Student Union

High-school students have a variety of options for after-school activities—some more constructive than others. So how do you connect with teenagers and engage them in the healthy, positive, and productive options?

Gaithersburg, Md., Student Union gets teenagers involved with community service. Photo Courtesy David Elhadad

How do you convince them that staying after school for a fitness class or volunteering at the local soup kitchen is more exciting than a trip to the mall with friends or going home to play video games?

The answer is simple, and takes less effort than one might think—equip teenagers with the tools and ability to develop their own programs.

Like many recreation departments, the one in the city of Gaithersburg, Md., has established successful after-school programs for elementary and middle-school ages, but a definite disconnect happened once participants reached high school.

In 2010, the city introduced a new program exclusively for high-school students called the Student Union. Membership includes opportunities to participate in after-school activities, fundraising events, and field trips, as well as volunteering at community events. A nominal annual fee is required to join, and additional fees are sometimes required to cover trip expenses.

Now, two years after its inception, the Student Union boasts 285 active members, and has collectively volunteered more than 4,000 hours.

An Obvious Divide

The first step in developing the program was taken in 2009 when a new youth center opened in the heart of the city. Traditionally, the center catered to middle-school students. However, membership to the new center was extended to high-school ages as well.

The difference in age and interests between the middle- and high-school students was obvious when the center opened, and it became evident that the older teens needed something that was all their own.

City youth-services staff members approached local high-school administrators and asked them to identify the greatest out-of-school needs for students. At the top of the list was a safe place to go after the dismissal bell rang.

While students were actively encouraged to participate in school-based extracurricular activities, too often academic ineligibility, financial limitations, or a lack of student initiative prevented teens from joining school sports and clubs.

Another major area of concern was connecting new students (particularly a large population of immigrant youth) with the community both in and out of school.

Field trips like this hike through rocky terrain keep teens interested in the program. Photo Courtesy City of Gaithersburg

Based on this feedback, the city proceeded with a pilot activity, offering one afternoon a week of intramural soccer for older students at the recreation activity center (adjacent to the high school). Participation did not require academic eligibility, and was offered free of charge. Student interest in the soccer program was tremendous.

Student Input

Page 1 of 3 | Next page

Related posts:

  1. Student Competition Focuses On Water
  2. Pooling Sailboat Skills
  3. Keiser Aquatic Engineering Course
  4. Homeschool Swim
  5. Teaching From The Top
  • Columns
  • Departments