Offering a variety of enriching experiences in a safe and supportive environment, the DotHouse Generation Next Academy Teen Center addresses a broad vision of youth health through its summer and school year programs for young adults. The Teen Center provides students with a place to learn, play sports, socialize, and seek the advice of peer leaders while offering access to important services like WIC and a food pantry. Nestled in the back of the DotHouse Health Center, the DotHouse Teen Center’s mission is to supplement the Health Center’s clinical offerings in support of a more holistic view of health.
“To be healthy, there are a lot of components,” says Michelle Rue, Director of Health Education and Community Programs at the Teen Center. “It’s not just medical health. You have to be financially healthy, physically healthy, mentally healthy, socially healthy. We work with the social determinants of health. What things can help a community as a whole be more healthy, and how can we facilitate that?”
During the school year, the DotHouse Teen Center operates a drop-in afterschool program. Students visiting the center are free to come and go as they please without signing up or committing to attend on certain days or for a specific amount of time. “Our mission is to help the community socially, so you have to understand the community,” says Rue. “Our kids may not be able to come and stay every day. Then, we have some that are going to do that because they have nowhere else to go.”
At the Teen Center, students have the opportunity to access homework help, eat a snack, express themselves via art or design projects, play sports, and be in a positive social environment. The center offers access to a gym and basketball court, a pool, a recording studio, and a computer lab, and hosts workshops ranging from job readiness to technology and media courses. The center also provides a program for youth to develop into peer leaders, mentoring younger students while earning money working for the center part-time.
In the summer, the DotHouse Teen Center hosts a more formal program for middle school students in partnership with the Boston Public Schools. Students who attend this summer program access many of the same services and experiences offered during the school year in addition to more structured academic work led by BPS teachers working to fight the “summer slide.”
In order to increase student engagement and provide meaningful learning experiences during the summer, the DotHouse Teen Center has begun incorporating hands-on math and science activities into its academic curriculum in partnership with BoSTEM and the Summer Learning Project.
Many of these activities focus on health and nutrition, serving the Teen Center’s goal of promoting youth health and wellness and taking advantage of the Health Center as a resource. During one activity this summer, students worked together to calculate how many calories were burned during various forms of exercise and to make predictions about how many calories Lebron James would have burned doing the same exercises. Activities like these allow students to strengthen their skills in math in preparation for the coming school year while exploring how math and science are relevant outside of the classroom.
“STEM gives us another way to help the kids think,” says LaTarsha Ancrum, a youth development specialist at the DotHouse Teen Center. “So for those who say ‘oh, I’m not smart enough,’ it’s another way we can approach the situation to show them that they can succeed and give them a boost.”
The DotHouse Teen Center is deeply rooted in the community, and the strong relationships formed between students and adults at the Center underpin all of the center’s programming. Staff members at the Teen Center deeply invest in the students that visit the center, even occasionally supporting them outside of the center by acting as an advocate during disciplinary meetings at school when parents are unable to attend or by showing up for student talent shows, sports games, and tryouts.
“Some parents will come in and ask for us because they want to talk about their child and what is happening with them,” says Director Rue. “The kids trust us and feel safe here and their parents know that. So when things are going on with their kids they will want to come in and talk to Tarsha or Nugget or Sinowey about what’s happening.”
“We try to be the extra support when their parents aren’t there,” says Ancrum. “This gives a lot of parents piece of mind so they don’t have to worry about their children.”