Broadening the world of children goes beyond getting them out of the neighborhood

A conversation with Karin Lecarpentier, supervisor Work Like A Horse After School

“It is a fantastic project. Who doesn’t melt when you see children being busy with discovering their own place in the world? ” Karin Lecarpentier wonders. Karin accompanies the lessons of Work Like A Horse After School on Monday and Tuesday afternoon. Every week this program offers an unforgettable afternoon to 23 children from the fifth grade of the public primary schools Nelson Mandela and Blijvliet from Rotterdam-Zuid. The aim is to expand the program in the coming years, so that even more children get the opportunity to discover the world outside their own neighborhood.

Work Like A Horse After School originated from the Work Like A Horse Holiday School. Ahmed Aboutaleb, the mayor of Rotterdam, requested an activity for children from challenging neighborhoods. In September 2016 the after school variant of Work Like A Horse started. Just like the other Work Like A Horse projects, Work Like A Horse After School broadens the world of children from ‘focus neighborhoods’ and helps them to discover their own place in the world. The program takes place during an entire school year which results in 38 afternoons that are organized for the children.

A contribution to the society of Rotterdam
“Throughout the year we visit various organizations with the children. De Rotterdamsche Manège, a care institution, a bank, a technical college; these are just a few examples. The afternoons have two learning objectives: a concrete learning objective and a social-emotional learning objective. The main goal for the concrete learning objective is sharing knowledge about different professions. Children learn more about the various professions that exist in an organization and what these professions entail. For the social-emotional objective we try to stimulate skills such as cooperation, presentation, reflection and critical thinking and to increase their self-confidence. These learning objectives alternate between the various lessons. In this way, the program contributes to a good transition to the preparatory secondary vocational education (VMBO) and helps children to make the right study choices,” Karin explains. “After an introductory talk by the guest teacher(s) on site, the children will experience what it’s like to work in that environment by doing a fun activity. The children who participate in the program are real ‘doers’ and often go on to VMBO. We take this actively into account in the program. ”

“What makes the project even more special is the high degree of flexibility that enables us to really offer the children what they need and to respond more easily to social developments,” Karin continues. “Together with the municipality of Rotterdam, various parties and agencies, we are constantly looking at these developments and how we can help the children as good as possible. For example, 20th century skills are an important development In the educational field. We immediately respond to these developments by looking at what we can do with them in our program.”

Work Like A Horse goes further: all children deserve equal opportunities
Broadening the world of the children goes beyond getting them out of the neighborhood. Work Like A Horse allows children to become acquainted with their own potential. Karin shares an example of one of the children: “One of the children scores less at school on cognitive subjects such as math and language. He works very hard to achieve the same results as his classmates, but unfortunately that isn’t always the case. That can be demotivating because he works just as hard as the others, but doesn’t get the same results. During the Work Like A Horse After School activities he gets the freedom to discover other talents. During the ‘offshore experience’ in the Maritime Museum, for example, he showed his leadership quality during a brave attempt to motivate the group to tackle the assignment together instead of working individually. At the police station, he couldn’t stop asking interested questions to the guest teachers. At school it is not always possible to pay attention to these skills. It is fantastic to see how he lights up in some classes. We hope that he will become more and more aware of his own talents and get more self-confidence out of this experience.”

Work Like A Horse wants to show that whatever your situation is, you can achieve a lot if you work like a horse. “Some people think that children from the focus neighborhoods can’t do certain things. The program clearly shows that all children are capable of special things when they get the chance. And doesn’t every child deserve equal opportunities?” Karin adds.

Problems in own neighborhood
“This became clear during a visit to the town hall of Rotterdam. Upon entering the large hall and after a short silence in which the children absorbed the grandeur of the building, one of the children said ‘I suddenly feel very important here’. That certainly left an impression,” Karin says. “Next, the children were given the opportunity to debate with each other about the neighborhood in which they grew up, led by a local councilor in the council chamber. There were discussions about the biggest problems the neighborhoods were facing and the best opportunities for improvement. One of the children stood behind the consultation chair and presented her vision for her neighborhood in a very confident way. You would almost forget that they are ‘only’ children. Especially when she tells us that she can’t sleep because of  the noise from the nearby cafés and that she regularly sees drugs syringes on the sidewalk. That will make you quiet for a while.”

We continue to learn as well
The success and effectiveness of the program is also continuously reviewed. In addition to the conversations with the various research partners, at the end of each lesson, the children are given the opportunity to give feedback on the lesson, the materials, what they have learned and the teachers. Work Like A Horse also wants to further explore the effectiveness of the program together with the schools and the parents. “The deputy director of one of the primary schools clearly sees all the good things the program does for the children, but the organization strives to make this visible for others as well.”

“The benefits of long-term after-school projects seem to be supported by literature,” Karin explains. In addition to supervising the after-school project, she is also busy with a follow-up psychology study. This study helps her by making a first set-up for an investigation into the effectiveness of the program. “Together with our partners, we continue to develop and improve the program. We continue to learn as well. ”

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