School Spotlight: Armbrae Academy's Innovative After School CAS Program

Posted By: Amy Grier SPARC News,

Five years ago, Ashley Matthews-Duffett was working with Armbrae Academy's pre-primary students when the Head of School approached her with the idea to start an after school program. "I'd never heard the word 'auxiliary' used in a school setting before. He suggested I become the Director of Auxiliary Programs. I thought he was making that title up."

Armbrae's First Auxiliary Program

But once the idea was out there, she couldn't let it go. "My mind started going in all different directions of how to make it work." It was during COVID when she began building the first auxiliary program the school had ever run. At first, it was challenging trying to learn and design everything alone and from scratch. "Then I found SPARC. After the first conference, I was like a new person, completely inspired. SPARC gets it. I thought, I get to be with all these other amazing people doing the same crazy thing!"

Creating CAS: Creativity, Action, and Service

Three years in, Ashley wanted to find a way to get middle and upper school students more engaged with the program. Her team instituted a system in which students earn points for each after school club they join. These points are converted into credits toward their Armbrae Diploma, a reflection of their engagement with and service to the school. 

“It’s important that students have that incentive, something to work toward," Ashley said. The idea was a success. Middle and upper school students responded to the award system with enthusiasm and began signing up. "This group can be hard to engage with enrichment. With the credit system, they’re building experiences and gaining enrichment without realizing it.”

How CAS Works

During the first week of school, families can attend the CAS Fair, which partners with the school's welcome back barbecue. Teachers and vendors are invited to set up booths with information about each club they will run throughout the year. “We’re just coming off of summer," Ashley said, "and with the CAS Fair we get to take that summer energy and bring it into the school year.” Families can browse the booths and learn all about the after school options, which gives them time before registration opens to lay out a plan for the year. 

CAS is structured into four eight-week session per year offering clubs that align with the mission of Creativity, Action, or Service. Some clubs run all year and some for a single session. Debate club, for example, a weekly-year long club, earns participants three points. The shorter, popular Table Tennis club earns them one point. At the end of the year, students are awarded Bronze, Silver, or Gold prizes based on their cumulative points. Students receive a certificate for Bronze and a pin for either Silver or Gold.

A mix of teachers and vendors lead the clubs. Teachers are required to lead one co-curricular club for one hour per week. Parents also volunteer so they can share a subject they're passionate about, and their desire to get involved doesn't surprise Ashley. "It's part of the culture here," she says. 

CAS and Community Service

A powerful aspect of CAS is how it provides a way for students to meet their 12-hour community service requirement within and outside the school. By building relationships within the community, Ashley's team has found service opportunities available for Armbrae students.

One example is the "Home for Dinner" program, in which student volunteers cook and serve meals for the families of patients receiving medical care in a local children's hospital. They can also choose to work as greeters or student ambassadors giving tours of the school, help set up and tear down sets for school theatre productions, and interact with and even lead clubs for younger students. If a student is already involved with a service-oriented outside activity, they can submit that work to qualify for service equivalency.

Family Feedback

Parent response, like the students, has been enthusiastic. With CAS offering both after school activities and opportunities for community service, many parents appreciate the convenient, one-stop shop approach to enrichment. “It makes their lives easier. If they want, students can get all the enrichment they need, including service hours, at Armbrae."

The Future of CAS

Ashley is aware of how fortunate she is to have supportive and engaged school leadership. "I'm grateful for the relationship I have with the Head of School and leadership team," she said. Even so, she finds there's never enough time to do everything she or the leadership would like to do. One part-time teacher assists her by monitoring and compiling points and service hours. "Of course I'd like more staff. What I need is a department!"

Right now, especially with limited staff, she doesn’t want to see the program get any bigger. “We have the foundation. It’s manageable and it works.” That said, she’s always looking for engaging and impactful offerings and new strategies to streamline or simplify the processes within CAS.

SPARC Support

Ashley found the 2023 SPARC Compensation and Position Report to be extremely useful, especially when she showed it to her boss. Having that data on hand has helped in opening the conversation to a long-term plan for salary increase. Since Ashley is interested in adding a school store to the Auxiliary Department in the future,  the School Store Operations Report has also been helpful. Both are available free for members under Resources in SPARC Connect

Searching for community, professional development, webinars, reports, and tools to bring more value to your auxiliary and summer programs? Become a SPARC member today for access to all that and more!