Last year, now-seniors Bella Montoya, Hunter Zell, David Hilton, and Brendan McLaughlin— fueled by their shared passion for helping others— started M-A’s Step Up Club, a club dedicated to tutoring the kids at the Boys and Girls Club. According to McLaughlin, they went on a service trip to Guatemala through another M-A club, Global Leaders, and were inspired to “carry their impact” once they returned home. Only a year after its creation, Step Up Club has proven to be effective in not only helping younger students develop a healthy relationship with learning, but also in showing them the importance of giving back to the community and fostering strong connections between current and future M-A students.
The Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula states their mission is to “provide the low-income youth of our community with the opportunities they need to achieve school success.” To achieve this goal, each Step Up member volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club for at least an hour every week, either utilizing that time as a teacher’s assistant during an academic block or one-on-one tutoring in subjects such as math and English. Through Step Up Club, Sam Rader (sophomore) realized how privileged M-A is and how “we can always help others.”
Every month Step Up Club has one service goal and one fundraising activity. This month, they are doing a bake sale for the fundraising activity. Last year they raised $1,500 but this year they hope to raise $2,500. All proceeds go to funding Step Up Club and back to the Boys and Girls Club. They will be building bookshelves for the service project, and last month they did a book drive.
Service projects are important because as Hilton said, “service is a two way street… with mental and health benefits.” Hilton said that one of the goals of Step Up club is to get M-A students involved in volunteer work and in their community because then they will be more conscientious about helping others in adulthood. According to The New York Times, “The students who were engaged in some sort of community service in high school… were more likely to volunteer or be involved in some civic activity [in the future].”
Step Up Club encourages the students at the Boys and Girls Club to practice community service as well, with activities like making Valentine’s Day cards for the Ronald McDonald House. Montoya hopes that this will help to make service something that all people can participate in, no matter their background. 43% of the students in the neighbourhoods that the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula serves are homeless or in foster care. Montoya said, “the people who do service tend to be affluent and white” but that she wants to “break that stereotype.”
Through her time volunteering, Montoya noticed that the “public education system must be better at helping kids and catering to them.” She observed that the high-energy kids with “spirit” were falling behind in school, and that teachers needed to be more accomodating because these kids have the same potential as the others. Montoya said that sometimes teachers react to these students with anger, ingraining into their minds a “I hate school, school hates me” attitude.
When working with the students, Step Up Club tries to make learning fun and engaging, by incorporating different games and activities, so they can build a happy and healthy relationship with education. Montoya described how one time she let a student ask her a question about her life every time they finished a problem and by the end they developed a close bond. Zell brought her lacrosse team to show the students how to play.
Hilton said that Step Up Club tries to show the students they tutor that “they can do and can be what they want to be.” Montoya said that she always asks them what college they want to go to so that they know that a college education is important and an option for them. 35% of the students who live in the neighbourhoods served by the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula do not graduate high school.
Jenny Saba, the Manager of Volunteer Services for the Boys and Girls Club of the Peninsula (BGCP), said, “Step Up has greatly increased the amount of support that BGCP is receiving…having good role models at site can make a big difference in a young person’s life. It has definitely helped our programs greatly.”