Co-Op After School Expands Programming and Wins Federal Grant

For fourteen years, Dwight Hall’s Co-Op After School (CAS) has provided free and engaging after-school programming to high school students at New Haven’s Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School (Co-Op). A joint project between Dwight Hall and the high school, CAS has grown to reach over three hundred and fifty students every year, making it one of the largest high school after-school programs in Connecticut.

Originally, the program was meant to expand the arts education offered at Co-Op. At the beginning of their time at the school, Co-Op students select an art medium they want to focus on for the rest of their high school career, from theater to string instruments to creative writing. CAS, however, offered those students chances to explore fields outside their speciality.

From there, the program expanded beyond the arts. Paul Bryant Hudson, the CAS Program Director, explained how the program now seeks to offer “not just arts and academics, but also cultural groups and affinity groups, [programs] that are deeply rooted in socioemotional support, [and offerings] that are shaped more like a mutual aid and direct service.”

That dedication to direct service was especially clear during the pandemic. As public health measures made in-person arts programming impossible, CAS began offering lessons on mutual aid and technology-lending for students and families affected by the pandemic, as well as food pantries, food delivery, and a tech support hotline. This academic year, Co-Op After School offers a range of programming including arts-based classes (Digital Photography, Fashion Design, Arts & Crafting), academic/literacy/STEAM classes (Netter Club, Yale Tutoring, and programming with Quinnipiac University School of Medicine), health/wellness options (Outdoor Adventure, Basketball, Cooking Matters), and leadership classes (Peer Leader Underclassmen Mentoring, Genders-Sexualities Alliance, Community Service Club).

Even as COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift and CAS has resumed its in-person offerings, it nevertheless carries on many of the lessons from the pandemic. First, it will continue to offer many of the services it did during the pandemic, recognizing that the needs that spurred its virtual programming persist.

The second shift involves the philosophy of CAS. As Paul explains, CAS has “always had this belief that the program should be led by students, and be…inspired by the ideas and needs and wants of students. But we didn’t always have a really concrete idea as to what that meant.” During the pandemic, however, CAS was forced to reorganize, ultimately ending with an improved “structure around ways to create programs that are flexible and directly responsive.”

In December 2022, CAS was awarded a grant under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ARP ESSER). This grant, which provides funding through spring 2024, will allow CAS to work towards three initiatives: expanding the LGBTQ+ resource center, creating a student leadership lab to facilitate more student-led programming, and growing programs to connect students with community service opportunities outside of CAS. While these initiatives had long been a priority for CAS, it was only after the grant that those plans could become a reality. “These are things that we’ve been working on for years,” Paul said, “yet didn’t necessarily have the funding for.”

Equipped with lessons learned from the pandemic, as well as newly available resources from the ARP ESSER grant, CAS looks forward to expanding its programming while maintaining its support and dedication to the students of Co-Op High School.

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