Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) is a nonprofit organization that is run out of Harvard University. It has over 80 programs associated with it, in particular, the Summer Urban Program, or the SUP.
By combining academic and fun activities, students are engaged and do not realize they are learning.
Consistency is important for students, including program location and the instructors they are working with.
For younger students, a lot of breaks are incorporated into the program schedule.
To engage older students, the program is made to be as fun as possible.
If the whole group is losing focus, the staff will use energizer activities to re-engage everyone.
If one student is disengaged, a staff aide will take that student on a walk to help them regain focus.
Q: What program activities have you found engage students the best?
A: The types of activities that engage students the best are the ones where they are not aware that they are learning. Students respond best to activities that are not strictly academic, and have a fun component, as well. One activity that I have used is “math-basketball.” Students only register the “basketball,” and do not hear that there is a math component as well. Activities that correspond with field trips also get students excited for what they will be learning about.
Q: What about your program – location, structure, content, etc. – engages students? Can you recall a specific example?
A: I think that one thing that is important for children is consistency. Knowing who our directors are and knowing by name and by face not only engages students, but encourages them to come back every year. Having one consistent and central location also helps. We have been at the Hennigan School on Heath Street for the past five years.
Q: What strategies are used by program staff to keep students engaged?
A: We have a few different strategies because we serve a wide range of students, aging from 6 to 13. My staff with the younger students build in a lot more breaks because the younger students tend to have a shorter attention span. Incorporating more breaks gives the students more time to digest what they are learning. For the older students we focus on making the activity as fun as possible. Thirteen year olds can be unwilling to participate. We tend to negotiate with this group of students. For example, if they finish a certain task, then they will be able to play a fun game until lunch. Overall, the trick is learning how to take a break with regard to students’ attention spans, in order to keep them engaged in the activity at hand.
We also do energizing activities with the whole group where they are moving their whole body. This is a good tactic if the whole group is losing focus. But, if one student is disengaged while the others are focused, we will have a staff member take them for a walk around the building. By the time the student gets back, they will usually be re-engaged. This is possible because in a group, we will have a senior staff member, as well as a high school aide staff member. The aide will be responsible for accompanying a student on a walk, while the senior staff member remains with the rest of the group.
Phillips Brooks House Association (PBHA) is a nonprofit organization that is run out of Harvard University. It has over 80 programs associated with it, in particular, the Summer Urban Program, or the SUP. SUP is comprised of 12 different camps that serve low-income youth in the Boston and Cambridge area. One of the camps is the Roxbury Youth Initiative, which serves children in the Roxbury area. The goal of the camp is to prevent summer learning loss. Mornings are dedicated to academics, and the afternoons are for enrichment and youth development activities.