The role of third party institutions has been widely recognized as a factor that helps to decrease the achievement gap between the students in America’s schools. According to the Boys & Girls Club of America, “Research shows that youth participation in quality out-of-school time programs is linked to significant gains in standardized test scores and work habits, as well as reductions in behavior problems among disadvantaged students” (“Our Nation’s Dropout Crisis” 5). The purpose of this project was to study the operations of some such institutions that work with children from low-income backgrounds. These institutions were of two kinds: 1) Campus based organizations run by students from the College of William and Mary and 2) local branches of a national organization. The former category was comprised of the campus groups “Campus Kitchen Project” and “Lafayette Village Project”. Campus Kitchen Project, an affiliate of D.C. Central Kitchen, serves many needs of the Williamsburg community by preparing and delivering meals to economically depressed neighborhoods and having a mentorship program for the children who live in these areas. Lafayette Village Project works with the children who live in the Lafayette Village area, playing with them and providing them with homework assistance. The later category was comprised of “The Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula”, a local affiliate of the national organization known as the Boys and Girls Club of America. The mission of the BGCA is “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens” (“2010 Annual Report” a2). Through this project, we hoped to find greater insights into how third party institutions go about attempting to close the achievement gap.
The first step in the process of collecting data for the project was to use the internet to discover information about the national organization Boys and Girls Club of America. By reading its website and independent studies conducted about different aspects of the organization, we obtained a better idea of how Boys and Girls Club of America operates and whether or not it is effective. However, the primary method used to collect data for this project was through interviews. Through phone interviews with Arlene Armentor and Jonathan Putt of The Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula, and in- person interviews with Tony Batt and Sarah Holko of Campus Kitchens Project and Mary Grech from Lafayette Village Project, we received insider information about the workings of the organizations and the personal opinions of those who work for them.
Boys and Girls Club of America does several things to increase the academic achievement of the students enrolled in the clubs, such as offering the program Project Learn (“Project Learn”). The efficacy of Project Learn has been validated in an independent study by the Harvard Family Research Project. The study found that students who were enrolled in “Project Learn” showed greater grade improvements in a 30 month period and missed fewer days of school than students in community programs not affiliated with the Boys and Girls Club of America (Schinke, Cole and Poulin). The effect of the Boys and Girls Club of America as a whole (as opposed to one of its programs) was stated to in a study published in the Journal of Community Psychology, which found that “Overall monthly attendance at the Club was positively related to self-reported grades, enjoyment of school, and effort in school” (Anderson-Butcher, Newsome and Ferrari 38).
At a more local level, Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula also has shown signs of effectiveness. According to Arlene Armentor, some of the participants in their clubs become the first members of their family to go to college or graduate from high school, and she says “we hope to change patterns”. She cites the example of a student in their BE GREAT: Graduate program whose grades improved significantly due to the programs work (Armentor). She says “I have seen kids go from violent to not violent, and have seen improvement in grades and in social skills” (Armentor). Jonathan Putt states that if children remains in the program for eight to ten years, he sees them “making healthier lifestyle choices, having a greater appreciation for the arts, sports, and fitness, and developing the mindset that they need to give back to their community”.
There are several reasons for the success of the Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula. Armentor states “We are really fortunate to have a great board and staff who are visionary and focused on a strategic plan”. She sees this more local chapter’s affiliation with the national organization as a positive because they are able to receive grants from the money given to Boys and Girls Club of America by the national government or corporations. She also values the partnerships that BGCVP has with the schools and public housing developments that house the clubs, because it allows them to operate in a more cost-effective manner. She is proud of BGCVP’s ability to “stretch a dollar”. To continue to operate successfully, she emphasizes the need to grow strategically. BGCVP also appears to treat their volunteers well. This is important because volunteers are such a key component in the success of any organization. Armentor states that, “We have a [person in an administrative role] who orientates volunteers and make sure that [the volunteers] are comfortable”. When it comes to education for the students, Armentor claims that “We have learning everywhere…For example, the gardening club teaches information that is on the SOLs”. BGCVP mixes an effective administration system with effective programming to achieve results.
