Tenacity provides a pathway to postsecondary success for underserved urban youth, ages six through college.

Key Takeaways

  • Offering an opening and closing circle each day helps develop communications and social-emotional skills for students.

  • Each week, awards are created for students who have excelled in some way.

  • Students should be left to handle conflicts on their own until they escalate. It is up to staff to observe these conflicts and assess when adult intervention is needed.

  • A small staff-to-student ratio helps create a supportive environment for youth.

Q: What program design features allowed youth at your program to listen and cooperate with each other?


A: Each morning we have an open circle right after breakfast. It gives the students and the staff the opportunity to discuss what was happening for the day. There was also an open dialogue that allows the students to talk and ask questions. It really broadens the communication and support for the students.


Then at the end of each day we do a closing circle, which really breaks down a lot of communication barriers. It gives everyone a chance to listen, everyone a chance to hear, and a lot of times the parents are there as well. This is really helpful in the communication and the social-emotional aspect of the summer. Parents are able to hear what is going on, and what the upcoming events are.

Q: Did your program offer incentives or recognition to youth with exemplar behavior?


A: Yes. We came up with creative names for awards weekly. Not only would students receive a certificate, but sometimes they would get a little token or gift. We did that for best behavior, best practices, and for exemplary attendance.

Q: Did your program allow for youth to problem solve together during minor conflicts to resolve problems without adult interaction? Please explain.


A: A lot of the program staff leaders would train with PlayWorks, which is an organization that works with a lot of schools’ gym programs. They offer really great training for how to work with students and help them solve conflicts. Staff brought this training with them, and incorporated a lot of the techniques that they learned, even in the classroom. In each classroom, there is the teacher and aides, which help with conflict a lot because of the really good adult-student ratio. The ratio is typically like one to four or five in the classrooms. I think that is a big factor on what really cut down on conflict. The same is true for the enrichment portion of the day.


In regards for when conflict does occur, you have to watch for it to escalate. A lot of times students will work it out. But there are times when a student will not be able to let it go, and you have to watch for those escalation points and deal with them. The staff need to be observant and jump in if needed.

Q: What are 2-3 best practices for creating a supportive social environment in summer programming?


A: Building a warm environment is important. All of the staff know that they are there for all of the students. Having a very small adult-to-student ratio also helps. The students become close to the staff, which helps because if a student has a problem, they will talk to the staff.

Q: How would you apply this practice to different age groups?


A: We work with 4th and 5th graders, so it was pretty easy because they listen. If we were working with 1st graders, for example, it would be very different. Staff would have to be much more involved in any conflict that occurred.


The Tenacity summer program at the McKay site serves students from a number of East Boston schools including Mario Umana, Donald McKay, Otis, and Guild. Tenacity provides a pathway to postsecondary success for underserved urban youth. From ages six through college, its core offerings engage over 5,000 youth annually with a focused approach to making education relevant and graduation achievable.