UMass Boston Urban Scholars is a college access program for high school students. Located at UMass Boston, students spend time on campus in academic courses and gain skills that prepare them for success after high school.
Small staff to student ratios allow for close, positive relationships between program members.
Being careful in the hiring process allows for more trust of staff to efficiently and properly work during programming.
Using staff input to recognize students’ natural strengths and areas for improvement is helpful in personalizing the program for youth.
Setting rules ahead of time and enforcing them in weekly meetings help address, prevent, and diffuse behavioral issues.
Close relationships between staff members set the example for a supportive culture among students.
Q: What are the youth-staff relationships like here? What has been done on the part of the staff to develop these?
A: Overall, they’re good relationships. We hire UMass Boston students to be Teaching Assistants (TAs) in the classroom, so they’re managing classrooms with a professional teacher. In the afternoons they’re leading activities and working with their specific team. Each student has one of four teams that is led by a TA, so they get to know their students a little bit more intimately. I think those are probably the best relationships we have–the TAs that are working with their smaller team, which is anywhere between 5 and 15 students in a group.
Q: How does staff facilitate positive interactions between students? If a negative or disrespectful youth interaction occurs, how does staff intervene?
A: We hire people that we trust. The TAs are hired because we trust them to be able to work with most situations. We hire them based on their judgement and their experience working with students in the past, so we feel pretty confidently that the students we hire to work as TAs are naturally inclined to work in a positive way with students. Any situations they don’t feel comfortable intervening in right away, they come to [the program directors] and we brainstorm with them or work with the students directly if there’s a situation that’s more elevated.
Q: How do the relationships/connections between staff and youth shape the overall environment here at Urban Scholars?
A: I think it’s one of the most important things. We brainstorm, as small groups or large groups, students that give us challenges or students that are doing really well and how we can use their skills in a positive way. If a student is a natural leader, how can we use that in a more challenging group of students? It’s a lot of staff input as far as how we can guide students in the best way, and we’re very fortunate to have a large staff over the summer to work with smaller groups of students so we can address any issues as they come up.
Q: How do staff members make sure to enforce rules fairly and consistently to youth?
A: We set rules beforehand; we have student handbooks that all students get, sign, and give back to us. We go over that in each orientation. We set umbrella rules ahead of time, and we reinforce those as a group every Monday at Community Meetings, where everyone comes together after lunch. We remind them about rules, talk to students, put students on the board that need to come talk to us about a specific issue individually to enforce to the rest of the group that we are reinforcing these things.
Individually, there are some standout cases that you have to deal with on a more case-by-case basis. For that, we rely on the team as far as making sure that we’re coming to the best decision possible and that everyone is in agreement.
Q: How do staff maintain a positive attitude?
A: I think it’s a fun program overall. We’re very lucky in that the students we work with are a very good group of students. They’re very motivated, and they’re also high school students so they’re very energetic.
I think it’s also the structure of the program in that it’s a tight-knit staff. There’s only six TAs, but every day we meet for a final 15 minutes to go over any issues that came up so TAs feel supported. But, mostly, it’s that we chose TAs who wanted to do this because they wanted to be with students—and they wanted to be with this population of students—so I think that’s carried us through.
UMass Boston Urban Scholars is a year-round program, providing after school classes and a seven-week summer program for high school students at the University of Massachusetts Boston. The program aims to inspire students to work toward high school graduation and college enrollment. Students, especially those from low-income and first-generation college bound families, are offered skillbuilding techniques and academic courses geared at helping them achieve their full potential. The program draws students from high schools including the Jeremiah E. Burke, Dorchester Education Complex (Dorchester Academy, TechBoston Academy), South Boston Education Complex (Excel, Green Academy) and the Dearborn; and middle schools including the McCormack, Rogers, Dearborn, and TechBoston Academy lower school.