By Jason Allen

FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) – Although students started returning to school campuses in the fall, fewer found their way back to after-school educational programs.

One of those organizations in Fort Worth, however, found a way to take their program directly to the students, and is finding a growing demand for their offerings.

After designing and packaging about 250 educational kits in early summer, Clayton Youth Enrichment is now putting together more than 1,000 a week.

They expect that number to jump to more than 1,200 after the holidays.

This week, hours after school was over outside A.M. Pate Elementary in the South Edgewood neighborhood, kids were lined up, chattering, laughing, waiting for their kit.

This week’s theme was Holidays Around the World. It had books, materials to make ornaments, lessons on holiday traditions, and ideas to get families involved.

The hands on activities, the conversation and interaction with others, are the elements of education Clayton recognized had disappeared when many of their students started doing most of their learning from home.

“A lot of these kids don’t usually go four blocks from their house unless it’s to school,” said Laura Stern, a director of program development for Clayton. “So right now they’re pretty much stuck in their homes, in their neighborhoods.”

Even students who have returned to in-person schooling this fall, have not returned in the same numbers to after school programming.

Clayton’s attendance is about 30% of what it was before the pandemic. Some school programs that previously saw as many as 150 students each day, are now only seeing 20.

Clayton still had the staffing and finances to provide the same educational programming, it just didn’t have the kids. So they started building the enrichment kits.

Each one has instructions in English and Spanish. It includes materials that, once the activity is finished, can be used as a school supply down the road. The themes including Space, and the Rainforest, have lessons that touch on science, math, reading and social studies.

The educators are conscious of not putting kids back in front of screens too much, but provide them with QR codes that lead to videos to add to lessons, and some online videos where they can participate along with instructors.

They aim to spark conversations with the material, and provide experiences, part of teaching social skills that are key to programming when kids attend in person.

“When you take that away from them, then they have less chance to interact with other people, talk with people, to have conversation, to interact with adults, and be able to have meaningful relationship with other people,” Stern said.

As if the growing demand wasn’t enough of a sign of success, Stern said there have been in-person learners, eager to also get kits, and teachers who are offering extra credit for those who complete them each week.

Hey have provided more than 13,000 total so far, and plan to keep putting them together each week, as long as they’re needed.

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