Debbie Bowyer, a Champions Site Director in Mass. (and Quality Award winner), faced a common challenge at the beginning of the school year: how to keep older children engaged in her program. Far too often upper elementary students felt they were “too old” to attend the Champions before- and after-school program.
The students, particularly a group of fifth grade girls, did enjoy leadership opportunities. Bowyer channeled that enthusiasm into a new role – activity leader. She put the fifth graders in charge of specific activities for a day (after a preparation session with Champions teachers). Three girls enjoyed leading activities so much they asked if they could lead an entire week. Bowyer was nervous but decided this kind of enthusiasm shouldn’t be ignored. She told them to write down their ideas and arranged a time to sit down and review their “lessons.”
The girls – Ella, Julia, and Alexis – sat down with a curriculum sheet to create a “sloppy copy” of their lesson (a Disney movie theme). According to their parents, each girl did plenty of research at home too, and with Bowyer’s help they sat at the teacher’s table (an honor to these 10 and 11-year-olds) and planned five age-appropriate activities per day, each centered around a particular movie.
Bowyer watched the girls’ excitement grow as they meticulously planned their activities, “shopped” for supplies in the supply cupboard, and prepared for their turn as teachers. One girl, who doesn’t normally attend Champions every day, was so enthusiastic about planning she asked her mother for permission to attend the program on her days off.
When the big moment came Bowyer and her staff watched in awe as the three fifth graders ran the program for the week – everything from carpet time, to homework club, to quiet activities. For an entire week the girls kept the other 35 or so students engaged and excited about the lessons. The girls’ classroom teachers even popped down to observe the big moment – the girls talked of nothing else the entire week – and were just as impressed with the professionalism the young teachers showed as Bowyer was.
“I’m so impressed that they engaged the entire group,” said Bowyer. She and her staff circulated the room, offering support as needed, but the girls ran the program.
“I’m in awe of how they can control a whole group,” she said, explaining that at one point 25 children were engrossed in one activity, not only participating, but answering the open-ended questions their young teachers asked.
That first student teacher experience was so successful Bowyer and her fifth graders turned it into a bi-monthly activity. Each of the upper elementary students has the opportunity to teach if they desire.
Everyone in Bowyer’s Champions program benefits from the student teachers: Students have an opportunity to be role models for their peers and Bowyer found a way to keep older children engaged in her program. This year’s fifth grade teachers are looking forward to being junior counselors next year when they’re sixth graders.
“This is something they get excited about,” Bowyer said. “Kids love to be needed and they love to be important.”