VLP Students Spring Into Leadership

Posted on Wednesday, May 2, 2018 by Melissa Howison

As another school year draws to a close, and the focus shifts from academics to summer fun, LINK After School students and teachers reflect on lessons learned this year.

Students in the Pre-Kindergarten /Kindergarten class learned a lot about positive character traits and how to build healthy relationships. Ms. Laura, the Pre-K/K teacher, selected books that focused specifically on characters making good choices for her daily read-aloud. She said her students loved listening to the stories.

As the year went along, she also noticed students exhibiting more confidence, cooperation, and respect. “They got comfortable sharing,” Ms. Laura said. “The first time you do circle time, it’s just the really extroverted kids who say stuff, and the other children sort of repeat what they say. And now they’ve become more comfortable with one another, to instead of just repeat an idea, have their own idea.”

Some of their ideas are impressively mature and well-articulated. Amiyah, a vocal advocate for herself and her peers, said being a leader “means to take care of your people.” She said she believes herself to be a leader in her classroom, even though she is only four years old, because she can help people in many ways. “You help them if they’re sick, you help them reach something. If you’re a big kid or you’re a little kid, you can still jump.”

As LINK After School students advance, they participate in new activities that hone their leadership skills. Ms. Annie, the 1st/2nd grade teacher, introduced her students to public speaking and responsibility though her hit ‘big cheese’ project. Anthony, a second-grader, explained that each student gets to be the ‘big cheese’ for two days. The ‘big cheese’ wears a special hat, acts as the line-leader and designated dinner-helper, presents something special to the class, and answers peers’ questions.

Anthony said his favorite things about LINK After School this year were “going to recess and doing the big cheese stuff.” So much so, that when Anthony went to Annapolis to represent the Village Learning Place at the Maryland State Assembly, he told legislators about it. “I told them about how we learn about each other, and I told them about the big cheese,” Anthony said. Although the size of the audience made him nervous, Anthony said he felt prepared because he had practiced speaking in front of others when he was the ‘big cheese.’ His personal appeal garnered state support for the VLP’s work.

When students enter third grade in LINK After School, they begin a program called STEM Achievement in Baltimore Elementary Schools (SABES), which resulted from a partnership between Johns Hopkins University and Baltimore City Public Schools. The curriculum culminates in a student-driven, community service project that inspired a lot of creativity, collaboration, and leadership from students, according to Ms. Noraleen, the 3rd/4th grade teacher.

Wayne, a 10-year-old student in Ms. Noraleen’s class, shared his teacher’s enthusiasm for the student-driven project. Wayne said his proudest moment in LINK After School was feeling his and his classmates’ efforts pay off when the project came together at the end. The project has been a source of pride and inspiration for Wayne, who says he has a new goal in life: “to become a young entrepreneur.”

Ms. Noraleen and Wayne both shared other ways that their class grew together as a community throughout the year. Ms. Noraleen said she has worked heavily with her students on self-reflection and communication. “The LINK program uses a restorative approach to teaching and discipline, where kids are taught how to reflect on their own behavior and use methods to solve problems,” Ms. Noraleen said. “It is not an easy process, but it’s worth it.”

Wayne said he has learned the value of patience and communication by using the self-reflection techniques, and has seen his classmates improve as well. Wayne said, “it feels like I’m growing up,” and added that his definition of leadership now means “I don’t have to get angry all the time, I can be patient.” Wayne said his classmates are also much better at solving problems through peaceful communication now.

The most senior students at LINK After School, the 5th and 6th graders in Mr. Troy’s class, put their leadership skills to the test by researching, planning, and teaching a lesson to the class about a topic of their choosing. Mr. Troy said the student-determined lessons quickly became a highlight of his school year.

He pointed to one particular presentation during which the peer audience was especially inquisitive about research and preparation. “I was so proud that they knew the expectations and they were holding each other accountable,” Mr. Troy said. He believes the level of openness he witnessed in his students that day was greater than it was at the beginning of the year. “They sort of know the needs of their peers,” he said, adding, “it’s more of a classroom environment than a bunch of strangers together.”

One of his students, Samiyiah, who came to the VLP as a new after school student this year, also noticed how her class negotiated personality differences to become stronger. “In order to really work together we have to work separately sometimes…and when it’s time to put this stuff together, we can all become one big group.” She added, “We all have different opinions at times but when it comes time to working together [sic] we can make something amazing.”

Samiyiah, who is nearing the end of her first and last year at LINK After School, said she would come back as a 7th-grader next year if she could, and that she will take with her the knowledge and the friendships she gained at the VLP. “It’s amazing here because it’s not like any other program where it’s like we’re sitting in a classroom and we’re just doing homework and we get to play. It’s actual activities here,” Samiyiah said.

Join the teachers, students, and their families to celebrate another successful year at our LINK End of Year Showcase in the VLP library on Thursday, May 24 from 5:00–6:00 pm.