Junior Youth Leadership in Action

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Playworks of Greater Washington DC’s first joint recess was a learning experience for Junior Coaches at River Terrace Education Campus and Payne Elementary School.

On May 14, 2018, the Playworks DC region organized our first-ever joint recess between two schools. We organised a combined recess with Payne Elementary School, a school with a full-time Playworks Coach, and River Terrace Education Campus, our Playworks TeamUp school, where I am a site coordinator supporting the school’s recess team. River Terrace EC is a school for students with different learning disabilities, making this partnership unique.

I was very intrigued when I learned that Dr Cepeda, the principal of River Terrace EC, wanted her students to play with other Playworks schools. This concept was something I have never thought of, but would love to see happen. So I accepted the opportunity.

We chose Payne Elementary because they were the closest school and had a strong Junior Coach program. We confirmed the date and River Terrace EC Recess Coach Ms Shorter and I started event planning. We made sure both her Junior Coaches and the Payne Junior Coaches had the chance to demonstrate and improve their leadership skills.

On the day of the event, the Payne Junior Coaches were nervous. But when they arrived at River Terrace EC and were cheered on from the students at River Terrace, the mood instantly shifted for the better. During the event, the Payne and River Terrace Junior Coaches led many stations, like basketball, dodgeball, and dance. They also did reading and art, where they learnt to make lanterns. Everyone had fun; not only the students, but also the recess staff.

A highlight was seeing a Junior Coach from Payne speaking sign language with Tiffany, a Junior Coach from River Terrace who is deaf. I will never forget the joy on Tiffany’s face when she realized she finally had a friend to sign to. Knowing I contributed to making this happen made this event even more special.

At the end of the event, the Junior Coaches from Payne were all sad to leave. Ms Shorter lightened the mood by surprising them with fanny packs filled with candy. Later, I reached out to Coach B, Payne’s Playworks Coach, to ask her about the experience.

“I was ecstatic to have been offered this wonderful opportunity,” she said. “Many of them have never been around students with special needs, so to see them blossom into such poised, patient and caring young people was just amazing. One thing that my students keep repeating is, ‘No matter what differences people have people can still do what they need and want!’ ”

The Principal of Payne Elementary, Ms Byrd, was proud of her students for taking on such a learning opportunity. She encouraged them to bring the same inclusive culture they experienced in River Terrace EC back to Payne.

And they have done so. Since the visit, there has been a great increase in inclusive and positive behaviour, which has spread to students in the entire school. This joint recess showed not only how play brings out the very best in every kid, but also how play can bring different types of communities together.

To many more play dates!

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