Playworks After-School Leadership Program
As the final recess whistle was blown on my first day at Kelly Elementary, my body felt relief as I dragged my feet to my office. "Wow," I thought to myself, "This is going to be a long and crazy year." As I turned the key to my quiet office I heard a stampede of three fourth grade students running toward the door, arms overflowing with recess equipment.
"Are you our new coach?!" they all questioned as they rushed through my door placing all the equipment in the designated spots.
As I looked at them in confusion, Layla looked up at me with her hands on her hips and exclaimed, "This is our job," before continuing on her way. They clearly knew way more than I did about how recess worked around here. Day after day, the same three students returned the recess equipment, and I knew straight away I had just found three potential Junior Coaches.
While consulting the administration and teachers about the applications, Layla stuck out. By this point Layla had already acted as my Kelly Recess Trainer for weeks, but she was struggling in class and her school attendance was low. Everyone thought that with the right guidance she would be a great leader, but expectations and consequences would need to be concrete before the start of the program.
On Layla's second recess shift she played the fan favorite Bandaid Tag. As I watched from a distance, our guidance counselor approached and applauded Layla playing with the kids. A first grader had fallen in the tag zone, and Layla immediately knelt down to his level and comforted him while problem solving with the other kids. I later asked her what happened, and she told me, "Someone wasn't using their butterfly fingers while tagging..." shaking her head in disappointment.
I told her that this sort of thing would happen sometimes, but she was doing exactly what she was supposed to do. She gleamed with approval.
In the following weeks Layla was a rockstar Junior Coach who never missed a shift and held the high score for high fives. Her class behavior charts were improving, and she even received the highest score possible one day. However it had been brought to my attention that she had had a few conflicts with other students. Layla now had to eat lunch every day in the office and do community service for the school. I didn't want to remove her from Junior Coaching because of how great she had been doing on the playground, but we also had to make it clear that we aren't only leaders on the playground, we are leaders for the school.
Later that week Layla was sitting on the playground nearly in tears. She told me that a fellow student wanted her to punch someone because of a conflict on the playground. Layla told them she couldn't and walked away in frustration because she didn't want to be known as that person anymore.
"Couldn't?" I asked.
"I'd lose Junior Coaching if I did that," she cried. It was that moment that I realized what Junior Coaching means to Layla. This is just the start of her Junior Coach journey, and I am excited to see the things she'll do and to support her along the way.