On November second Farmington Valley hosted a training for program directors and site directors on Project Based Learning. Sonia Toledo and Sarah Chambers put together a great program to introduce all of us to this new and exciting teaching tool. Everyone in the room seemed eager to learn and very excited to bring back the new information that they gained from the training. The training was very hands on, and taught all of us a very new way of teaching. We learned to ask driving questions to the children, and to let the children take an activity or lesson where they want it to go. Most exciting about this new tool is that while children are learning about new topics and information they are also learning how to work as a team, problem solve, and find out what really interests them. I know this because as a group we experienced this in the training. There are really infinite possibilities as to what you can do with Project Based Learning.
I was so excited after I left that I got to work right away. I went back to my site and asked my kids what they would like to learn about, they gave me a great list of ideas to start with. One thing that my children really love doing is performing skits, so the first thing we did was a skit activity. I split the kids into four groups and gave them each a bucket with assorted items in it. I also provided a brief set of rules. The rules were that they needed to create a skit using all of the items in the buckets, they needed to write a script, and that they had to have at least three characters in the skit. I read the directions and then left them to work. It was amazing! The kids were so excited and I began to see leaders of all ages emerge in each group. Then parents began coming in, and instead of leaving, they stayed and began participating in the activity with the children. They were just as excited about the activity as we were!
I am so excited to see where Project Based Learning will take us this year in my after school program and also at camp. This is just one more way that the Greater Hartford YMCA is enriching the lives of youth. We are not only developing our staff into cause driven leaders but also our children. We are striving to give kids the tools in the afterschool setting that they will need to become successful adults.
Over the past two years I have had the privilege of working with many youth in our programs. One of the families consisted of five brothers who were all in the unfortunate situation of being in DCF custody and were all separated. As you can imagine these boys were not happy boys and were not the easiest to deal with. One of the oldest brothers was especially unhappy and would threaten harm against himself and would rebel against teachers and YMCA staff. I decided that the fifth graders in general needed something more to look forward to when coming to the Y, and I thought that maybe giving them a leadership role in the program might just help the group and this young man. Over time this boy learned that I was putting my trust in him and that I did indeed believe in him and encouraged him to create activities that he would enjoy leading the younger children in. During this time I also worked with his DCF worker and his new foster mom.
Over the summer this boy attended our teen camp and had an amazing experience. Through our programs this young man who was bounced around from home to home, started to find himself and what he truly enjoyed. A transformation had begun right before my eyes. As summer progressed, instead of dreading what I may walk into that day with him I instead was sad that in a couple of weeks I may never see this child again. He had gone from angry, intense, and cynical to happy, laughing, and sharing about himself. He also made a few close friends in this time who also were all in DCF custody. On the last day of camp I was feeling a little upset that it was all over, and the thought of sending them off and not seeing them again was very sad. I gathered myself to walk the boys to their van and say goodbye. Then it happened… a giant hug! I could not believe that this boy who at one time was so angry was hugging me and thanking me for such a great summer. I knew then that all the frustration and effort had been worth it.
Flash forward a few months….I received a phone call from this child’s foster mom. She told me that she was in a bind because she was formally adopting the boys and that she was no longer going to be getting financial assistance and she needed somewhere for the boys to go during vacation. She did not want to just send them anywhere as we had formed such a wonderful relationship with the boys. I assured her that we wanted nothing more than for them to return to our program. I walked her through the application process for a Strong Kids scholarship and was very excited to see them at February vacation. On February and April vacations I got scholarship money for this young man to go to Camp Jewell for our excursion camp outings which were two days each. I have never in my life seen a boy his age so excited to participate and explore. These trips were not only a life changing experience for him but also for me. After we had returned from our April trip at Jewell we still had two days of regular vacation day program to go. We went to Wickham Park that Friday and I was continuing our Excursion Camp preview with fort building, hiking, and nature games in the woods. Of course I had my gaggle of middle school boys with me and my special friend who had become a leader in the group. As a whole vacation day group we had about 30 kids and they were getting a little out of hand. One of the other counselors said to the kids that if they couldn’t turn their behavior around they would have to deal with unhappy counselors who wouldn’t be very nice. At this time I heard “That’s not true! Marie loves me and she would never be mean to us!” Now I don’t mean to be unsupportive of another adult but I couldn’t help but feel so happy, that this child who a year ago didn’t have a home, or anyone stable in his life felt that his YMCA counselor loves him and cares about him.
This is what it is all about. This is why I do what I do. This child (amongst others) has made me realized that yes I do “work” for the Y, but it is so much more than a job. To me it is a blessing that I get to impact lives every day. There are so many moment during my “job” that have filled my cup and that is more than any paycheck can ever do.
Glastonbury Family YMCA