner with principal or other staff to help with grantwriting
- Brainstorm for club ideas and send surveys to gauge students’ interests
- Select final club topics
- Plan fundraisers
- Meet with art teacher to plan educational projects
June to August
- Solicit donations (money and supplies) from local businesses
- Hold summer fundraiser
- Organize Lego kits and bins and plan curriculum
- Continue to work on planning art projects
- Set dates for clubs and outline a plan
August to September
- Set up information booth with sign-up forms at open house
- Reach out to local college or university for student to help with clubs
- Recruit parents, teachers, and staff to help
- Install Lego software; order art supplies
- Set dates for art show