TEEP Summer Session consists of 5-weeks of academic, cultural, and community enrichment wherein the focus is on building supportive relationships and fostering a love of learning. Through project-based academic work and experiential learning opportunities that include rock climbing, rowing, sailing, yoga, creative writing, and photography, TEEP helps students develop academic confidence and discover their voice. TEEP serves between 80 and 90 middle school-aged youth every summer, and employs 30-40 high school-aged alumni of the program as counselors.

Key Takeaways

  • Remember to see children as whole, complex individuals, not just as students, athletes, etc.

  • Incorporate training on trauma inclusion, emphasize mentorship, and remind staff that a student’s behaviors should not be taken personally.

  • Using the program’s guiding principles to establish expectations helps make students more accountable.

  • Honoring youth wisdom and centering youth voice in programming makes students feel more heard and understood.

What do you find to be the most effective way to help students resolve conflicts between themselves?

 The most consistent measure is returning to the values. We’re always returning to the 5 R’s (respect, responsibility, restraint, reciprocity, and redemption) and using them as a compass for decision-making. So, if these are our values, how are we living them out? Was it respectful or disrespectful to speak to your peer in that way? Why or why not?


In terms of the tools we’re using, we’re really employing restorative justice circles. So, trying to make sure that instead of employing a punitive model we’re trying to restore relationships. The immediate assumption of restorative justice is that when there is a conflict, harm has been done. And that doesn’t necessarily indicate that there was a concrete harm-doer and a victim of harm, but that everyone in the collective space has been impacted. So what do we do to repair that impact if it’s negative? We employ the restorative justice model where we have students engage in a circle together with a staff member. Typically that includes a staff member that’s however related to the conflict, if they’re the chief counselor or the faculty member in the classroom, or a supervisor of that grade level. All of our summer staff, with the exception of the adult faculty, are alumni of the program, so there is significant buy-in on the part of the students because the community is consistent. They were here last year and the year before that. There’s a continuity of relationships that’s really important.


But in the restorative justice circle the goal is to make sure that each person is heard, that their perspective is heard and understood, and to promote awareness for the other students about their own impact. To really understand that when we do or say something, those actions have impact and we have to be accountable for that impact. And then the goal by the end of the restorative justice circle is to have a solution or come concrete steps for moving forward. So asking a student very directly, “What do you need in order to move on with this person? What do you need in order to feel like you have this person’s trust or like you can try again? What are you willing to commit?” There’s this sort of exchange of accountability.


We use circles in a lot of different formats, not only in moments of conflict. That format actually happens quite frequently, so that when students are actually in a conflict, they understand the norms. They understand that if they don’t have the talking piece, they’re meant to be in listening mode. That it’s not about arguing, but about coming to a common understanding. There’s probably one brief circle a day that has to do with conflict. And it doesn’t have to be among students, it could also be among staff. We try to employ them fairly regularly as a general model, in terms of how we meet and resolve issues, but also in terms of how we team-build. We want to have that circle practice, giving everyone a chance to speak and exchange. It’s a fairly regular practice.

What do you find to be the most effective way to get students to involve a peer who is being left out?

It’s a consistent challenge, and we know that a student might be active in art class, and then totally shut down in math. Part of what we employ is this small grouping. We have a very tight cohort, and they’re working primarily in teams of 12 at most with 2 counselors. So it’s a really tight ratio that allows 1-on-1 engagement.


It’s also about the continuity of relationships. So when they’re being asked to write a poem in ELA, if they’re kind of resistant, they have their staff counselor, who is a peer mentor and can really guide them through it, because they went through it. So there’s this sort of immediate trust in this idea of, “Listen, I’m still here, and I had to do this all these years ago. So let’s give it a try.” We’re always trying to encourage our staff to operate from a lens of invitation and not obligation, so that students have the opportunity to use their voice and make a choice. So we’re always offering choices between, you know, “You can either participate in the class session and do what folks are doing, or maybe you need a break, you need to step out, maybe there’s something on your mind.” We’re really always asking our staff to look at the source of a behavior. So if a student feels like they’re being left out, find out what they’re really upset about. Is it really that they’re being ostracized from the group? That’s a separate situation, where we call for a circle. Or is it that they’re dealing with a personal challenge or trauma beyond TEEP? So we’d want to respond by engaging our clinicians through the Trinity Boston counseling center. Or is it just a matter of shyness? So really it’s about inviting students to come along with us and try something, asking staff to model the behavior that they want to see. It’s not enough to just tell a student what to do, you have to do it with them.

What strategies do staff use to convey positivity and friendliness from the beginning of the day to the end of the day?

We have these high expectations of staff performance, but we also are conscious that they’re students dealing with their own things. They are still in development, and managing their own impulse control and things like that. One of the things that we’ve implemented from our sister program, The Trinity Boston Center at the McCormack School, is a “Re-regulation Space.” At TEEP we call it “The Chill Zone.” It’s a space for students and staff to take a break, step away and come into the chill zone. In that space there’s a box of activities that they can pull from, that are common in the field for folks that deal with anxiety or high-stress, which we see more and more in our students. So, coloring pages, friendship bracelet making, play-doh, things like that to kind of get their mind off of whatever’s stressing them, so that they can return and re-engage. And that’s been really helpful for our students, but our staff also take advantage of that opportunity to step back.


The other thing is that a lot of what we’re doing in terms of our approach in programming is based on team-building and collaboration. Moving through the day with those activities keeps them motivated, because they’re able to remember that, “Yeah, maybe this student is resistant in this one space. Maybe they’re having a really hard time with ELA.” But you get this opportunity to play a game with them right after lunch and you see them in a completely different light. It’s also about encouraging them to remember that these middle school students are still developing, that a lot of their resistance is not actually about the staff member, but about whatever they’re holding, maybe it’s trauma, maybe it’s just insecurity, or the challenges of being an adolescent altogether is enough.


We do have staff meetings every day, but they differ. Every Monday they meet with their co-counselor, every Tuesday they meet with their team, every Wednesday they meet with their grade-level, and every Thursday they meet as all-staff. So there’s just space built in for, you know, venting, but also problem-solving and collaborating. There’s a big buy-in because they’re all alumni of the program. They feel really passionately about extending that opportunity to the next generation of TEEP-ers. So they actually bring a lot of positivity just in that vein, just by returning they carry that with them, and really want it to be a positive experience for the middle school students.


Last year we implemented prizes for students, and realized that we should probably do the same for staff. So this year we’re going to try and implement weekly prizes where the team votes. Last year, staff would give us their student of the week and we would give them a prize at the end of the week, but this summer we’re thinking about also implementing the opportunity for students to say, “This is the counselor of the week for 2nd grade. They were really shining because they were really engaged during the field trip,” or, “They helped me through a struggle.” Trying to give positive reinforcement and recognition as often as possible, in a public way.