STEM Center and RIC’s Feinstein School of Education partner with Providence after-school program

Every afternoon when the final bell rings at Bridgham Middle School in Providence, some students stay behind and take part in the AfterZone (AZ), which provides after-school classes annually to 1,800 students in six Providence middle schools. The AfterZone offers programs that cover science, arts, technology, dance, engineering, sports, mathematics, and more.

Mary Sullivan, STEM Center director, with student
Victoria Stromberg from Bridgham Middle School.
According to the PASA website, PASA is “a private-public venture to develop a citywide system to substantially increase high quality, affordable, out-of-school enrichment opportunities for Providences’ children and youth.”

The RIC Feinstein School of Education and Human Development and the RI STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) Center at RIC are among the public and private partners of the Providence After School Alliance (PASA) in working with area middle school students in AfterZone. AfterZone began as an initiative by Providence Mayor David N. Cicilline in 2004.

After reviewing the initial plans for the AfterZone, the Wallace Foundation awarded a 5-year $5 million grant and Bank of America awarded PASA with $1 million. More recently, PASA received an AmeriCorps grant to fund 20 quarter-time AmeriCorps positions called Every Day Explorers leveraged by the STEM Center and the Feinstein School of Education for its students.

At the three middle schools where the Every Day Explorers are stationed, groups work in hour-long sessions in which they complete science, technology, engineering and mathematic (or STEM) projects and take part in activities individually designed by their college student mentors with the middle-school students’ specific learning styles in mind.

Ten RIC teacher candidates and one University of Rhode Island student comprise the team of AmeriCorps mentor-educators. The team meets every Friday for professional development, which helps the mentors grow and develop individually and as a team.

Alejandro Molina
The student mentors are “very excited about the AfterZone program… and can’t wait to come here and do the activities,” said Sandra Cano, PASA operations coordinator. “What’s nice about the program is that we give them a curriculum. We train them in the STEM curriculum, but they have the flexibility of creating their own lesson plan as long as it’s STEM related.”

The Providence AfterZone model has been so successful that it is one of five nationally recognized and featured in a three-volume report on out-of-school time systems, “Hours of Opportunity,” published by the RAND Corporation.

In addition, PASA and the AfterZone have been lauded in two reports published by the Harvard Family Research Project and Public/Private Ventures, an evaluation firm.

Other cities have become interested in the system’s model and have implemented it into school systems across the country, said Alejandro Molina, director of middle school initiatives and the AfterZone.

“As part of this collaborative, PASA partnered with New York and Boston to apply for a National Direct AmeriCorps program grant to provide STEM learning activities during the after-school hours,” said Molina. “The Everyday Explorers AmeriCorps members allow us to serve more youth and engage them in hands-on learning activities.”

RIC student and mentor, Vanessa Garcia, said that her experience working with students in AfterZone – conducting interviews, learning about student’s individual learning styles and preferences – will help her develop as an educator.

Vanessa Garcia
On a daily basis, Garcia said, students participate in activities that are STEM related and career oriented. “For example, today we are working on engineering,” she said. “We’re involving the kids in activities that are career focused.”

RIC junior Kameko Branchaud said she likes working with a non-profit and “having the freedom in AfterZone to do the projects that I want.”

Branchaud has been involved with PASA as a Youth Engagement Specialist in the AfterZone at Bridgham Middle School. She is employed by the John Hope Settlement house, the agency that runs the AZ at Bridgham Middle School. In over two years there, she has seen it grow. According to Branchaud more staff means more flexibility and personal attention to students and their individual learning needs.

Branchaud said AZ student mentors mix education with physical activity and adapt a hands-on approach to teaching. “As an art education/studio art major,” she said, “I try to do art related programs and activities I come up with on my own.”

Added Branchaud, “Here you learn management and not just theory, and I’ve been required to make my own lesson plans already.”

For more information on the college’s partnership with PASA, contact Liz Garofalo at or Mary Sullivan at For more information on PASA and AfterZone, visit