As another semester of youth programming comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on the lessons learned, the relationships formed, and the growth of the kids that we have served. Although I have been working with CASE for a few years now, this semester I began working at DuPont Tyler, one of three brand new sites for our after school program. I remember preparing in the weeks leading up to CASE, wondering what kind of students we would have and what our program would look like. Now four months later, it’s hard to imagine life without the 20 energetic and special students that burst through our doors every day after school lets out.
Each of them bring their own unique set of strengths and struggles. They’re still learning who they are, what they’re capable of, and what the world is like. Recently I was talking with a friend about middle school students and the distinct stage of life that it is. She told me “you have to be careful with them because the concrete hasn’t set yet.” Though in many ways, our students come to us with the concrete already poured -- it hasn't set yet. There's still time for changes to be made, for new experiences to shape who they are and who they'll become. Middle school is this pivotal time where students decide what kind of people they are going to be and how they are going to respond to the hand of cards that life has dealt them.
I often see the contrast between bubbly, spirited 5th graders and the hardened, melancholy eighth graders. Though kids are resilient, there’s a shift in them as they get older. They stop trusting people as easily and begin feeling more anxious about the future. At CASE, our goal is to give them positive experiences that enrich them both in their academics and their relationships with their peers, teachers, and families.
At our annual ShowCASE, we were able to see this play out really well. Students at each site were given the opportunity to plan and perform a program to demonstrate all that they had learned during CASE for their parents. Students worked together to write and perform original skits, songs, and raps. They set up stations in which they did everything from cooking omelets and making guacamole to assembling toolboxes and displaying artwork. Students were giddy with delight to show their parents what they had done and parents in turn, walked around with big smiles, proud to see their kid’s hard work. While watching her son successfully cook an omelet, one mother noted, “Ever since he has been at CASE, he’s been helping me with cooking all the time!” Another parent noted, “I had no idea all the fun you guys were having, I thought you were just doing homework.”
One former student, now in high school, recently contacted a CASE staff member to thank him. She said, “I was thinking about CASE the other day and it made me want to reach out. You helped me with my ADD and I’m able to focus better in high school (which by the way is really hard). But I’ve been able to keep all A’s and B’s. I also pursued art and have won a few competitions.” We want all students that we come into contact with us to experience this kind of consideration--to walk away from our program more confident in who they are and hopeful for the kind of impact that they can make upon the world. We're thankful that, while the concrete is still setting, we can provide with these students with opportunities to laugh, learn new things, and experience the care that they deserve.
The C.A.S.E. program at Dupont Hadley Middle Prep is a program of the Nashville After Zone Alliance. The Nashville After Zone Alliance is a network of coordinated after school programming for Metro’s middle-school students. NAZA is a partnership among the Nashville Public Library, MNPS, and other existing youth-serving groups. It is modeled on successful efforts in other cities and is organized around geographically-defined zones.