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After School Club is blossoming in every way

by AJ Arnett, Immigrant Youth Career Counselor, JFCS Career Development Center

The newly-formed After School Club at Duquesne University has been up and running now for more than three months. the vision of ARYSE, JFCS, and the club’s students is becoming reality more and more every week.

Each month we explore a theme with activities and field trips.

In February, students learned about what it means to “Love Your Neighbor” through activities that helped them get to know each other and their mentors. They also got to explore Duquesne’s campus while spreading “Kindness Stones” to promote the building of a stronger, more loving Pittsburgh community.

March’s theme was “Celebration of Nations,” an exploration of different cultures. We took a field trip to the University of Pittsburgh Nationality Rooms to learn about Pittsburgh’s cultural history. We gained meaningful research skills by exploring Pittsburgh’s immigrant history in depth at Duquesne’s Gumberg Library.

In April, students tackled “Spring Into Action,” which meant learning about local government and community leadership. We talked about how to make the changes our students would like to see in their communities. They met with their City Councilwoman, Theresa Kail-Smith, at the City County Building and asked questions about their local government. They learned how to use writing to join the political process with the help of the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition. They met with Pennsylvania state legislators, and the following week with Feyisola Alabi, the Special Initiatives Manager and the Welcoming Pittsburgh Manager for the City of Pittsburgh.

This program provides just the right combination of field trips and explorations, and time spent in a community of supportive, encouraging, and guiding mentors. The generosity, commitment, collective knowledge and experience of these volunteer mentors has made After School Club a place where students can ask for help and express thoughts and feelings. They are learning from older students who can help them on their journey through life — without feeling the pressure of judgment.

Club students work one-on-one with college mentors to complete homework and other projects, developing useful personal skills in the process. They get the chance to ask important questions of college students, whose footsteps many students will follow as they chart their post-secondary paths.

This program has also given these kids plenty of opportunity to practice their English skills in a low-stakes, non-judgmental environment via guided activities as well as casual conversation. We have already seen tremendous improvement in students’ confidence in their spoken and written English, something that nearly every student told us they wished to improve.

Camaraderie and friendships are also developing. Each session begins and ends with the gathering of students and mentors in a circle. We watched students gradually spread out from one tight cluster to stand by their new friends and mentors. We’ve seen students helping and encouraging each other as they formulate English answers to circle questions, and we have listened as they cheer for each other and lead the chant we use to close each program session. When circle questions have asked students what their favorite part of the day has been, many answered with “coming to program.” Experiencing the growth of these relationships and the genuine joy at the After School Club has truly been the most wonderful part of being involved with it.

The After School Club has only a few weeks left, and we are engaged in helping students prepare for an enjoyable and productive summer. Many students have already applied to participate in Summer Learn and Earn and PRYSE Academy 2019!

It is our greatest wish that After School Club continue to adapt and grow with the needs of our students. Though challenges and changes surely lie ahead, JFCS and ARYSE stand ready to meet these challenges and continue to serve this amazing group of students in every way that we can.