by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, August 2015) The Boys and Girls Club at Walton School, 3409 Walton, seems to offer the perfect answer to requests for improvements at the school made by Walton students in a meeting at the school just over two years ago.
At the end of the 2012- 2013 school year, Walton K-8 School was one of 13 schools chosen by the Cleveland Metropolitan School District as Investment Schools because of poor academic performance. To determine what changes members of the school community would like to see the next school year, a meeting was held at the school in May of 2013. As part of that meeting, about 25 students in the 4th to 8th grade at Walton School were asked what changes they would like to see at their school. A July 2013 Plain Press article, titled Students have a wealth of ideas for Walton School, describes some of the many suggestions Walton students offered for their school. The article notes students’ preference for a longer school day rather than coming to school on Saturday or earlier in the morning. The article notes, “students had many ideas for additional classroom study and offered suggestions for over fifty extracurricular activities and clubs.”
The next school year (2013-2014), the Boys and Girls Club started a pilot program at Walton School offering just what the students suggested – additional after school academic programs and extracurricular activities.
A tour of the Walton School Boys and Girls Club offered by Club Director Courtney Mickens on July 21st reveals club members participating in the club’s summer program and fully engaged in activities.
In an art class, club members view on a screen an artwork by contemporary artist George Segal, The Red Light, and answer questions from Art Teacher Aisia Townes about the work.
In another room, club members, ages 6-9, are studying comparative sentences. They are actively engaged in answering questions about the sentences from instructor Shirlann Lawson. Instructor Lawson offers candy as an incentive for students to come up with the correct answer to a difficult question.
Club Director Mickens says that the program they are participating in is called Summer Brain Gain. He noted research that shows that often children in high poverty urban neighborhood experience a summer brain drain – losing some of the knowledge that they gained in the previous school year. He said the students engaged in the Summer Brain Gain class are working as a team to understand comparative sentences, are using words they don’t normally encounter and developing team-building skills. He said, “These kids here will probably do just fine next school year.”
In a nearby classroom, sisters Jomaliz Soto and Jineliz Claudio are taking guitar lessons from teacher Mike McNamara. Over in the school gym, a number of members are engaged in a basketball game.
Club Director Mickens says the Boys and Girls Club Walton School site is open to youths, ages 6 through 18. He said in the summer months the site has been open from noon to 4 p.m. each day. During the school year the hours will be after school from 3:40 p.m. to 6:40 p.m. each school day. Mickens says during the summer the average daily attendance is about 40 members. During the school year, most of the members attending the Walton School Site are students from the school. Mickens says there are a higher percentage of teens attending in the summer months. Some teens, he says, come from the Walton Club’s sister club, the West Side Boys and Girls Club on Trowbridge – the two clubs share some members who use both clubs.
The Boys and Girls Club at the Walton School Site was named the Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland School Site of the Year in its first full year of operation last year, said Mickens. One of the accomplishments that led to this award was increasing the average daily attendance at the club in the 2014-15 school year from an average of 25 students per day at the beginning of the year to 87 students per day by the end of the year, said Mickens. According to the national office of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the Walton club has over 240 members.
Mickens says the Boys and Girls Clubs programs focus on three areas: Academic Success, Good Character/Citizenship and Healthy Lifestyles. He says the Walton Site has three dedicated classrooms the Cleveland Metropolitan School District has given to the Boys and Girls Club for use at Walton School. In addition, he says the club shares a computer room and the gym with the school. He says in the summer youths participate in a co-ed basketball league. In the fall the Boys and Girls Club members can join flag football teams or in a girls’ volleyball league.
In being named the School Site of the Year for the 2014-15 academic year, the Walton Site was measured against six Boys and Girls Clubs of Cleveland school sites in the Greater Cleveland area. Four of those sites are in Cleveland Metropolitan School District Schools (Walton, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Michael R. White and Charles Elliot).
President of the Cleveland Boys and Girls Club Ron Soeder says in addition to average daily attendance and increased membership, school sites were judged by their fidelity to the program model, and the rate of participation by members in the programs offered.
Soeder said during the school year the Boys and Girls Clubs offer homework help and academic enrichment opportunities. The members can participate in sports and compete in an interclub league. He says the sports and healthy lifestyle programs of the Boys and Girls Club help to address what he termed an epidemic of obesity among young people in America. He said there is also an art program. He notes students in the art program visit the Cleveland Museum of Art and to view an individual artwork and then focus on the artwork in their classroom.
Gaelen Bell, Vice President of Social Marketing and Public Relations in the national office of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, says that one Walton School Club member participating in the after school art program, Blake Hines, a third grader at Walton, “painted a piece that was inspired by his desire to stop bullying. At an art show the piece was purchased by United Way and a 20% commission was shared with Blake.”
The Walton School Boys and Girls Club started as a pilot program, during the 2013-14 school year, and became a full program at the start of the 2014-15 school year, said Soeder. The first two years at the Walton Site, he said, were funded as part of a $600,000 grant from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office that challenged the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland to open new sites in Cleveland and inner ring suburbs.
Now, the Boys and Girls Club of Cleveland will have to sustain those new school sites, which Soeder says range in cost from $160,000 to $190,000 per year. Soeder says 90% of the budget of the Cleveland Boys and Girls Clubs is raised from donations. Soeder says the Cleveland Metropolitan School District offers the sites in Cleveland rent-free. In return the memberships are free to participants and the Boys and Girls Clubs provide programming and staffing.
Soeder says one of the challenges of the Boys and Girls Club at Walton is to encourage regular school attendance by members. According to a report by the Walton Club made to the national office of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, Walton Boys and Girls Club staff reported “We see better daily school attendance with club members and we see a very consistent attendance with members attending regularly – a key statistic that improves outcomes.”
As far as academic improvement, the Walton club was actively engaged in helping members to meet the third grade reading guarantee. (Students must pass a reading test to graduate from the third grade). Statistics provided by the Boys and Girls Clubs of America office indicate that 6-9 year olds participating in the Boys and Girls Club academic programs at Walton saw an 18% increase in reading proficiency and a 15% improvement in math scores.
Soeder says the Walton School site is now a charter member of the Boys and Girls Club of America. He said it achieved that distinction by having 100 or more registered members, being open 20 hours per week and being open over 36 weeks during the year.
Club Director Courtney Mickens says the Walton Club has seven staff members. In addition to those staff mentioned above, staff include Front Desk staff person Beverly Burgess; Samirah Ali, in charge of the Games Room; and Junior staff member Julio Arizmendi.
In addition to offering the programs and activities mentioned above, the Walton School Boys and Girls Club serves as a hot meal site in partnership with the Cleveland Food Bank.