The School Age program provides additional support to address at-risk elementary students’ needs. After school and over summer and winter break, students receive individualized academic and social-emotional support and are exposed to new experiences through activities and field trips. They are also able to build strong bonds with their peers.
“Many of the children are exposed to stress and trauma because of their families’ problems related to employment and housing, hindering their academics,” explained, Tashi, a School Age group worker. “So when they come to Onward I tell them, ‘you don’t have to come and fix dinner here, you don’t have to worry about what’s going on at home, you can come here and be a kid.”
Before the program year, the teachers get together to create a plan for each student, including learning each student’s strengths and areas of improvement. Staff had known, for example, that Jesus, an Onward Early Childhood Education student, still needed to work on regulating his emotions in the classroom. They also were prepared for a new student, Jonathan, who had an education plan in place to help him focus and pay attention in a group setting.
Working closely with Jesus, Jonathan, and the rest of the School Age class, teachers were inspired to create an activity that they simply called Feelings. During Feelings, students identify their current mood and to try to identify the reasons behind their emotion. “At first, the kids used to say they only felt happy, but now they’re more confident to express when they are sad or upset,” Tashi explained. “We can tell when students might be having a bad day because they ask us if we can play Feelings.”
For Jesus and Jonathan, one on one attention from teachers and games like Feelings have helped them improve their behavior. Jesus is now self-directed and independent, and Onward staff have reported that they can now include him in activities that were too stressful for him in the past. For Jonathan, focus and engagement in the classroom improved when he was given the special responsibility of Materials Manager, where it is his job to make sure supplies are put away after activities.
Recently, Jesus and Jonathan have become good friends. “Jesus and Jonathan are the youngest boys in their families, and now they’re very close, you can see that they’re always together in photos,” remarked Tashi, “In a way, it’s like they’ve repaired each other.”
It is widely accepted that after-school programs are a critical component in childhood development. Onward Neighborhood House is proud to offer a full-year program that helps 58 children thrive outside the elementary school setting. Each year, our program operates at capacity.