Teens want community, whether on a sports team, with their peers in classes, or in after-school clubs, they seek friendships with like-minded individuals. Oftentimes, however, schools don’t have clubs for each teen’s unique interests, and it can be hard to find a group of people to bond over a shared hobby. Enter Teen Innovators’ virtual after-school clubs: online weekly meetings for teens based on interests and hobbies such as chess or coding and robotics, led by near-peer mentors with a passion in these areas.
Teen Innovators’ after-school clubs are led by certified peer mentors. Our older teen mentors are high school and college-aged students from all over the country, and they are the rock stars behind these virtual clubs. The mentors created each club based on their interests, and this fondness is shown in each club meeting. They have general plans for meetings but allow ample time to conduct conversations and facilitate friendships between the club members. They also listen to the members. For example, I will lead the coding and robotics this fall. One of our teens for this year’s summer tech camp mentioned that they would love to participate in a coding club online to teach them how to build a website or learn how to code. In this way, the members of the club are supported; their voices are heard, and they feel included and valued. The teens drive these clubs: the focus of each meeting is to allow them to converse with each other, and their input on activities is incorporated into future plans. While there is a learning aspect to the clubs, they are meant to be interest-driven with no homework allowed! Meetings are a time for teens to connect with other members, perhaps from a different school or even a different state. Parents appreciate that their students can make friends while learning how to make a game or learning how to play chess.
What does a typical club meeting look like? Teens log onto Zoom at their designated time and are greeted by the peer mentors leading the club. Once the members have arrived, the mentors facilitate an icebreaker activity for the teens to open up and share as they are comfortable. Then the activity begins. For instance, every class session we will have a tiny presentation about the basics of code and a slide outlining the project we will work on during club time where we will walk through and have conversations about it. Our first one will be about setting us your Ideal coding environment and creating your first website! Similarly, the Chess club will have a tiny talk or presentation about Chess game strategy and then play tournament style. Hopefully by the end of the club hour young teens will walk away with a finished coding project.
We encourage an open space for the teens to connect with each other and learn from each other. As such, our conversations make up the bulk of our time and we never run out of planned activities.
These clubs can have a lasting impact on the teens who join. They are a safe space to open up, a place to feel connected to something, and they foster a sense of belonging. Teen Innovators’ clubs is a wonderful place for teens to go so that they can connect with the other teens longing to find their tribe of others who enjoy the same activities. It is a great way to meet friends in a new setting. The student-driven conversations open up a platform for teens to fully express themselves in a low-pressure environment.
Clubs are truly a great way for teens to connect over shared interests in a safe space. Written by Stephany Flores, Peer Mentor at Teen Innovators