St.Stephen’s B-READY LEARN program is an after school program for students in grades 1-5. Students rotate through different activities each week such as learning time for homework, B-LIT for literacy support, health and wellness including yoga, creative arts, and STEM. Program leaders also lead choice time activities which vary depending on the interests and skills of leaders as well as requests from students on what they would like to learn more about.
An open door policy lets students know they can always come back to your program for support, but building leadership opportunities for students to come back and serve with your program creates a long lasting sense of community.
View students as collaborators in their programming to give them authority over their learning that they may not have in other settings.
Students are ready to work together when they know they’ve contributed to creating and agreeing to group norms.
How do you set a positive example of teamwork among staff to model it for students?
We have the B-Excellent Model, and each group creates a team name and a B-Excellent Pact.The idea is that their B-Excellent Pacts are the rules and regulations they set for themselves, including the ways they should behave, or what their behavior should be like in the program. They have come up with things like: keeping our hands to ourselves, being kind, listening. These are all things they normally do at school, but having them name it and voice it for themselves helps them think, “These are the guidelines I set for myself, instead of these are the things that I’m being told to do.” The lead counselors, the teens, and the children all sign the B-Excellent Pact together, and then we hang them up on the stairs where the youth walk by them every day. If there is a break in the B-Excellent Pact, the youth is removed from the group, and we try to identify the problem. We try to brainstorm solutions with the youth; we don’t give them the solution. Once we guide them to a solution, a reconciliation process happens between that youth and the lead, and that youth with the rest of the group. We can’t always have the youth return to the group yet if the group isn’t ready for the youth to rejoin. The last part is reflection, and that is mostly done by the leads and the teens to figure out how we could avoid this in the future. That is also how we start the year with our staff during training. In the office, as soon as you walk in, we have our own B-Excellent Pact right on the wall so that we can see our norms and guidelines as well.
We use the same restorative conflict resolution process with staff, but more often with the teens we employ because they’re still young and still learning how to be professional. They’re still learning what is acceptable in a work environment. If they are late or doing something they aren’t supposed to, we’ll pull them aside and ask, “Hey, what’s going on? Can I help you fix this?” With the new staff, it can be tricky at first. The B-Excellent Model can be a culture shock for different people depending on their backgrounds. The teens have the most difficulty with it because they feel that the youth are not getting punished for their behavior. We explain the difference between consequences and punishment. We don’t punish or reward our youth, but there are always consequences to their actions. Making that distinction with staff that is new to our program is very important. We make sure this is the first thing they do and talk about when they join our program.
How do you regulate group activities so that all students get to lead and take on different roles? How do you encourage leadership roles with students in different groups?
We have three structures that give youth opportunities to choose what they’re learning and opportunities to play different roles within the program. Choice time gives them the opportunity to choose an activity that they want to do for that day with new offerings every week. Another way we encourage youth voice is through our Imagination Stations where students choose one activity for the span of four weeks. They have four sessions led by their lead counselors where they either learn a new skill or hone in on a certain skill. We also have a new Kid President Council. In the elementary school program we have four groups, and this year we decided that each group would get to choose two members to join the Kid President Council. They had to kind of campaign and have their peers vote for them. Those eight kids meet once a month to come up with different activities that they may want to do. We feed the kids here every day a hardy meal as soon as they come in, so they had a chance to go online on our food ordering application and do the food ordering for the whole week for themselves. They’ve also been able to plan field trips and choose the different activities offered during choice time and Imagination Stations. They have suggested computer programming, sports – baseball, basketball, football – arts and crafts like tie dye, and cooking/baking. They also have different programs that are given to them by their schools, like razkids and Prodigy. We were a bit surprised to hear that they wanted time to practice through those programs. The Kid President Council was created because we noticed that the youth had many ideas, especially around what they wanted to be eating and what activities they wanted to be doing. We wanted the youth voice, so we asked, “What other way? What better way?”
What do you consider your program’s most effective team building activity or project?
Apart from the B-Excellent Model, we also do circles as a type of preventative measure. The groups do circles during literacy time in which they have a talking prompt and a talking piece. The idea is for them to get used to sharing out and being comfortable with each other’s ideas so that if there ever is an issue that needs to be resolved, they’re already used to sharing and talking, which is when we would utilize a restorative circle. It’s more effective with some of our older youth than some of our younger youth, but we’re establishing it as a practice with them. It’s really interesting when you see an issue arise among students in the middle school program. Now that they know this structure, they’ll say to us, “We need a circle! We need to find the space to have the circle.” We have a teen or a lead sit in with them, but they do all of the talking, all of their resolving, and it’s nice to see that they understand the idea behind the circle and what it should look like. To build buy in, the circles start off more like a team-builder or icebreaker, where you’re encouraging low-risk sharing such as one thing you learned at school or a highlight of your day. That serves to prepare them for when issues arrive.