[Noozhawk’s note: This article is one in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation.]
During the last few years, the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County has focused on creating an even stronger mission: to build reading and comprehension in its students, to offer more effective education programs, and to teach a greater variety of life skills. Once known mostly for its successful after-school sports, education and life skills programs have now taken the lead.
“We knew that by taking our program to the next level, we could help close the achievement gap,” said Mike Rattray, CEO of the United Boys & Girls Clubs.
Closing the achievement gap is an important community initiative. According to the 10-Year Trends in California’s Dropout and Graduate Rates report (by Russell W. Rumberger, provost for Education Partnerships–University of California Office of the President and an education professor at UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education), “Over the last 10 years, enrollment in grades 9-12 increased 25 percent, the number of high school graduates increased by 33 percent, and the number of dropouts from grades 9-12 increased by 66 percent. In other words, the number of high school dropouts in California increased twice as fast as the number of graduates. And, the number of high school seniors who neither graduated nor dropped out increased by more than 100 percent.”
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Working with parents, teachers and other staff members to “connect the dots” in students’ lives enables the United Boys & Girls Clubs to offer more individualized attention. During the last couple of years, many students have increased their reading and comprehension scores, planned in a better way for their educational futures, and, advanced their life skills — all things that help a child stay in school, graduate and be successful.
A team of passionate and dedicated clubhouse unit directors is driven to see that each and every one of the 900 daily attending students succeeds. The four clubhouse unit directors include Magda Arroyo of Santa Barbara West, Dena Marie Kern of Lompoc, Rich Medel of Carpinteria and Joe Roderick of Goleta.
“We’ve done a lot in a short time,” Kern said of the new programming. “We’ve been very successful ... and have been able to serve all of the children, not just a small group.”
“What we are doing is changing the whole lives of these kids,” Rattray added.
One of the new educational programs that the United Boys & Girls Clubshas implemented is Power Reading/Reading Plus, a program that is provided in partnership with United Way of Santa Barbara County. United Way has a national commitment to literacy known as the United for Literacy program.
“I spoke with Mike Rattray around 18 months ago and he loved the idea of being able to provide a state-of-the art tool that would actually accelerate reading and comprehension among the disadvantaged youth at the Boys & Girls Club,” said Paul Didier, United Way’s president and CEO.
Power Reading/Reading Plus has demonstrated great success in Santa Barbara.
“We have 4,000 students a week using the program and have been tracking the results for over 18 months now,” Didier said. “The program is in 30 schools, six nonprofits and one business. We find that if students put in 30-40 sessions during a semester, which is common, that 75 percent of them will achieve a two-grade reading and comprehension improvement.”
Kern said she sees the benefits in the program already at the Lompoc club.
“We were finding that many of the children were reading and comprehending below grade level,” she said. “Many of the students are now doing the Reading Plus program four days a week for 45 minutes a day. The result is that we are literally seeing grade levels of improvements in reading and comprehension.”
Didier compliments the United Boys & Girls Clubs for “doing a terrific job.”
“The United Boys & Girls Clubs is not just about dropping in after school to shoot hoops,” he told Noozhawk. “You can build tangible life skills.”
Some of the other educational programs for student members of the United Boys & Girls Club include:
» Power Hour — Power Hour is a national homework/tutorial program.
“At 3:15 p.m., everyone in the building is doing homework regardless of what age group they’re in,” said Kern. “We have staff work with the kids and also mentors and tutors who volunteer every day during that time to offer the kids individual help.”
Children’s program director David Bleecker runs Power Hour at the Carpinteria location and says it has been a quiet success.
“During Power Hour (at the Carpinteria Boys & Girls Club), the children choose to read by themselves, read to each other, or read in groups,” he explained.
» Hearty Brain — This pilot project provides a software program that works with children who have a difficult time focusing and paying attention.
» Keystone Teen Program — Keystone works with teens and helps them to gain confidence and assume leadership roles. The teens become involved in community service projects, learn leadership skills, and speak at city council meetings.
“The program is all about personal goals and what paths teens can take, like applying to college,” Kern said. “They learn to understand that what they do today does make a difference to the future, and, how collectively it all makes a difference.”
At the Santa Barbara West Club, Keystone is the most popular program.
“It’s considered a real honor to be a Keystone for the Teen program,” said Arroyo.
» Smart Girls — The girls’ self-esteem program teaches respect for yourself, how to take care of yourself, and learning how to set personal boundaries. Girls involved in the program learn how to empower themselves to be able to make sure other people are respectful of their boundaries, whether in friendships or with boyfriends.
» Passport to Manhood — This program works with boys who are mostly middle-schoo agel. This program teaches the bigger picture of manhood, including responsibility and goals. In small groups led by a facilitator, boys address real issues and discuss how things really are for them.
» Teen Outreach Program (TOP) — The 26-week TOP’s curriculum is an assimilation of many of the United Boys & Girls Clubs’ values and focuses on five core areas of creating good character. To graduate, the teen must complete the curriculum and also have performed 20 hours of community service.
“When planning for a teen program, it comes down to three things,” said Kern. “Funding, the right staff person, and planning for it. If you want to serve teens, you had better be ready. Everyone has to be on the same page. The teens all come from different backgrounds and stories.”
Improving education and life skills could sound like just an extension of school for the students. That’s not so at the clubs. The unit directors and staff emphasize learning and life-skill building in a fun way. They also implement rewards. Popcorn Fridays, Field Trip Fridays and the Jewel Store are just some of the ways the clubs celebrate the students’ hard work.
As for the success of the current direction of the United Boys & Girls Clubs, Kern credits Rattray for his vision.
“Mike has done a really good job of getting the word out,” she said. “We have a great agency. For years, we focused on sports and camping. Now we’ve shifted to education and closing the achievement gap.”
Rattray has done much to lead the helm of the organization and create a strong connection of education and achievement for the students.
“All the programs here at the clubs have to interconnect,” he said. “We are making sure that all of our directors are talking with each other about the kids and that we are connecting with the parents and the teachers. The more we can connect the dots, the better we can help the child.
“This interconnectivity didn’t exist until recently,” he added. “I am ‘pushing the envelope’ because I want kids lives to change today.”
An update on the United Boys & Girls Clubs’ Fundraising Challenge to Raise $300,000 in 60 Days:
The thermometer on the United Boys & Girls Club is nearing the top. To date, $278,756 has been raised, with just over $21,000 needed by April 30.
Click here for more information on the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County, or call 805.681.1315. Click here to make an online donation to help the clubs meet their goal of raising $300,000 in 60 days.
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