The Tierney Boys & Girls Club After School Program is a one-of-a-kind community program of the Boys & Girls Club in South Boston. Because the program is administered by both Boys & Girls Club staff and Tierney Learning Center staff, they are uniquely in tune with the needs of their community. They provide varied after school programming, including recreation, STEAM, and computer time for youth ages 6-14 from nearby schools.

Key Takeaways

  • Partnerships with other community programs can bring expertise and skill building strategies that a single program could not provide alone.

  • Communication should be age appropriate. For example, a six year old will see the world in their own way and they may need support getting to the root of a conflict or miscommunication.

  • Student and family input can help a program maintain its purpose and intention.

  • Give students plenty of options during activity time and encourage them to communicate with you when they need to make a different choice.

How do staff model forms of effective communication with one another for the students?

Because we are a mixed staff from two organizations, communication is key. We’re really good about sending calendar invitations to each other for anything that’s going on. Sometimes there are things happening in this building that have nothing to do with the after school program, but they may take place or require our regular staff for one reason or another. It’s super important that we know about that ahead of time so that we can plan accordingly and staff appropriately for the program. Our staff has created a very welcoming community here, and it feels very much like a family. Everyone wants to get to know you on different levels, talk to you, compromise with you, and work with you.

How do you foster skills in nonverbal communication?

We have students that will tell you everything, and we have other students that need space or need to draw something. We have partnerships with other programs, like Doc Wayne Youth Services, that come in with different strategies on how to communicate. We talk about how to communicate, both verbally or not, and they help us figure out the tools to use with certain students. We’ll do role playing or we’ll play a game. Another program partner, Peace Through Play, comes in weekly to do recreational activities with our kids, and the point is to play with a purpose. They set a theme of the day, such as friendship, and then at the end they’ll reflect and consider, “How were you a good friend?” It’s very important to give them their time to figure out what they’ve done today, how they feel, and we build that in no matter how crazy the day is. We also encourage students to use reflection sheets with prompting questions. We find that to be a surprising useful tool for them. When you give a kid the time to think over what’s happened in a conflict situation, and put it into words, sometimes it doesn’t end up being a problem after all!

Can you tell us about a time when you have incorporated student input and saw that it made a big difference?

A few years ago we had a group of 9 and 10 year olds who were mean to each other, which is pretty common for that age, but they were really not getting along with each other and not getting along with staff. Everyday there was a struggle, so we created a weekly program called Club RAD. Two women on staff met with the girls and two men on staff met with the boys, and all of our 9 and 10 year olds had to participate. At first they would say, “Why do we have to do this?” By week three, they were looking forward to it and it was something special for them. I think relationships did improve, and we noticed they were using the language that we were teaching them. One of our lessons was about what it means to be a bystander and what it means to be an upstander, and they would bring that language into the other programs. We saw that there was a problem and we wanted to include the kids in the solution. Of course some weeks were harder than others, but they really had a good time. We made it interactive because that’s how you get buy-in.