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 gaming and traveling, 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 co-led the Explorer’s Club last fall. One of our teens shared that they wanted to learn more about how to have adventures while staying inside, so we adjusted our plan for the next week to virtually explore museums. 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 playing games such as Fortnite, in a safe environment guided by an older teen and proctored by an adult.
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. When I led the Explorer’s Club, we had a variety of small activities planned. We would usually begin by showing pictures of the new location that we would be “exploring” that day, with a brief introduction. We would then do activities such as a virtual walking tour or learning survival skills like building a fire. Throughout the activities, we would pause for discussion, and the teens would often share their thoughts and experiences. The space was open for the teens to connect with each other and learn from each other. As such, our conversations made up the bulk of our time and we never ran out of planned activities. The 45 minutes flew by before we realized any time had passed!
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. While most clubs associated with schools don’t include a space to play Fortnite, Teen Innovators’ gaming club is a wonderful place for teens to go so that they can connect with the other teens longing to find their tribe of other teens who enjoy playing video games. 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. I looked forward to every Explorer’s Club meeting. It was great to see the students get excited about the places we were visiting, hear them share their experiences traveling, and watch them connect with each other.
Written by Kate B, Peer Mentor at Teen Innovators