All of our sponsored programs students are called upon to complete a series of enrichment activities as a requirement of the programs. These activities are meant to provide students with first-hand insight into American political and social infrastructure, our cultural heritage and values, as well as the concept of “civil society”. Learning through interaction with local leaders in a variety of different fields helps students to develop their own interests and leadership abilities.
The activities should be looked upon as an opportunity to enjoy creative and positive contact with sponsored students in your area on a semi-regular basis. Some activities might not turn out exactly as you would have liked, but each is sure to be a positive experience from which some important information will be gained.
The three required enrichment activity topics for all sponsored students are:
- Cultural Diversity/Native Peoples
- Community Service/Volunteerism
YES and FLEX students should participate in a minimum of six activities (three for those arriving in January). CBYX students should participate in a minimum of three activities. While the required topics must be covered during the course of the academic year, other foci may be included as well. Many Cluster Coordinators have found activities in areas such as the press and media, organization and funding of cultural institutions, juvenile adjudication, health care, etc., to be informative and enjoyable.
Each activity should have defined learning objectives. Learning objectives are tangible goals that will help Cluster Coordinators and students focus on a specific area within the theme of the activity.
Some examples of learning objectives for a visit to a local newspaper:
- To learn the methods and technology used in publishing a newspaper
- To learn about the roles and responsibilities of writers and editors in reporting the news
- To learn about ideas such as the accountability of the press versus freedom of expression
While enrichment activities should be fun, they should also have educational content. A trip to see a concert or play might be acceptable if it includes a discussion of how these productions are organized and a discussion of the funding of the production, whether for-profit or not-for-profit.
Aside from the fact that cluster activities should engage, not merely expose students to American culture, enrichment activities that do not have articulated educational content cannot be reimbursed through the U.S. Department of State funding. Further, activities that may involve substantial risk, such as volunteering at an unsafe construction site, handling weapons or firearms, or exposure to hazardous materials, are not allowed. If there is ever any question about whether a proposed activity qualifies, please check with the Sponsored Programs Team.
Working with others
The Cluster Coordinator should ensure that fellow volunteers are aware of his/her role as Cluster Coordinator and keep the Area Team leaders informed of activity plans and ideas. Area Team Leaders may be able to help the Cluster Coordinator by facilitating connections with other volunteers or resource-persons in the area, leading an enrichment cluster activity, helping to chaperone an activity, carpooling, helping to raise community awareness of the activity, or recommending other good resources in your community. You can also work with fellow volunteers to include other AFS students in enrichment cluster activities when possible. Working with the Area Team Hosting Coordinator to match students with appropriate host families in your area can also be a very successful partnership. Getting to know the profiles of incoming Sponsored Program students and assisting in potential host family interviews can effectively utilize your trained Cluster Coordinator skills. Your cultural knowledge of the SP students can have a great impact on successful student and host family matches.
Identifying Student Interests
Once the students have arrived, you may wish to incorporate a brief feedback session (perhaps as part of one of the initial enrichment cluster activities) to gain an understanding of the students’ interests and see if these might be explored through the slate of activities (economics, conservation, working with children, etc.). Finding out special interests may make activities more exciting and more informative for students.
It is highly recommended that you set dates for activities at the start of the academic year to help ensure that students, host families and volunteers mark cluster events on their calendars and give them priority in setting other dates (even if content of specific activities may change later on). This keeps people aware of the events and helps to generate feedback about the dates and content well ahead of time. It is also recommended that Cluster Coordinators look into getting enrichment cluster activities on an Area Team calendar to keep them in the minds of fellow volunteers.
Keeping host families and volunteers aware of enrichment cluster activities and informed of the dates can also yield some offers to help implement the activity (i.e. offers to drive students to the event, or help secure media coverage) and will result in better attendance. You can also pose the question asking if anyone is interested in leading or helping to lead any of the activities.
Each enrichment cluster activities should be led by an adult leader and include all of the students in the cluster. When it is not possible for the Cluster Coordinator to lead an activity, another local volunteer or a host parent can be designated to be a backup activity leader.
Some Cluster Coordinators find it useful to give students a few questions before an activity, to help them start thinking about the topic and generate good discussion. In order to get the reporting started, you can share the learning objectives with each student and ask them to record the following (to be handed in at the end of the activity):
- What did you learn from this experience?
- Have you ever done anything similar? Is this activity relatable to anything you’ve done previously?
- What skills did you learn and how might you use them in the future as program alumni?
Reporting activities is vital for the continuity of sponsored programs. Receiving enrichment cluster activity reports helps the Sponsored Programs Team submit regular reports to the U.S. Department of State. Each activity should be followed with a report (this is done in the Global Link Sponsored Programs module), posted within two weeks even if you are not submitting any expenses for reimbursement. Many Cluster Coordinators find that the best time for reporting is within a week of activity, while it is still fresh. Some Cluster Coordinators have been successful in having a “student reporter” report on the activity. This also gives students additional leadership skills and can be extremely empowering. Activity reports should be submitted electronically in the Sponsored Programs Module in Global Link. Expense reports should be printed, signed and sent in accompanied by original receipts. Please keep your own photocopy of receipts for your records.