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Healthy Eating Habits

13 Apr

By: Jessica Bright & Dr. Celeste Philip

Edited by: Talise Jager-Sumner

As a chef and cooking instructor I have a front row view of how many people feed themselves and prepare their food. It is very interesting to see the many different philosophies that are practiced but quite often, the most common theory I see (particularly in younger diners) is that what you eat and how it is prepared really doesn’t matter very much, as long as it tastes good.  Without any evident health concerns a frightening majority of our population thinks that they can eat what they want whenever and however they want it.  “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” tends to be the theory many people practice when they make decisions regarding their personal eating habits.

In addition to being a chef I am also a mother. I want my children to not only feel good and look healthy; I also want their brains functioning at their maximum ability as they go to school and complete their tasks.  What if little decisions like what you drank with breakfast (or even if you had breakfast) could totally change how your brain worked for the first three hours of school each morning?  Would you think a little more seriously about whether you opened a can of your favorite cola or poured a glass of water?  You know how sleepy and tired you get in that class after lunch each afternoon… there is actually a reason.  The next time you have that painful urge to close your eyes for just a few minutes (but are caught and embarrassed by your teacher) I bet you will wish you had made a few decisions differently at lunch that day.

Every day of our lives, most of us ride around in a very complex machine with four wheels and a motor. Even though we may not be mechanics we know- you need to put unleaded gas in the fuel tank, oil in the oil tank, and air in the tires.  If you decide you are in a hurry and don’t have time to stop at a gas station you cannot casually decide to just substitute water or some other liquid for the gas.  Your car is going to protest, you can ruin the engine.  In addition to the fact that you need fuel, the actual quality of the fuel also matters.  Most people who have been driving for a while have a story about the time they ended up with “bad gas” and had to deal with engine trouble.  I once accidentally pumped regular gas into a diesel engine… it was “good” gas, but that engine needed diesel and would not even START.

If you have your own car, or a dreaming of soon owing one I’m willing to bet that you are convicted to take very good care of it. Cars are EXPENSIVE and important.  Not having one available can mean that you cannot go where you want to go, hang out with your friends, get to work (to pay for that car), and maintain your busy schedule.  Owning a car is a huge investment in a thing that requires care, specific input, and upkeep.  You want your vehicle to last as many years as possible.  Especially since there are so many little things that can go wrong, so many functions that are necessary like spinning wheels, cool air conditioning,  tunes on the radio, and functioning breaks (just to name a few).

Even if you don’t have a vehicle; you do have a means of transport that requires regular fueling. And unlike with an automobile… you aren’t going to be able to trade this one it in or sell it if things start to decline, you simply cannot buy another.  If you think the engine under a hood is complicated you should just see all of the things that this system can do.   It grows, thinks, maintains a constant temperature, gets you around, and does a few million other things every day of your life.  Shouldn’t you take a moment to think about what sort of fuel you are putting in your body and what it is going to do for your performance, today and for the rest of your life?


Planetary Lander Egg Drop Competition

9 Feb

PLEDC banner logo

FAN is hosting this year’s Planetary Lander Egg Drop Competition (PLEDC). The competition will be held Saturday, April 30th at the Kennedy Space Center. Students from Florida afterschool programs are encouraged to participate. Please visit for more information and to register your team!


2015 Lights On Afterschool Day

13 Oct

Launched in October 2000, Lights On Afterschool is the only nationwide event celebrating afterschool programs and their important role in the lives of children, families and communities. The effort has become a hallmark of the afterschool movement and generates tons of media each year. There are hundreds of events planned in Florida to celebrate afterschool. Lights on Afterschool will be celebrated nationally on Thursday, October 22nd and in support of activities throughout the state, Governor Rick Scott issued a proclamation designating the day, as Lights On Afterschool Day in Florida! Please download the Lights on Afterschool Day Proclamation which can be displayed and/or read aloud at recognition events in your communities.  


Americorps STEM VISTA joins the FAN office at the Kennedy Space Center

22 Sep


My name is Alexis Walker and through the AmeriCorps VISTA program, and thanks to the Afterschool Alliance, I have recently become the newest staff member of the Florida Afterschool Network (FAN). For one year I will be working with the FAN STEM collaboration at the Astronaut Memorial Foundation.

I am so honored to be in this position. When I was in grade school the need for STEM education was just being realized. Without appropriate exposure, I was intimated by STEM disciplines. I regarded them as static, unimaginative, and difficult. Thankfully, through later experiences I realized that STEM represents dynamic, creative and approachable fields that are for everyone. Now, I am excited to turn my focus towards exposing today’s youth to STEM through afterschool and summer learning programs. I believe that by introducing kids to a vibrant STEM curriculum and community, we can peak their interest, boost their confidence and help them unlock vast opportunities.

