By Teddi Beschel
This fall Casa Chirilagua expanded and relaunched our middle school program, Casa Club. Not only did we revamp the program, but I made my first appearance with Casa as the Youth Programs Coordinator. With a new program, new participants and myself being the new coordinator, I had no idea what to expect. Casa Chirilagua staff strongly emphasize creating a safe place for youth to work on academics while building positive supportive community. However I wondered whether the teens would buy into this message or not. Would Casa Club consist of students attending because their parents told them to? Or could it be something more?
Within the first three weeks, I quickly realized that the Casa Club students were not always excited about the activities I planned – especially the ones within a classroom. It was time to find out why. I sought advice from my predecessor. His answer? To establish a Community Contract with the students that would set behavior expectations for the upcoming year. However to begin drafting this contract I first needed to sit down and have a brainstorming session with my students. So we sat down and I presented them with this question, “What do we want Casa Club to be?”
Silence filled the air. I began to worry that no one would participate. I waited…concerned that no one would find this discussion important. Then Jose* slowly raised his hand, “Casa Club should be a place where everyone is polite and respects each other.” Then slowly, more hands began to raise, “We should all be nice to one another, especially when someone doesn’t know something.” Another student added, “Yeah, and we should be brave to ask questions. To not be afraid of being made fun of.” As each one responded, I began to truly see their heart for what they wanted Casa Club to be. “We should be grateful for everyone.”
And there I stood, with the answer to my question. What do we want Casa Club to be? The answer was clear. Casa Club would be more than a place to just do homework and have fun. It would be a supportive community based on mutual assistance and accountability that these students created, sustained and maintained.
In the time since we drafted and signed Casa Club’s Community Contract, I now hear students repeating phrases from the contract and holding each other accountable to the standards they set. I now see the answer to my question happening right before my eyes. Casa Club has become a place of kindness where everyone is welcome. It is a place of brave students who laugh together and are grateful for everyone.
It’s been fun to see the students get more excited about Casa Club. One week when we didn’t meet because of a holiday, they asked if they could come in an extra day to make it up. This warmed my heart. For me to come in new and not knowing these students, I definitely feel like I have grown closer with all of them. I look forward to growing even deeper together this fall as we continue our curriculum of building relationships, learning financial management, working on homework, learning new sports and going on field trips. The best is yet to come!
* = Name changed for privacy