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Boys Club: Life Skills and Friendships

“How can I make good on the promise to help build this community?” Ridge Junior School teacher Andrew Wuest asked himself this question during his first year of teaching. The answer: Boys Club.

Now in its third year, Boys Club at Ridge is just that: A weekly after-school group for male students that centers around building relationships. Each meeting begins with a word of the day and includes a life-skills lesson like how to tie a tie or change a tire. Afterwards, the students participate in a group activity.

In the beginning, Wuest had about 10 students attend. That number has grown to around 50. Students can come and go from the group, depending on their other extracurricular activities and commitments. “Whether there’s 50 kids or 20, I’m going to be serious (about this club),” Wuest said. “If it just reaches one kid, it’s worth it.”

What do students get out of Boys Club? Friendship with some of their fellow classmates they might not meet otherwise; life lessons and skills; conversation; and fun. Eighth-grader Yassien Salam explained, “We get to all be together. We learn how to become better men, better people.”

Classmate Ameer Thair Hasan agrees. “(Mr. Wuest) teaches life lessons. He shares what he’s been through and how we can do better.”

“With young men, it’s important that they understand it’s okay to have emotions,” said Wuest. “I want them to know that they can reach out to a trusted adult to talk about things.”

This message is getting through to the group. “Mr W.'s just a great person,” said Kameron Gaalaas. “He’s always there for you. If you’re ever in a dark place, he says, ‘Reach out to me and I’ll come get you.’” And he means it.

“I may be in the middle of a lesson, but if something comes up, I’m going to stop the lesson and talk about it,” Wuest said.

Nathan Jeffers, a fellow teacher at Ridge, is helping out with Boys Club this year. “I am big on building relationships in the classroom and within the school building, so when (Andrew) asked me if I wanted to help out, it was almost a no-brainer,” said Jeffers. “Being a part of Boys Club has allowed me to build relationships with students, have fun after school playing sports and doing other activities, and feel a part of the community here at Ridge.”

Wuest enjoys the fact that students who may not meet during class or other activities are getting to know each other here. “The kids just want to make a connection.”

This is Gaalaas’ second year attending Boys Club and he looks forward to it each week. “Mr. W. challenges us every year to meet at least 20 new people,” he said. 

Jeffers appreciates the challenge as well. “I think one of the coolest parts of Boys Club is seeing all of the different students interacting and having fun together. I love when we go to play a sport, like soccer for example, and there are soccer players, football players, band members and people who do not play anything at all.” Along this line, Wuest recalled a favorite moment when the group was going to play basketball and a student was nervous because he wasn’t athletic. The other students supported him and cheered him on. 

Ridge’s principal, Stacey Cahill, has seen the positive impact the club is having on the students. “The Boys Club is a community of diverse students that come together, build relationships and learn the soft skills needed to be successful,” she said. “Students have stepped up to assist others around school and allow others to feel welcome. They learn important skills to allow them to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”  The Ridge team is looking to possibly introduce a similar after-school club for girls next semester “so they can learn how to build healthy relationships and become mature leaders in the building as well,” said Cahill. 

While the students certainly enjoy the group activities, they are invested in the conversations that take place first. “Mr. Wuest teaches us life lessons,” said Hasan. “He shares what he’s been through and how we can do better.”

“I try to teach by example,” explained Wuest. “If we’re talking about perseverance, here’s a situation where I’ve shown it and then I’ll ask the kids ‘how about you.’” Wuest also appreciates what the students give to him as well. “I’m better for it because I learn things from them.”

Salam likes this approach. “I like the deep conversations. It’s making us better.”

“One of my favorite words we have talked about is perspective,” notes Jeffers. “I personally liked this one because I think it is getting harder for kids to just be kids. Young people are constantly comparing themselves to others and seeing all of the newest and coolest things on social media. Sometimes, because of this, we can be quick to judge others, but in our talk we tried to help the boys realize that everyone has something going on in their life. Andrew and I told the kids that even we sometimes struggle with judging others at first glance. We made sure to let them know that putting yourself in someone else's shoes can help you be a better person.”

It’s conversations like these that the students like best. Cameron Fiasco trusts Wuest and the other members of the club. “What you say in the room stays in the room.” He also looks up to Wuest. “I think of Mr. W. as a father figure almost. He’s always there for me.”

Hasan is appreciative of Wuest and his dedication to the club and was more than happy to share his thoughts. “Mr. W. didn’t tell us to say this; it’s from the bottom of our hearts.”