Monday, April 13, 2015

A Win-Win: Employing Older Youth in Afterschool Programs

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
"The Assistant Coach position with A World Fit For Kids! was my first professional experience that I ever had. The position was my dip of my toe in the water that is the real world. It was a great learning platform." - David Molina, Program Alumni, Student at California State University at Northridge

If afterschool programs are to be meaningful, they must offer youth opportunities to build their workforce skills. And what better setting to learn and practice these skills than an afterschool program? Normandie Nigh and A World Fit For Kids! is a true pioneer in training youth to work successfully in afterschool programs. She has been training and hiring older youth to work in afterschool programs since 1994. Below is an interview with Ms. Nigh focused on what she has learned in her years of this practice. 

Q: Can you describe the impact you have seen or experienced on the topic of hiring older youth and program alumni to work within afterschool programs? 

A: A World Fit For Kids! (WFIT) provides older youth with training and support and place them in our afterschool program where they can become role models and mentors to their peers and younger children. 

Normandie Nigh, CEO
A World Fit For Kids!
During the 21 years that we have employed this model, I have seen how it truly changes the lives of both the kids who come to our afterschool program and the teens themselves. In some cases, high school students who were on the verge of dropping out have stayed in school and raised their grades because the work they have done with us made them feel empowered. That feeling of personal pride and confidence inspires their commitment to get a job after completing their training and volunteer service, and it also ignites a desire to take their studies more seriously. 

With teens who are already good students, by hiring them and giving them responsibility we are showing them that we trust and believe in them, and by working in afterschool programs they are gaining valuable experiences for their resumes that will give them an advantage when they graduate and pursue personal ambitions, be it applying for the college or finding a job in a field of their choosing. 

The example they set is also very motivating for the younger students they work with in afterschool programs. Kids in the program relate to their teen Coach-Mentors in a very specific way. These teens are from their community and they share the same circumstances and challenges, so when kids see what a peer is accomplishing, they know they can do it too. There is also a natural affinity between kids who are close in age, and our youth Coach-Mentors can help us connect a little deeper with kids who are reluctant or reticent about communicating with adults. 

In 2011 an outside evaluator confirmed that more than 96% of students who completed WFIT’s teen training and internship program graduated from high school and 76% were currently enrolled in or had completed community college or university degrees. I’m very proud that 18% of our current Coach-Mentors in our afterschool programs were participants in our teen training and many of them were also participants in our own elementary and/or middle school programs when they were younger. 

Teens who have been trained and hired by WFIT described several skills they gained through the experience including responsibility and patience, leadership and self-confidence as well as practical skills on how to work with children.  They also described how they applied the skills and confidence they gained in WFIT to their school behavior. Teens said they are more likely to initiate participating and helping in class and improved how they make presentations, communicate with others, and manage their time.

Q: Why do you think this is an important practice? 

A: A World Fit for Kids! works primarily with disadvantaged and underserved populations, and the kids we serve are often from communities where there are not a lot of role models. Sometimes the message they receive, both implicit and explicit, is that they shouldn’t expect much, from themselves or from life. Training and hiring teens delivers a different message. The kids learn that they do have what it takes to be responsible and successful, and that allows them to think differently about the future. WFIT programs are based in healthy behaviors and physical activity, and what we believe is that when kids learn that they can take more control over their bodies, they will realize they can also take control in other areas of their lives, and that is really what we want for them. That is the foundation we want to establish in our afterschool programs. 

From there, teen training is the next leap. It gives those kids who want it a place to build confidence and exercise control over their life by reaching beyond themselves. One of the most important reasons the older youth say they want to work for WFIT is because they want to contribute to their community. To me, this is a demonstration of leadership, personal empowerment and a clear indication of a successful future. 

Q: What preparation, training, or support do you think older youth and program alumni need in order to succeed? 

A: I believe that youth are most successful when the adults in their lives have high expectations of them. WFIT’s programs let teens know that we believe in them, that we trust them to take on responsibility, and we encourage them to reach higher.

Teens working at WFIT school sites must first participate in our 38-hour comprehensive healthy behaviors and personal empowerment training. Throughout the training, participants engage in interactive exercises designed to promote success and increase self-awareness, build confidence and strengthen interpersonal skills, all of which prepares them to become successful in the workplace.

More specifically, the training components recommended are: personal empowerment; being a positive role model/mentor; effective communication; leadership/advocacy; healthy behaviors (physical activity leadership/nutrition); conflict resolution; work readiness; First aid/CPR; and a minimum of 30 hours of community service.
Normandie Nigh is CEO of A World Fit For Kids! and has worked with corporations, sports teams, fitness professionals, community organizations and individuals of all ages, but her passion is working with kids. Before taking the helm at A World Fit For Kids! (WFIT) in 1994, she founded Fit For Success, a Boston-based consulting company specializing in the design and delivery of physical activity, sports, fitness, and personal development programs. She was certified as a Personal Development Consultant for Tony Robbins and Associates, and is also the former International Fitness Marketing Manager for Reebok. 

An active advocate for youth services and programs, she meets regularly with local, state and national officials and serves on a number of boards and steering committees. Some of her past and present affiliations include: Co-Chair of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee of the California AfterSchool Network; the California Department of Education After School Physical Activity Steering Committee; the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance; CA ‘Project LEAN’ (Leaders Encouraging Activity & Nutrition) State Steering Committee; CAHPERD State Legislative Committee; and the CA Healthy Eating / Active Communities Initiative.

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