Part of being a sponsor for an activity means you adopt children. You don’t adopt them in the literal sense, but I think if you are doing it right, you can build a family atmosphere in any club. Due to my coaching background, I try to create a team mentality with every group, and that naturally leads into a family dynamic. “We are only as strong as our weakest link,” “we’re five fingers making a fist,” whatever cheesy metaphor I decide on for that school year, I try to build that mindset into my activities so that all of the students know how much they matter to our shared success.
I’m lucky to have one of my extra curricular activities have enough interest and backing from the school that we can meet as a class, so the family aspect is even more prevalent with that group. With that in mind, we had a bit of a family reunion this week. Every year I set up a meeting with my editorial team to start getting ready for the year. When I sponsored yearbook it was a little more intense because there are so many decisions that have to get made to have some semblance of organization to start the year, but with newspaper it is just a quick meeting to figure out a game plan for the first issue and our goals for the year. At least I thought it would be a quick meeting.
Like all events that take place outside of a time that students are forced to be in my room (like during the school day), food is an excellent starting point to bring them to the party. I pushed a message out to all of my editors about a lunch meeting and proposed some dates.
One of my editors responded, but days went by and nobody else said a word. I can’t blame them, I know they didn’t want to think about school during the summer. After about a week I sent a snarkier (is snarkier a word? I don’t know, but it should be, so I’m leaving it) message thanking the student who responded and asking for input from everyone else. I finally figured out a day and time that theoretically worked for everyone and promised pizza. I held my breath until that meeting to see who would show.
I’ve had a lot of different editor groups in the last 10 years. Some were really motivated and invested, and the summer meeting lasted hours. Some were slackers and bailed on the meeting, showing me it was going to be a long year. I had high hopes for this group, so I planned for the best, but still expected the worst. I planned 45 minutes of business and 15 minutes of pizza and hangout time. However, as soon as the first few students showed up I could tell nobody was leaving after only an hour.
There were a lot of hugs and happy screams, there were friends who hadn’t seen each other since the end of the school year, and there was a sense of happiness to be back in our room, even though it was still the summer. Although there is a mix of students with editorial experience and a few rookies, it felt like we had been back for months once we got into the business of our newspaper. The meeting was so productive that we kept pushing the time back and stayed almost twice as long as I had scheduled.
There are many obstacles to running a successful activity. We met one of them head-on at the meeting. Just before the meeting we found out that the student who was going to be our news editor was moving to another school. It was something out of our control, but we still had to do with it and figure out how to move forward. My first thought was to contact the newspaper adviser at her new high school and talk her up, but the message I got back from her (through her friends at the meeting) was that she wanted to remain an honorary member of the Pepper Box. Selfishly, that felt great, but I’ll still be contacting her new school to let them know what a superstar they are receiving.
Other obstacles exist when trying to build the right kind of team atmosphere. Students have so many responsibilities that it is hard to get them to show up when they don’t have to. Whether it is off season workouts for a sport, after school club meetings, or meetings before school even begins, getting the kids to show up is half the battle. Students work, have family responsibilities, lack transportation, and have had, or have made up a million other reasons about why they cannot get there, but when you can truly build that sense of family and belonging, they do seem to find a way.
However, when all else fails, offering pizza usually does the trick.