Hale’s summer program works with six schools in Boston, offering academics and an enrichment component to help develop social-emotional skills.

Key Takeaways

  • Staff-student relationships are developed by the staff reaching out to students who are struggling with peer-to-peer interactions.

  • Compassion, good listening, and relationship building are all important skills for staff to have in order to create positive relationships with students.

  • Smaller student-to-staff ratios allow staff to develop relationships with all of the students.

  • Students participate in team building activities and are asked to reflect on the group dynamics to help develop social-emotional skills.

Q: Is it an intentional practice to have staff members build relationships with students? If so, how was this practice communicated to staff?


A: We are definitely intentional about relationships. We do it through a process where we emphasize friendship; it is one of our key values when it comes to Summer Programming. Staff are asked to look very carefully at how the students are doing with friendships. We do a little friendship inventory where staff evaluate how students are doing and what their process for making friendships are.


Through the activities and programs that we do, which are all team-focused, interactive, and challenging, staff identify how students are doing in their friendships and social-emotional development with their peers. If the students are struggling, we then ask the staff to step in and serve as the role of a friend. That helps because, often, the students who struggle with their friendships are the ones who are not as outgoing, and the staff might not connect with right off the bat. By having the staff identify who those students are, it is brought to the attention of the staff what the students need.


Students who already have good relationship building skills tend to develop relationships with staff more naturally, so we don’t spend as much time intervening and trying to help them. But staff do need to have relationships with all of the students.

If a student has good peer-to-peer relationships, but has a hard time connecting to staff, we are not super concerned. When students establish good relationships with one another, they feel like they belong. When a student feels like they belong, they will be engaged. So, even if they do not have a positive relationship with staff, we know that they will be participating in the program.


This is communicated with staff, prior to the start of the program, during staff training. Staff will do their own team building activities and team dynamic analyses help place them in the same mindset that we want the students to be.

Q: What are the most important characteristics for staff members to have to build positive relationships with students?


A: Compassion is a key characteristic. Staff also need to be outgoing people. They need to be able to interact with someone that they don’t know, primarily youth, and really engage that person. They also can’t be someone who is entirely focused on themselves. Staff need to be willing to focus on somebody else, be a good listener, ask good questions, and establish good relationships. Those relationships are all forged by asking good questions and learning, as opposed to just talking.

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 work with small ratios, we try to keep group sizes small, and even have two staff members assigned to a group if we can. If it is possible, then we can have one staff working with the more boisterous and active group, and another staff working with the more reserved group.


We focus on team building and interactive group challenges. These things help students develop leadership skills and a good sense of where they fit in their group dynamics. We also talk about group dynamics, which give students an opportunity to reflect on where they fit in their group or community. This helps students establish relationships, and that really comes from the aspects of the curriculum that focus on team building.


As soon as students come into Hale, we see ourselves as responsible for their relationship building. We are intentional about this each minute that we are with the students. Relationship building goes on all summer. It does not end at the beginning, we emphasize it throughout each session. Because without it, students can get lost in the shuffle quickly. Students make their first impressions of an experience quickly, and it can be hard to change that once it is established.


Hale’s summer program is run in partnership with Boston After School & Beyond. The program works with six schools in Boston that bring their children to participate in the Summer Learning Project, which offers academics taught by teachers in the Boston Public Schools system. Hale also offers an an enrichment component to help develop social-emotional skills.