During my year with FAN, my goal is to establish a community support system by linking existing afterschool programs to potential partners and STEM resources. If you would like more information on this work or would like to be a part of this mission please feel free to contact me And, as always, please follow FAN on our journey towards accessible, high quality afterschool opportunities:




Alexis Walker

STEM Expansion VISTA, Florida Afterschool Network

321-452-2887 ext105

CIS Summer Camps of 2015!

27 Jul


For most students, summer is a much needed time off from school, a chance to relax and rest after 180 days of classes and homework. Unfortunately, summer is also the time where students are most likely to fall behind and lose the knowledge they worked so hard to gain during the school year. According to a study done by the National Summer Learning Association, most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in math skills over the summer months, and low-income students tend to lose more than two months in reading achievement. This phenomenon, known as the summer slide, can be detrimental to students and their education. That’s where local non-profit Communities In Schools of Jacksonville (CIS) comes in. Throughout the school year, CIS works directly in schools to help students grow and stay on track. During the summer, CIS hosts camps at 24 different Duval County Public schools locations, encouraging and enabling students to take advantage of the summer months at no extra cost to them or their families. This year’s camps were top-notch, providing the educational enrichment needed to keep the kids on track as well as exposing them to amazing experiences.

At 21 school locations, CIS hosted TEAM UP summer camps funded by the Jacksonville Children’s Commission, which were open to Duval County students grades K-8. Each morning, students would focus on academics, receiving instruction from certified teachers, and in the afternoons, students enjoyed leisure activities and field trips. This year’s camps were an overwhelming success, and while it would be impossible to list all the highlights, here are just a few: CIS partnered with 21st Century Community Learning Center to open a new program at Windy Hill Elementary School, which reached its goal of 100 students in attendance; twin students who are deaf from Fort Caroline Middle School taught sign language to their fellow campers; Highlands Middle School hosted “Come Together Days,” where students from several different TEAM UP sites enjoyed communal cookouts and other activities; students at these camps also enjoyed visits from various companies and high-profile individuals. JEA visited Pickett Elementary School, teaching students how to conserve energy at home and the benefits of LED lighting. At a literacy fair, held for several TEAM UP sites, Vincent Taylor, author of the Cornbread series, stopped by to visit with students and donated his entire series for each student to take home. Actor and singer Tony Grant visited Ribault Middle School, where he performed, interacted with the students, and watched student performances. The highlight of this visit was a surprise offer by Grant’s friend, Lady Toussaint, who offered a group of dancers the chance to open their theater show. On Sunday, July 19th, the girls danced on the stage of The Ritz Theater and Museum, opening for the hit theatrical soap opera, “Something Miraculous Episode 4.”

CIS also hosted two S.T.E.M. camps, one at A. Philip Randolph Academies of Technology and another at Ed White High School. The Bank of America Charitable Foundation awarded CIS with a $12,000 grant, making both of these camps possible. These ten day camps served approximately forty kids at each site and provided them with math, science, and general enrichment. Students at both sites had access to resources from NAVAIR, the St. Johns Riverkeeper, and Jacksonville University. The students also went on tours of manufacturing facilities, so they could see what they were learning in action. The highlight of these two camps was a visit from Bank of America representatives in the Women in Technology program to A. Philip Randolph. The representatives guided students in a collaborative activity where they formed groups and were tasked with creating their ideal city of the future. Each group listed what they wanted to include and then put their ideas on paper, drawing an overhead view of the city. The groups were then judged by their peers and the Bank of America representatives to determine who had created the best city.

At the final camp location, Ribault Senior High School, 32 students participated in the Aviation Career Education (ACE) camp. This one week camp was packed full of incredible instruction and activity for its students. On Monday, the students visited UNF where they engaged in classroom instruction and used the Zip Line; the following day, they visited Florida Air National Guard (FANG) where they were able to see bomb gear, fire and rescue trucks, etc. Wednesday morning, they visited Hillard where Air Traffic Control Tower professionals provided the students with an extensive job shadowing tour. The following day, students visited the Jacksonville Airport where they went on a behind the scenes tour for personnel, luggage, operations, and security. On Friday, the students visited Cecil Air Fields and the FSCJ Center where they worked with ATC simulators (flying a plane-like experience), took a tour of the US Customs’ planes, and visited the hangers where they could see how planes are repaired. This exciting week culminated in Saturday’s events where the students visited Craig Executive Airport and participated in an orientation flight in a Cessna style plane, alongside a certified pilot. This nationally recognized program offered students an introduction to the aviation industry and careers, while simultaneously providing them with a once in a lifetime experience.

ACE Camp Day 2-5     2015 588

Whether students wanted to design futuristic cities, fly planes, or simply keep up with their education, Communities In Schools of Jacksonville was their to provide those opportunities. With the gracious help of sponsors and funders, CIS was able to host 24 successful summer camps, helping to deter the effects of the summer slide and encourage students to make the most of their summers.



