This semester marks my return to CASE. I took a break to get some further schooling, but now I’m back at it. I have been grateful to get to return, and I’ve been reminded all over of the challenges and the meaningfulness of the work.
Kids come to CASE after a full day at school. They carry with them their heavy backpacks and the even heavier events of the day, a failed test, a strained friendship, worry about homework, and a long series of classes and information. This presents the first challenge. You have to set a tone that’s distinctly not school, something different from what they’ve already done. I think this is one of the less obvious benefits we get to offer: a healthy way to decompress from a long day, giving them an opportunity to talk, to move around and be active, and to have a supportive staff to talk to. I’d like to think the environment is a much healthier way to decompress and process than what they’re likely to do on their own.
My goal is to create an environment where kids can kick off the worries from the day and be themselves. This means getting to know the students in CASE, their interests, what motivates them, and to get them involved in creating a program that works for them. This is an ongoing process. I come to CASE from a full day of teaching myself, and I’m still very much in teacher mode. There are a lot of skills that transfer from being a teacher to working at CASE, but there are some habits you just have to adjust.
There are of course the obvious benefits of an after-school program. There is the homework help and the opportunities to learn new skills. But in the small spaces, even in some of the conflicts that arise between students, there is an opportunity to help them deal with the emotions and frustrations of the day, an opportunity to praise their accomplishments and sympathise with their struggles, and to provide them a place where they can be themselves and redirect their attention to meaningful activities and new friendships. It takes time. I’m glad to be back and join together with other faithful people have carried on the work, and I’m glad to be a part of it again.
C.A.S.E. 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.