By: Harold Love, Vice President of Club Services, Boys & Girls Clubs of San Francisco
Back-to-school season signals a new beginning and a fresh start. For school-age kids, it is like a New Year's Day and an opportunity to set new goals, establish new routines, and rethink who they want to be moving forward.
As Vice President of Club Services, I oversee programs and operations across all of our 14 Clubs in San Francisco. Back-to-school season is something I look forward to each year; a time when all of us at BGCSF come together and recommit to supporting our members through the new year, the next phase, and all that lies beyond it.
We take this commitment very seriously, with planning beginning well before we welcome youth back on the first day of school. Our school-year program plans are finalized during the summer and we dedicate a full week (this year it’s 1.5 weeks) to preparing our staff, as well as our Clubhouse facilities, for the new year. Throughout Prep Week, we see our Clubs evolve—the summer themes on our walls and bulletin boards become more academically focused, and our posted schedules return to reinforce after school routines. There are many other subtle but important ways in which we use the week to support a return to a school-year mindset for our members. Most importantly though, we also use our Prep Week to train staff—we focus on our robust safety policies designed to ensure the physical and emotional safety of youth at all times; plus program planning, delivery, and evaluation.
As school begins, there is joy and optimism throughout our Clubs, as we help our youth to identify their goals for the year ahead and to develop plans to support their progress. We foster close partnerships with both families and schools, led by our Clubhouse Directors and Education Liaisons. Together, we establish a strong and effective bridge between the classroom, the Club, and the home, setting members up to succeed throughout the year. This collaboration is unique and something I feel especially proud of at this time of year.
The year ahead will be the third full school year that we have the Education Liaison position, a role that was developed by BGCSF in response to the academic impact that Covid was having on our current and past members. This staff position works directly with youth, families, and schools to develop strategies to help Club members succeed as students. This can mean talking to teachers or principals about specific support a child needs, making sure families understand the homework and course requirements for the year, attending parent-teacher conferences, or collaborating on Independent Learning Plans (IEPs).
Of course, our Education Liaisons are part of our larger Clubhouse Team, all of whom are working together to support our members holistically, in the best way possible. We take great pride in being an inclusive and caring community and the start of a school year is a great reminder that being a kid comes with a unique set of challenges. We know that feeling supported is key to learning for kids—especially during times of transition—and we are committed to meeting every member right where they are. We are passionate about making sure that each of our Club members feels heard, valued, loved, and understood.
Our school year programming is designed with this commitment to holistic support in mind. The Club builds upon the school day by providing homework help (Power Hour), professional tutors, college prep, job readiness, leadership programs, arts programming, and sports, fitness, and play—these supplemental educational services complement what kids learn in the classroom. Our approach is extremely intentional and rooted in over 130 years of youth development experience. Our Formula for Impact prioritizes four key program areas. All our high-quality programs and support services tie to one of these areas.
This strong foundation keeps us focused, while allowing us to successfully evolve and meet the changing needs of youth. Staff are committed to hearing from members directly so that they can help facilitate opportunities that support their interests. Our Teen Advocacy Group (TAG), for example, was recently established by members of our Greater Visitacion Valley Clubs. TAG provided the space for teens to explore social issues that are important to them, while learning how to bring about change and to positively impact their communities. The start of the school year provides an organic opportunity for staff to check in with youth, hear what is important to them, and create opportunities and layers of support that will help them reach their goals.
As we progress through the back-to-school season, our programs will evolve with the school calendar. We will dovetail Club events with school milestones such as “Back-to-School Night”, college application season, and school breaks, further establishing the school, Club, and home connection.
Everyone at BGCSF is excited to kick off a new school year and Club program year. We are committed and ready to ensure our members have the tools they need to achieve their immediate and long-term goals!