Sunrise Mayor Champions Chess Program

22 Jun

The following blog is penned from Mayor Mike Ryan of Sunrise, Florida. Mayor Ryan is a dedicated public servant, a champion for afterschool programming, and a terrific mayor for children and families in Broward County:

When I was a PTA president, a motivated 5th grade teacher and I started an after school chess club in an elementary school.  From that experience, I took away an immediate understanding of the power of chess to unleash talented minds, particularly for those students where the expectations for excellence were sadly based upon preconceived notions of what it takes to play chess, vis-à-vis their academic performance measured by traditional testing.  The other take-away from that experience was that we could never reach all the students we needed to because after school chess clubs in Florida have three major problems.

First, and foremost, clubs held after the school day are often exclusionary.  Only those students with support structure resources independent of the school system are even able to participate.  Foregoing bus rides and arranged transportation is clearly not an option for far too many students.

Second, many after school chess clubs structured their “enrollment” based upon those preconceived notions that chess is best suited for those who have demonstrated laudable academic performance through testing and classroom performance.  Anecdotally, in my experience, we saw the most interesting gains amongst those who had not been performing well.  Nonetheless, limiting the after school club to gifted or certain segments of the student population denied access to those who may benefit the most from the positive impacts of chess and the afterschool experience.

Third, for the vast majority of after school chess clubs, the club was always one person away from extinction.  When the adviser had a conflict or moved on, or the principal had different priorities, few would step forward to take over in part due to the mystique of chess.

After being elected Mayor, I donated twenty chess sets to each of the eleven public schools in Sunrise to encourage them to initiate a chess club.  Many encountered the very challenges I faced back in my PTA days.

From that, I set out to develop a scholastic chess culture which extended beyond after school clubs and beyond the four corners of the “schoolhouse.”  With the astounding financial assistance of America’s Foundation for Chess and our Police Department, and enthusiastic support from three schools, we launched in Sunrise a pilot program to introduce chess in the classroom curriculum for every second and third grader.  The pilot program was so successful that, within months, the School Board of Broward County, which is the sixth largest in the United States, expanded the curriculum-based “First Move” program to all elementary schools.  As a result, this past academic year, an estimated 30,000 second and third graders learned chess in the classroom; the multiplier effect extended to siblings, younger and older, and family members.

Then, working with the National Scholastic Chess Foundation, we developed an innovative model to educate community mentors on how to teach and support scholastic chess.  We wanted to expand chess beyond second and third graders and tackle the problem that the afterschool clubs were one person away from extinction by developing chess advisors throughout the community.  Their workshop program, “Demystifying Chess” is now approaching 200 trained teachers, principals, parents, police officers, elected officials, park and rec staff, parents, afterschool providers, Broward CSC providers, summer camp providers and mentors.  The goal was not to develop student tournament or trophy winners, but to developed critical thinking skills, academic gains and new social skills.  Many teachers are now incorporating chess into the classroom lessons.  From this experience, we also developed a “template” for cities to start their own programs, which has even led to the mayors in Broward County sponsoring monthly county-wide fun chess events.

Paradoxically, through this process of expanding chess outside the “schoolhouse”, the afterschool clubs have become stronger, more sustainable and are in greater demand.  Now, one of our next steps is to make sure every child has the opportunity to participate in afterschool chess clubs.

That’s why the Florida Afterschool Network’s mission of overcoming the barriers for students and families to achieve the most from the educational experience through robust afterschool programs, which meld the power of socialization with program opportunities meant to diversify the experiences for our students, is so crucial.  Of course, my message is about chess, but we know this translates to the many other opportunities which paint the colorful tapestry of student achievement through a meaningful afterschool experience.

For those of you who don’t know what Zero Robotics is…

26 May

For those of you who don’t know what Zero Robotics is…….

The Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program is an innovative and inspiring program for middle school students that is truly out of this world! The five-week STEM curriculum introduces students to computer programming, robotics, and space engineering, and provides hands-on experience programming SPHERES (Synchronized, Position, Hold, Engage, Reorient, Experimental Satellites). The program culminates in a tournament where winning teams’ SPHERES compete aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Middle school participants will get to see the SPHERES operate in space via a live feed from the ISS while NASA astronauts provide real-time commentary.

Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program is provided through a partnership between the MIT Space Systems Lab, the Innovation Learning Center, and the Massachusetts Afterschool Partnership (MAP) with support from Aurora Flight Sciences. The Zero Robotics Middle School Summer Program is sponsored by NASA, the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), and the Northrup Grumman Foundation.

Zero Robotics seeks to inspire our next generation of great minds by allowing them unprecedented access to space at the middle school level. By making the benefits and resources of the International Space Station tangible to students, Zero Robotics hopes to cultivate an appreciation of science, technology, engineering and math through healthy, immersive, collaborative competition.

