Future prep at the Boys & Girls Club

If you haven’t seen the inside of the recently renovated Taft Street Boys & Girls Club in Madison, then you can be forgiven for not knowing just how much the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County offers area schoolchildren.

The Boys & Girls Club is so much more than just a safe place for kids to gather after school until their parents get home from work. It’s also a spot where kids can go to work on their homework and additional learning opportunities; work toward physical fitness goals; explore music, dance, and the arts; get a hot and healthy meal; and even pursue professional opportunities through internship programs and college-prep programs.

“In recent years, the Boys & Girls Club movement has focused additional efforts on helping children and teens achieve in our three priority outcome areas of academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles,” says A.J. Kriha, senior director of programming for the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County.

“We also undertake specialized initiatives that cut across more than one program area and/or address the unique needs of special populations,” Kriha notes. “This includes community programming that provide access to fitness and technology to address the lack of access in the areas we serve.”

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Preparing for college

Preparing students for life after high school is a critical aspect of what the Boys & Girls Club does for its student members, especially as they get into middle and high school. Increasingly, that means getting them ready for college.

The Boys & Girls Club utilizes the Advancement via Individual Determination (AVID) program, a national college readiness system consisting of two interrelated components designed to increase academic achievement, college preparation, and postsecondary educational access and degree attainment for underrepresented students in the academic middle:

  1. An elective class aimed at preparing a select group of students for entrance and enrollment in post-secondary education. AVID aims to serve students in the academic middle (2.0–3.5 grade-point average) who may be first generation, low-income, historically underrepresented in post-secondary education, and/or have special circumstances.
  2. Best-practice instructional and student strategies implemented school-wide and designed to help all students access high-quality curriculum and become independent learners on a pathway to college, career, and community success.  

“These programs are have changed the future for our members,” Langston Evans, assistant vice president of education/TOPS notes. “Ninety-nine percent of our members who complete the program graduate from high school. Over 85% of our high school graduates enter college in the semester following high school graduation.

“Our third-party evaluation from the Wisconsin HOPE Lab shows that more AVID/TOPS students go on to college than similar students who have not been in the program. Of the 338 AVID/TOPS high school graduates since 2010, four have graduated from college and 241 are currently enrolled in college.”

Evans says mentoring is a key component in the BGCDC’s goal to help students develop confidence in themselves and develop networking skills. TOPS mentors are caring professionals from the community who choose to partner with a motivated high school student and serve as their guide and consultant as the high school student navigates the journey from high school to college to career.

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Choosing a career path

Helping students find the right career path is where Ronnicia Johnson-Walker, TOPS and internships program manager, fits in.

Johnson-Walker notes there are a number of opportunities for summer internships and career exploration available to students through the BGCDC.

The club’s Career Exploration program is targeted at students going into their junior year, says Johnson-Walker. It’s a paid, six-week summer program, offering students the opportunity to earn up to $400 by the end of the summer.

“In the past we’ve taken students to the Madison Police Department training facilities, Camp Randall, the Culver’s headquarters, Epic, UW Hospital and Clinics. It prepares the students for the next year when they’re able to apply for an actual internship experience,” Johnson-Walker explains.

Summer internships are 10–20 hours per week, six-week programs offered to high school juniors entering their senior year, along with seniors preparing to graduate. Students are paid anywhere from $8–$15 per hour depending on the internship position they receive.

According to Johnson-Walker, students interested in pursing a summer internship must complete a program called Job Ready 1 in order to be eligible. Job Ready 1 teaches students how to view job postings, apply for a position, complete their resume, and interview. Once students complete Job Ready 1 they’re able to apply for internships.

“For our AVID/TOPS high school internship program we actually do placement,” notes Johnson-Walker. “We interview the students and we place them as we see fit. As the coordinator for the internship program I’ve developed relationships with the businesses and the supervisors so I know exactly what they’re looking for and who would be a good fit.”

Once students are matched with an internship and accept the position, they must complete Job Ready 2, which teaches workplace etiquette, how to answer phones and email, how to dress, and even things as simple as if they’re not able to get a ride to work that day how to call in to let their boss know they won’t be in.

According to Johnson-Walker, one key benefit for the businesses partnering with the BGCDC to fill internships is that it gives the organizations an opportunity to diversify their workforce. More than that though, she notes the internships are a great way to increase exposure for the companies in the community.

“People may not be aware of a lot of the different facets of area companies and organizations,” Johnson-walker explains. “Take hospitals, for example. A lot of students may not realize you don’t have to necessarily be in medicine to work for UW Hospitals and Clinics. They have a billing department, they have an HR department, they have social workers. It’s important for businesses to get the message out there about the different career paths they can offer.”

For students, the internships can connect them with potential employers or help them discover a career path they hadn’t previously considered.

Johnson-Walker recalls a recent high school student who interned at Fiskars last year. The student was interested in a career in marketing and was “dead set on going to business school.”

“His internship with Fiskars included an engineering component and he said he wasn’t interested in engineering,” Johnson-Walker says. “We told him to give it a try anyway — that’s what this program is all about, getting exposure in different fields. His internship was in product marketing and at Fiskars people in product marketing not only assist the engineers with development and drawing it using CAD models, but they also get to test it and see if it will work well in the market and if people will use it. I had him speak at the closing ceremony last August and he said he actually decided to pursue an engineering major after the experience. That was an example for him of seeing how, ‘Maybe I want to go into marketing now but let’s see how that can develop into something else, as well.”

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Enriching minds and bodies

While the college prep and internship programming prepares students for life after high school, the foundation those program are built on starts right at the Boys & Girls Club facilities.

The Taft Street Boys & Girls Club used to be a community center from the 1970s through the 1990s. When the Boys & Girls Club took over the site in 1999, the upstairs portion of the building strictly housed BGCDC staff members.

However, following renovations completed this past fall, the entire upstairs area is now dedicated to the teens the organization serves, Kriha explains.

The renovated space now includes a fitness center, STEM lab, and teen lounge, the latter of which students must earn the right to use through good behavior and meeting other milestones, notes Jennifer Carlson, assistant vice president of individual giving.

“In our new STEM lab programs like Cyber Girlz–Color Coded, in partnership with UW–Whitewater, offer free technology mini camps designed for middle and high school girls that provide an opportunity to learn more about building a website, filming and editing digital movies, building an online game, creating a mobile app, and more,” Kriha says.

In order to maintain a healthy mind, students also need a healthy body, which is why fitness and nutrition play a big roll in the resources BGCDC offers at the Taft Street location.

BGCDC is a great place for members, their families, and community members to stay in shape throughout the year, notes Kriha. The fitness room features a selection of cardiovascular training equipment, resistance training machines, dumbbells, weighted medicine balls, stability balls, and more.

Kriha says BGCDC also utilizes the Boys & Girls Club of America’s Healthy Habits curriculum to provide nutritional education to its members.

“Healthy Habits is designed to teach young people about the benefits of developing healthy habits such as eating smart and being physically active; equip young people with skills to adopt healthier habits by participating in fun and engaging learning activities both at the club and at home; and encourage young people to take small steps toward positive behavior changes,” explains Kriha.

For more information on the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County and its programs, visit www.bgcdc.org. To learn about the summer internship program, as well as to apply for your company to participate, visit www.bgcdc.org/what-we-do/summer-internships-2/.

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