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Reflecting on a Successful Semester of Junior Journalists at Central Neighbourhood House

What is the Junior Journalists program all about?
October 2017 marked the beginning of the fourth academic semester that Frontier College has run its Junior Journalists program at Central Neighbourhood House (CNH).  Junior Journalists is a 6-week, after-school program for students in grades 1-5. Since the inception of the program at CNH, tutors have been recruited from Ryerson University, and trained on the fundamentals of homework help and tutoring. 

From October 17, 2017 to November 23, 2017, Frontier College tutors met with students at CNH for two hours every Tuesday or Thursday. In addition to helping with homework completion, tutors assisted the “junior journalists” with researching, writing, and editing submissions for inclusion in a newsletter- THE CNH TIMES published through the program. Newsletters are released every few weeks and are unveiled at a “newsletter party” where children celebrate their accomplishments with snacks and refreshments, and receive a free copy of the newsletter as well as a book courtesy of Frontier College to take home.

Recounting a “typical day” of programming
Each week, tutors met for a pre-program meeting to finalize the schedule for the upcoming session and assign support roles for the day. During the program, help with homework completion was designated as a priority followed by the development of newsletter submissions. Tutors also prepared a variety of different activities to facilitate the development of literacy and numeracy skills of students in the program. These activities included: student-tutor interviews, designing comic strips, captioning wacky pictures, reflecting on popular books and movies, making letter webs, creating picture dictionaries, and completing fill-in-the-blank stories. 

After the session, tutors meet for a post-program debrief to discuss the challenges and successes of the day, share strategies to use while working with children, provide peer to peer encouragement, and prepare a schedule and activities for the following week.

Contributions of Volunteers
Thanks to the versatility of space at CNH and the flexibility of our volunteers, the program made the best use of a gym, a larger multi-purpose room, and a smaller tutoring room. Students who wanted to participate in active learning exercises such as compound word relays and alphabetical lineup races waited with excitement for their turn in the gym, students who wanted to partake in group activities and reading circles were eager to participate in programming in the multi-purpose room, and those who were looking for more intensive 1-1 or 1-2 support with homework or writing worked diligently in the smaller tutoring room. 

The fall of 2017 was the first time that the program had access to the on-site gym, and tutors made a valiant effort to incorporate this space into programming. Many of the children in the program loved to play basketball so it came as no surprise when a tutor-developed game- Basketball Trivia became an instant hit. In this game, children were rewarded with a shot at the basket after successfully answering a trivia question. Question categories ranged from word families and spelling, to math equations and ways to use numbers in everyday life. Developing relationships with students on the court also helped to strengthen the tutor-tutee relationship in the homework room- demonstrating the value of Student-Centered Individualized Learning. 

Other group activities such as math riddles and Scrabble word challenges encouraged healthy competition between the students which spurred their learning even further. Overall, tutors noted visible growth in the skill-level, abilities, and confidence of learners throughout the span of the program.

Next Steps
Developing submissions for newsletters and being able to receive a copy of the finished product is a very tangible and powerful motivating tool for children to continue to work on their literacy skills. Frontier College is proud to be continuing its partnership with CNH for the fifth semester of Junior Journalists in the upcoming winter semester. 

To support the great work that has already been done, Frontier College has established an Organizational Team at Ryerson. This team will represent and embody the mission and values of Frontier College to the Ryerson community, promote literacy on the post-secondary campus, and recruit new volunteers to serve local communities in Frontier College programming. A Junior Journalists manual is also being developed to support the longevity of the program through succession planning.

As a volunteer that has been with the Junior Journalists program at CNH since its start two years ago, I can see that many things have changed- new partnerships have been created, our volunteer base has expanded, programming has become more robust, cross-pollination of new ideas has been supplied with the emergence of new leaders- but one thing remains the same: the love and support from Frontier College tutors and CNH staff for this program has always been present and is the biggest part of the program’s success. It is because of all their hard work and dedication that we see the fruits of our labor in the curiosity, excitement, and growth that the children we serve experience towards literacy. I can’t wait to see all the great things the program will do in the years ahead. 

16 Frontier College tutors and 4 CNH staff supported the implementation of the Junior Journalists program at CNH. The program was offered to approximately 52 children and 37 children submitted a written piece for publication in the newsletter.

Between October 2017 to November 2017, four issues of THE CNH TIMES were produced. To view a copy of the most recent issue, please click here.

Posted: 2/2/2018 10:50:48 AM by Vicki Coleman

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