Program Profile: Year-to-Year Connections Foster Culture of Community at Boys and Girls Club Sumner

With a few exciting field trips and two weeks of quality curriculum and enrichment to boast, Boys and Girls Club Sumner is off to its best start yet, says Site Director Nina Vansuch. Incorporating the arts, leadership opportunities, and innovative games into the daily itinerary, BGCB Sumner packs its students’ days with fun ways to keep their minds active during the summer months.

Youth and staff at this longtime Summer Learning Project site enjoy the benefits of having close relationships with each other that have been strengthened over the years. These connections allow for the program to run smoothly.

“We all know each other (staff and youth), and we got started very quickly and established a terrific rhythm by day two!” Vansuch said.

This year’s curriculum focuses on the effects of water on our daily lives and simple machines, and the participating fourth and fifth graders get the opportunity to explore these topics in different ways. In classes led by youth with the assistance of Boston Teacher Residency June 2016 graduates, the fourth graders learn about building water filtration systems and the Flint, Michigan water crisis, while the fifth graders explore inventing with simple machines and recycled supplies. According to Vansuch, this youth-led teaching style is a great match for the culture that BGCB Sumner works to create.

In addition to the curriculum, Sumner students participate in a range of fun and thought-provoking enrichment activities. Youth partake in Art 101, which includes instruction on the basic use of art supplies. Each Art 101 class helps students get closer to a Certificate of Art Learning, an award received at the end of the session. Each day, youth contribute to activity planning and have at least one session of free choice time, during which staff get creative to construct activities, like wet sponge dodgeball or spray bottle tag, to beat the heat. The success of these activities stems from the close relationships between youth and staff.

“Most of our staff members have worked together for a minimum of a year, some of us up to 6 years (at the Sumner BGCB & previous SLPs) and with the kids,” Vansuch said. “We know how to create an activity rotation that is really engaging.”

BGCB Sumner uses field trips to supplement learning as well, and thus far have taken students to the Museum of Fine Arts twice for Artful Adventure activities connected to simple machines and water, the MIT Museum and Edgerton Center to show them kinetic sculptures and a Gear Up Lego workshop, and Ron’s Bowling with pizza and ice cream as a fun brain break.

Throughout the summer, youth and staff are working toward creating a huge graphic novel. Photos of the students, both portraits and action shots, will be edited into a comic-style, allowing the students to be the stars of their own project. The text will relate to water and simple machines, and the panels will be compiled into a mural for the students’ presentation day.

Taking into consideration all the opportunities given to students in this program, it is clear that Boys and Girls Club Sumner succeeds in providing youth with a perfect balance of learning and fun.

“Our kids get to explore subjects in a relaxed and fun environment, one that doesn’t require testing, scores, or grades,” Vansuch said. “They have real fun learning, and the way they open up about the subjects they are focusing on is nothing less than inspiring. “

Youth can attest to this claim, as well. As a result of the strong relationships that have built a community culture at BGCB Sumner, students thrive without the pressure of potential embarrassment.

“We all get to participate, not just the kids who raise their hands,” one fifth grader attested.

“The teacher is interested in what everyone knows, not just the kids who are smarter and not just the kids who aren’t afraid to raise their hands,” said another fifth grader.

“I’m shy and so I usually don’t raise my hand in regular school class,” admitted a third fifth grader. “So here, [the teacher] is kind and asks me to [rephrase] what the person ahead of me said, and then I don’t get nervous and I can add in stuff.”