On Saturday, June 4th students and families from all over Boston, Lawrence, and New Bedford gathered in celebration of the first ever Junior Coach Graduation; a day of recognition to honor over 160 Playworks New England Junior Coaches and all of their accomplishments in the 2021-2022 school year.
For the students of Elwyn G. Campbell Elementary School located in New Bedford Massachusetts, Junior Coach Graduation offered them the opportunity to connect their roles to a greater social impact.
In New Bedford, the day kicked off with students from seven district elementary schools gathering for a long journey by bus to Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester, Massachusetts. At this moment students realized just how large the New Bedford cohort of Junior Coaches really was.
“Wait… so all of these kids lead at recess just like us…that’s so cool!” said fourth grader Gabriel.
During the bus trip students came together as a group and channeled their exceptional recess skills to gear up for the day ahead, as they modeled and led their families through a do as I do and say what I say Playworks “You Rock” cheer.
The excitement was palpable as students arrived at Junior Coach Graduation. The celebratory tone was set with music blasting as most students left their families behind, flying by registration in favor of the full field of games set up! Once registered for the day students collected a passport to play, which listed out all of the game stations and gave students the opportunity to earn an extra raffle ticket for each game they played throughout the day.
Junior Coach Graduation featured games led by Playworks coaches that are staples at any recess. Students could play independently at a jump rope station, get competitive on the four square court, work as a team with new friends playing dodgeball, and stop by the photobooth to commemorate the day with family members.
Nehemias, a fifth grader at Campbell Elementary School made sure to stop by the jump rope station, an activity that he has excelled at over the course of the year. His love for jump rope encouraged him to take the lead as a Junior Coach and engage his peers in competitive matches during recess.
Throughout the school year the Campbell School Junior Coaches worked as a team and put into practice all of the lessons from their Junior Coach Leadership training. Students took pride in their roles as peer leaders and created a climate of honesty and accountability to ensure that all members of their school community have a safe, inclusive, and fun experience at recess.
As Junior Coaches played and socialized with peers from across the state it was clear that Playworks core values of Respect, Inclusion, Healthy Community, and Healthy Play impacted the way students engaged with one another. Echoes of “Good Job, Nice Try” and “Good game!” could be heard throughout game stations as students rotated between activities with ease.
After a couple of hours of play students transitioned to the Pilot school gymnasium for the Junior Coach Graduation Ceremony. The ceremony was led by Playworks Senior Program Manager Stephon Lilly, and opened with an acknowledgement not only of the incredible Junior Coaches, but to the family members who have supported the growth and development of students throughout the school year.
The ceremony featured speakers who have all been positively impacted by Playworks and the Junior Coach Leadership Program, including Playworks Program Director, Morgan Redman, Principal of Richard G. Murphy K-8 School, Courtney Sheppeck, and two Junior Coaches: Kaleal from the Roosevelt School in Boston and Yadriely from the Gomes School in New Bedford.
“I remember my first shift as a Junior Coach. I played Red Light, Green Light and Hungry Fox. It was the best day ever because I was with my team and got to teach the little kids Red Light, Green Light which is a game I played when I was a little girl,” Yardriely shared. “Being a Junior Coach helped me meet new people, kids and friends, who are almost like a family to me- that is why I became a Junior Coach.”
The ceremony showcased over 160 Junior Coaches from 28 Playworks New England schools, with each school receiving an individual spotlight to perform a unique cheer with their Playworks Coach. After students performed their cheer they received a certificate acknowledging their contributions to their school community and posed for a picture with their Coach.
Once the ceremony was over, students from New Bedford made their way back to the buses for the journey home. Despite a non-stop day of play and fun in the sun, Junior Coaches did not tire and the ride back to New Bedford was filled with lively energy, as students continued their bonding.
“I loved when we got to go up front and do our cheer… I don’t think anyone could hear us though,” said one Junior Coach. “I can’t believe how many Junior Coaches there are… I can’t believe everyone got along.”
As students winded down and talked about the events of the day all of their observations were positive, laughing about the dances they taught Coaches at the TikTok game station, giving family members further instruction on how to “properly” play Capture the Flag, and connecting with students who go to another school in their district, wondering if they will see each other in middle school next year.
At the end of the day the students of Campbell Elementary felt tremendous pride. The Junior Coach Leadership Program allowed them to hone in on their skills to be empathetic and confident leaders, and the graduation was a celebration of all of their hard work throughout the year. They celebrated their accomplishments as a team and looked forward to the future – empowered to make a difference at recess for the rest of this school year and the year to come!