Campus Kitchens Fun at Five relies on creating connections with the children and families within the neighborhood. A few dedicated students are responsible for the success of this program which uses sports and play time to form relationships with the children (Batt). These relationships formed the basis of the mentoring program, where one William and Mary student is matched up to one child in the community. This fosters deeper, closer relationships and allows the college students to pour into the kids lives through mentoring programs (Batt). By targeting the next generations in these low socioeconomic areas, director Tony Batt believes the college students can help to break the cycle of poverty.
Lafayette Village is another example of a few dedicated students making connections through play and helping the young children to excel in their education. The program was started by President Mary Grech and another friend who began to play with the children after school on a daily basis (Grech). This turned into a much larger program helping the students with their homework, feeding them snacks and mentoring them on a weekly basis. This program is part of a much larger national system which works in low socioeconomic communities to supplement the education children are receiving in public schools (Grech). While the Lafayette Village is a relatively small program in Williamsburg, it is rapidly growing. The biggest issues facing this organization are lack of space and room needed to expand (Grech). There is ample participation from the community and a high volume of week-to-week and committed volunteers.
Both Lafayette Village and Campus Kitchens rely on volunteers from the College of William and Mary to work with the students in their respective communities (Holko). Neither of these organizations does much in the way of recruiting, rather students hear about them through word of mouth or email list serves (Grech, Holko). Retaining volunteers is not very difficult, according to our interviewees because students who are committed to helping out or making a difference will continue to volunteer week in and week out. These dedicated students are vital for both Campus Kitchens and Lafayette village and provide a springboard for growth within both organizations.
In our project, we surveyed three different third party institutions, Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula, Campus Kitchens and Lafayette Village, all of which do their part to fill the achievement gap in the public school system by working within communities to help students. Our survey of the techniques and methods used by these different organizations lends a more complete picture of what third party institutions do to help the community. All of the organizations share the same goal of ameliorating the achievement gap and breaking the poverty cycle by reaching the next generation of students, but the methods they employ are unique to each organization and offer novel approaches to help the students.
Boys and Girls Club uses after-school programs such as Project Learn to increase student attendance in school and grades in the classroom. Campus Kitchens uses a mentoring program when students and college mentors are paired up one on one to help the students holistically. An older college student aids the child in academics, family life and problems with peers. Lafayette Village works on a micro level through committed volunteers who are actively involved in the children’s lives. All of these organizations rely upon the strength and determination of volunteers who work with the children to help them succeed. It is through these volunteers that change, shown by the statistics and scores of the kids involved in these programs, is happening from day to day.
Anderson-Butcher, Dawn, W. Sean Newsome, and Theresa M. Ferrari. “Participation in
Boys and Girls Clubs and Relationships to Youth Outcomes.” Journal of Community Psychology (2003): 31-55. Wiley Online Library. Web. 19 Feb. 2012. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jcop.10036/pdf
Armentor, Arlene. Personal Interview. 27 Mar. 2012.
Batt, Tony. Personal Interview. 25 Mar. 2012.
Boys & Girls Club of America. Our Nation’s Dropout Crisis Is Everyone’s Problem – Why Boys & Girls Clubs Are Part of the Solution. Rep. Boys & Girls Club of America, 2010. Our Nation’s Dropout Crisis Is Everyone’s Problem – Why Boys & Girls Clubs Are Part of the Solution. The Boys & Girls Club of America, Sept. 2010. Web. 4 Feb. 2012.
Boys & Girls Club of America. “PROJECT LEARN”. Boys & Girls Club of America. Boys & Girls Club of America, 2011. Web. 4 Feb. 2012. http://bgca.org/whatwedo/EducationCareer/Pages/ProjectLearn.aspx
Grech, Mary. Personal Interview. 26 Mar. 2012
Holko, Sarah. Personal Interview. 26 Mar. 2012
Putt, Jonathan. Personal Interview. 2 April 2012.
Schinke, Steven, Kristen C. Cole, and Stephen R. Poulin. “A Profile of the Evaluation of
Boys & Girls Club of America – Project Learn/Educational Enhancement Program.” Out-of-School Time Evaluation Database. Harvard Graduate School of Education, 6 Dec. 2011. Web. 11 Feb. 2012.
by Annie Daughtrey & Brianna Buch