Crossroads for Kids is a five-year long program that works with at-risk youth, and uses experiential learning to provide learning opportunities in leadership development, character growth, community action, and college and career readiness.
Staff are hired based on their abilities to build relationships with youth.
Building relationships is modeled from the top down during staff training.
The most successful staff members are those that can manage the group while building relationships one-on-one with students.
Relationship building occurs throughout the program through regular check-ins and small staff-to-student ratios.
Q: Is it an intentional practice to have staff members build relationships with students? If so, how was this practice communicated to staff?
A: Staff intentionally build relationships with the students. When we are going through the recruitment process, we look to hire staff that we feel have the skills, experiences, and qualities to build great relationships with youth. We put a priority on recruiting someone who we feel would build great relationships over any hard skills or specific experiences. So the ability to build relationships with youth is communicated and emphasized through the interview, reference checks, and hiring.
After staff are hired, we have a weeklong, intensive staff training. The leadership team builds relationships with the staff that we are supervising. We will talk about the importance of doing this, and that we want the same between the staff and students.
Q: What are the most important characteristics for staff members to have to build positive relationships with students?
A: Generally we are looking for high levels of enthusiasm, positivity, drive, and a willingness to learn in those that we hire as staff members. Staff should prioritize and genuinely want to come to work and make an impact on the youth here. We also like staff to have experience as a role model or mentor for young people. We like staff to have college in their future, or that they recognize the importance of college, so that they can encourage the youth that we work with.
Once they are hired, the staff that are the most successful are those that dedicate time to building one-on-one relationships in addition to managing a whole group. It is a tough balance, but the most successful staff are able to do both.
Q: What are some ways that program design aided in relationship building between staff and students? For example, were classes small to foster communication?
A: We have weekly check-ins. Each leadership staff member has a weekly check-in with the staff that they are supervising, and then the staff will have a weekly check-in with each camper that they are supervising, as well. These check-ins facilitate intentionally building a relationships early on into the program.
The program used to be designed so that staff rotated groups for each activity. We found that this made it very difficult to build relationships with the youth. Now we have about 15 staff and 60 youth in the program. This works because a student might not connect with every staff member, but they are able to find the ones that they do want to form a relationship with.
We make it mandatory that every cabin has a general check-in at the end of the day. This provides time for staff and students to be one group talking in a relaxed environment. This happens in small groups, which aids in the relationship building. If students were together last year, we encourage them to expand their friend groups. We also intentionally place students from different schools in the same cabins. We keep a ratio of four camp members to every staff member.
Crossroads for Kids works with youth from risk-filled environments with a curriculum of leadership development, character growth, community action, and college and career readiness. The program uses an experiential learning model, which each cohort experiences for a continuous five year period throughout summers and school year.