Change is made through passion and persistence. In a community where both economic and cultural barriers have made it difficult for some children to succeed, there is hope. Hope that lies in the 2nd grader learning to play the violin. Hope within the high school student who wants to give back to his neighborhood. This hope is brought to life by The Salvation Army's Citadel Corps Community Center BOOST After-School Program, a program that inspires children and the community to do better and to be better.
The Citadel BOOST After-School program gives students grades K-8 the opportunity to embrace education outside of school hours while receiving mentorship from teenagers in the community. The program works year-round to foster positive development among children, while giving working class parents peace of mind that their children are safe and out of harm's way. Funded by a 21st Century grant, the program maintains a low barrier of entry for low-income parents, many of whom struggle to find adequate child care.
"For unsupervised kids, the hours between 3:00pm and 6:30pm are deemed the most dangerous time," said Monica Menten, head of the after-school program. "Creative kids with nothing to do get into trouble. We want to change that by giving them a safe place to grow."
The program utilizes a flexible and experiential education program to help the children learn and grow. Over a 6-8 week period, children will typically decide what they would like to study and how they would like to learn. The teacher acts as a guide for children to access the information they need. The program also applies field trips and real-life experiences to educate children. Project-based learning is utilized as well as strong encouragement in music education.
"We want to help children be aware of their role in the community and how they can relate peacefully and help others," said Menten. "We love taking them on trips to places like the Penn Museum and also the University of Penn campus. It's important for them to see with their eyes what is possible and realize what they can do."
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the program's effectiveness is the role of mentors. Young adults and teenagers who grew up in the program often seem to find their way back to mentor the younger children. They often volunteer, take part in the work-ready program training them for future employment, or end up joining the dedicated staff. Volunteers do everything from providing free tutoring to teaching music lessons. Their involvement gives the younger children positive role models to relate to and helps to build a more unified community.
"Our teen mentors are really invested in the future of these kids," said Menten. "I constantly get requests from former members of the program to come back and volunteer. The older kids love working with the younger kids and want to stay true to a place where they grew up."
The program has proven to have multiple positive effects, from benefiting the emotional well-being of troubled children to preventing the "summer slide" by helping children improve reading skills during the summer and providing free tutoring to children in need of assistance. It also gives working class parents with long hours a place to care for their children before and after school hours.
"We always hear from guidance counselors how much a child has improved due to our program," said Menten. "We want to continue mentoring kids and supporting families as they grow."