Strategy Share: Inspiring Action During Out of School Time

Our Strategy Share series features innovative ideas, projects, and approaches from our community of educators. This post was written by 2019 Education Fellow Willie Buford.

Willie Buford is a leader in after-school education. Photo by Rebecca Hale

I am a native and current resident of Flint, Michigan, where lead exposure has impacted most of our community. After-school and summer or Out of School Time (OST) programs can be used to inspire—and empower—students to take action on environmental and other issues affecting their communities. As site manager for the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce’s YouthQuest afterschool initiative, I can personally speak to the importance of OST programs.

During the summer of 2019, I served as a teacher to eighth graders in the Flint Community Schools Summer Scholars program. These eighth graders used the National Geographic Geo-Inquiry Process to take action on an issue that mattered to them. For the first phase of the Geo-Inquiry process, I showed two documentaries about our city as prompts to guide the students’ development of an organic Geo-Inquiry question. To inspire local thinking and interest, I showed This Is the Last Dance and He Grew Up on the Streets, Now He’s Making Them a Better Place. My students were able to relate to the ongoing closing of Flint Community Schools, the hardship of living in poverty, and dealing with trauma in the city. A week prior to this they had lost a classmate due to gun violence. 

Willie introduces National Geographic’s Geo-Inquiry Process to his students. Photo by Willie Buford

After spending time learning and reflecting about Flint, we went outside! We toured a few local parks where the students could conduct a BioBlitz and use the iNaturalist app. I chose to conduct a BioBlitz because it is an interactive way to collect data and introduce students to their local ecosystems. Students marveled over the different spiders, birds, and even deer they encountered. While riding around the city I asked the students to reflect on two questions:

1. What things stick out to you that you find negative about Flint? 

2. What things do you see that make you feel positive about Flint?

Back in the classroom, we discussed their answers and began generating “ask” ideas. Students used Geo-Inquiry guidebook resources such as the “tubric” and the “flow chart” to perfect their Geo-Inquiry question: “What can we, the citizens of Flint, do to protect our roads and clean our waterways?”

During the next phase of the Geo-Inquiry Process, my students used Google Earth to locate intersections throughout Flint with lots of trash in the street. They then created physical maps that used actual trash from outside to represent the high volume of trash at intersections, mainly around liquor stores. This discovery led to a conversation about the impact of liquor stores in our community, which was where the students’ classmate had recently lost their life. 

These conversations inspired my students to feel a call to action and find an answer to their Geo-Inquiry question. To help clean their environment, they posted flyers around the liquor stores that resided in the high-trash areas with the hopes of changing the behaviors of littering and loitering. They also wanted to place 15 trash cans at the intersections.

Willie’s student creates a community poster to encourage others to clean the environment. Photo by Willie Buford

My students used the communications template from the Geo-Inquiry resource guide to request trash cans from their councilman. When the councilman did not have the funds to purchase the cans, they reached out to local businesses for donations—everyone they reached out to agreed to donate. The students also contacted the liquor store owners to ensure that the trash cans were permitted on the properties and that they would be emptied regularly. My students were so inspired to action that when faced with obstacles, they persevered and continued to work toward making an impact in their community. 

By sharing stories about Flint, taking the students outdoors, and leading conversations about community behaviors, my students learned about social, economic, and environmental factors in their own community. And when they learned about an environmental factor they didn’t like, they did something about it. What will your students learn about themselves and the world when you turn your community into a classroom?


Willie Buford is a 2019 Education Fellow and a site manager for the Flint & Genesee (Michigan) Chamber of Commerce YouthQuest after-school initiative.

4 thoughts on “Strategy Share: Inspiring Action During Out of School Time

  1. Such a beautiful article demonstrating the value of class as well as after-class activities. Passion is very important if one will do something different for society. Classroom education is the key but implementing them in real life results in actual positivity. Thanks, Willie for sharing this article with the community.

  2. This is a great article. I think that it is important to have students become passionate about subjects in and out of the classroom. We will have to implement this at Lakeside Union.

  3. That’s a nice post of out of school activities, Willie. I will also watch these documentaries i.e. This Is the Last Dance and He Grew Up on the Streets, Now He’s Making Them a Better Place and later I will show it to the students of Amphitheater so that they can also relate with their school life.

  4. Thank you, Willie, for sharing the story of out of school activity. Also, both documentaries which you have shown to students are very inspirational. I will also show these documentaries to inspire & motivate the students at AUSD and will turn the community into the classroom.

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