Treasure Mountain Junior High’s after-school program fosters connections with students, teachers
A few minutes after the last bell rings at Treasure Mountain Junior High, you might see students racing radio-controlled cars, solving Rubik’s Cubes or making crafts. All of those, and more, are part of Treasure Mountain’s after-school program.
The Mustang After School Academy, or MASA, as it is called, began last school year and already has 11 active clubs, said Amy Jenkins, assistant principal of Treasure Mountain. She said that the clubs allow students to participate in activities that they are interested in while in an informal setting with one of their teachers.
Jenkins said that, prior to creating after-school clubs, which are funded by the Park City Education Foundation, three days a week after school were set apart for students to receive help with homework. Jenkins and Niko Jensen, a counselor at the school, started talking about how they could improve and expand the program, so MASA began. Most of the ideas for the clubs emerged directly from the students, Jenkins said.
The Rubik’s Cube club started this school year and was born from an interest of student Estelle Meneses, who wanted to practice her Rubik’s Cube skills, for instance. The club, which has about six students, meets every other week and holds competitions for who can solve the 3-D puzzles the fastest.
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“I would always see other people doing Rubik’s Cubes, but they weren’t allowed to do it during class so I figured, why not just make a club?” she said.
She said that the club allows her, and her fellow students, to relieve stress and relax.
Recently, another group of girls came up with an idea for a club to address the #MeToo movement, Jenkins said.
She said that letting the students select the themes for the clubs has been crucial to the program’s success. While doing activities that they love, they are able to “let off steam and have some fun,” she said. Plus, they are connected with a teacher who cares about them and is reliable, predictable and trustworthy.
“The thing doesn’t matter. It could be peanut butter and jelly,” Jenkins said. “It’s really about wanting to spend time with the people there — (not only) the other kids who are like-minded students, but also the adult that is there.”
By building relationships with teachers, the teens then have someone they can go to when they are dealing with issues regarding school, friends or personal struggles, Jenkins said.
“When we think about all of the stress that they are under, aside from being a kid, it is so important for them to be able to feel like someone cares about them and, in that minute when they don’t know what to do, that person is there,” she said.
Sam Thompson, a technology coach at the school and supervisor of the RC club, said that there have been moments where he has helped kids talk through all types of problems, both with their cars and with their lives.
“They feel like they have somebody at school that has their back,” he said. “Because it’s a less-structured environment than a typical classroom environment, it’s definitely more relaxed. They can let their guards down.”
During gatherings of the RC club, the students race remote-controlled cars, but also learn how to dismantle, clean and reassemble them. He said that the students learn to fix them when they break, which they must do themselves. For some of the students, the club is what motivates them to attend school, he said.
Sam Wagstaff is a member of the club and said that he appreciates that there are cars for the students to use that they might not otherwise be able to afford. He also said that he feels like he can go to Thompson if he has any questions or concerns.
Maite Sanchez, who is in the homework club, said that she enjoys having more of a connection with her teacher, Larissa Fomuke, as well. Sanchez receives the individual help that she needs and said that she does better in school because of the club.
Jenkins has found that most students involved with the clubs are never on her radar for truancy or discipline issues.
“All the research shows that if kids have a connection to their school, academically and emotionally they’ll do better,” Thompson added.
He said that it is a win for everybody. He enjoys teaching the students and they are able to learn about a new subject while having fun.
“At this age, they don’t have a lot of power over the things that go on in their lives,” Thompson said. “They are told what to do when they come to school and their parents generally tell them what they do. They don’t have the independence that the high school kids have, but they’re also ready to have more independence. Putting the ball in their court and giving them the power makes a huge difference in keeping them engaged and excited about life.”
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