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Story by John Straubel, member, Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula program committee.
This fall, the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula converted its Redwood City Clubhouse from a K-12 facility into a teens-only "Forest High School Center," shifting 200 younger students to the club's on-campus programs at adjacent Hoover Community School.
K-8 students have been filling the club's three clubhouses and six school-campus programs, but attracting more high-school teens to its extended-day learning agenda has long been on the wish list of the club.
As the largest youth development organization on the Peninsula, the club has had measurable success in closing the opportunity shortfall in lower-income communities, boosting access to advanced education and relevant careers.
In a bold plan to attract more high-school-age teens to this system, the club surveyed students at high schools, and found that 87 percent of them would be more likely to come to a clubhouse serving high school students exclusively.
Converting the Mervin G. Morris clubhouse in Redwood City to a teens-only operation allowed club staff to concentrate on curricula that appealed to older kids.
In its first two months, the high-school strategy is clearly working.
"We refurbished and opened the clubhouse in Redwood City just in time for the fall semester and soon tripled the average attendance of teens to 100 a day," said Peter Fortenbaugh, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula. "We expect that number to double as the word gets around."
With this teen-focused strategy, the organization expects that 90 percent of those students will graduate from high school with a plan for ongoing education and a career," he said.
The Forest High School Center opens daily at 2:30 pm. Students come by bus from Woodside and Sequoia high schools and on foot from nearby Summit and Everest high schools.
From arrival to 5 p.m., the teens are in "academic success" programs, doing homework in all subjects and receiving tutoring as needed to improve the result.
In the second segment of the center's curriculum, students can choose from a selection of enrichment activities until closing time at 8 p.m.
That makes dinner hour from 5 to 6 a big deal. It's a hot meal consisting of a main course like BBQ, with vegetables and fruit. "The menu is influenced by the preferences of students, so it's becoming one of the attractions of the center," said Ariel Ajagu, manager of high school programs.
After-dinner enrichment electives include sports such as soccer, dance programs, video production, and graphic arts. Some students choose to stay with homework the entire time, taking advantage of the assistance provided, and the companionship of other teens.
Before a student signs up for the Forest High School Center agenda, he or she must participate in an orientation program. For freshmen that includes as much parent involvement as possible.
After an assessment of a student's interests and academic needs, a "Forest Ranger" case manager is assigned who, in turn, partners the student with a specialist to observe progress and provide mentoring, whether in literacy, math, history or science.
Fourteen-year-old Lindsey Pulido, this year's Youth of the Year winner from Hoover Community School, is now an enthusiastic member at the center and a ninth-grader at Everest. "I love the sports and the leadership club work," Lindsey said. "My homework is much more fun when I'm doing it here with friends."
Orlando Mayen, 17, is a senior at Woodside High, and aspires to major in astronomy in college. He's been tutored and supported at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Peninsula starting in the second grade at Hoover. "I spend almost all my time here in 'the Forest' hitting the homework," he said, "because college is just around the corner."
The younger students transferred from the Redwood City clubhouse contributed to a major expansion of the club's programs at Hoover Community School next door, where the after-school population has now tripled to 340 students. The club also expanded at Garfield School, another of the club's K-8 campuses, eliminating a long-standing wait-list of students seeking access to that program.
Now freshly focused at those middle schools on their own agendas, the club is mobilized to provide the increased student body homework support, blended learning opportunities and electives in science, arts, cooking and athletics.