Zero Robotics provides educators with the necessary training and ongoing technical support needed to provide middle school students with an experiential learning opportunity in computer programming. Zero Robotics builds critical engineering skills, including problem solving, and teamwork. It connects students with prominent scientists and encourages them to pursue careers in the fields of science, technology, engineering and/or math.

Student participants compete to win a technically challenging game by programming their strategies into the SPHERES. Students’ programs control the satellites’ speed, rotation, and direction of travel. The students program their satellites to complete competition objectives, for example navigating obstacles, while conserving resources such as fuel. The programs are autonomous – that is, the students are not able to directly control the satellites while they are running.

Each year’s game is motivated by a problem of interest to NASA and MIT.

Students create, edit, save, and simulate projects online. They use a graphical editor to write code, then simulate their programs immediately and see the results using a simulation. The programming interface and simulation are entirely web-based, so ZR does not require any software downloads or computer configuration. The system even allows teams to compete against themselves so that they can test different strategies before finalizing their competition submissions.

2015 Zero Robotics Schedule:

Florida will be following schedule 2
Week 1: July 6
Week 2: July 13  (Field Day at the Kennedy Space Center July 17th, 2015)
Week 3: July 20
Week 4 July 27
Week 5: Aug 3
ISS Finals Mid-Aug (tentatively Aug 14)

For more information contact:

Take a closer look at Florida’s 13 Zero Robotics 2015 Teams! New and Returning TEAMS!

26 May
  1. Life to the Max                                         Leesburg, FL
  2. Lake Nona Middle School                        Orlando All-Stars
  3. Jackson Middle School                            Orlando All-Stars
  4. Carver Middle School                              Orlando All-Stars
  5. Boys and Girls Club of Suncoast             Largo, FL
  6. R’Club Child Care, Inc                             Petersburg, FL
  7. Boys and Girls Club of Hernando Co.     Spring Hill, FL
  8. P.K. Yonge Dev. Research School (UF) Gainesville, FL
  9. Odyssey Charter School                         Palm Bay, FL
  10. Berkley Accelerated Middle School         Auburndale, FL
  11. Bok Academy                                          Lake Wales, FL
  12. Boys and Girls Club of Central FL          Orlando, FL
  13. Han Christian Anderson Elementary      Rockledge, FL


Highlights from 2014 Middle School Zero Robotics

28 Jul

This five-week program was designed to engage middle school students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) through the Zero Robotics game through MIT. We hope to help students better understand this content by connecting it to something pretty exciting: space! They also get the chance to learn about STEM careers so that you can understand the many interesting opportunities for success that STEM fields can offer. Most of all, we hope they have fun!

Eight teams entered, and only one team will emerge to lead their robot code to victory in the finals on August 15, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center’s Center for Space Education! Good luck to our teams!

Zero Robotics Field Day was on July 15, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center’s Center for Space Education. Here are some of the pictures!
ZR - Copy IMG_3500 IMG_3499 IMG_3476 IMG_3470 IMG_3452 IMG_3444 IMG_3443 IMG_3433

The Afterschool for All Challenge: 2014

22 May

Calling all Florida afterschool champions and partners!

On May 22, afterschool leaders from around the country are in Washington, D.C. to meet face to face with members of Congress, and to urge them to co-sponsor the Afterschool for America’s Children Act.  We need your help to amplify their voices.

Afterschool programs keep kids safe, inspire learning, and help working families.  All students should have access to these life changing opportunities.  Yet, 18 million children, roughly one million in Florida, who would like to participate don’t have a program available in their community.

The Afterschool for America’s Children Act will stregthen the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative – the only federal funding stream dedicated to supporting out-of-school programs nationwide.

Members of Congress need to hear from constituents like you who care about making afterschool for all a reality.  Help us make 535 calls to Congress – that’s one for every senator and representative on Capital Hill.

First, make the call.  Call one of Florida’s 29 senators or representatives on Capital Hill today.  Use these links to find the contact information for our Senators and Representatives.

Use this script to help guide your call:

“Hello, my name is (name), and I’m a constituent from (city, state).

“I’m calling to ask for (Congress person’s name) to co-sponsor the Afterschool for America’s Children Act.  This bill would support afterschool programs that keep kids safe, inspire learning, and help working families in our community be strengthening the 21st Century Community Learning Centers initiative.

“As a (educator, parent, concerned citizen, etc.), I am asking that (Congress person’s name) support our young people, and champion high-quality afterschool and summer learning opportunities for our kids by signing on as a co-sponsor to this bill.

“Would you please pass my message along to (Congress person’s name)?

“Thank you!”

Second, log your calls with the Afterschool Alliance here.

Lastly, spread the word to help us reach our goal of 535 calls to Capital Hill!

Thank you,

Joe Davis, CEO, Florida Afterschool Network