“Breakfast Club” for a Younger Set

by: Maureen Edwards

Original post: Yourhub.com

There’s the jock….the princess….the quirky kid….the shy outsider….the kid who gets into fights a lot. The movie “The Breakast Club” brings all of these kids together one Saturday morning and somehow, they reach beyond their labels and begin to understand each other. What a beautiful idea, but rarely is this acheived in our schools.

At one Cherry Creek School, however, a student doesn’t need to be sentenced to a morning of detention to be immersed with kids who seemingly have nothing in common. Cottonwood Elementary School offers an after-school enrichment class–a “Friday Afternoon Club” so to speak–where kids from all walks of life come together to “let loose” and tear apart the social barriers standing in the way of friendships.

The programs are designed and facilitated by the nonprofit, Connect Us. Stephanie Schiff, Executive Director of Connect Us, says that “bringing these kids together has to start at a young age, before their prejudices are set in stone.” She says “too many kids are isolated and lonely on the playground.They lack the social skills to be “accepted” by their peers. And all too often, these are the kids who are bullied as they grow up.”

On an ordinary Friday afternoon, the gym and subsequent classrooms are brimming with giggly children who, otherwise, would be eyeing each other from afar. Fun, physical and team-based activities are facilitated by trained staff in groups of 8-10, “Kids learn to be ‘kids’ again, and all of their social stigmas are left at the door,” says Albert Ovando, a Connect Us Coach/facilitator.

Many times, kids are forced to step outside their comfort zones and challenge their own assumptions. “Some kids come to us with no self-esteem, and they are used to being left out. Some kids have always been popular and don’t know how to be empathetic and cooperative. And other kids have special needs, such as high functioning autism, or learning disabilities, which automatically puts them at a social disadvantage,” says Schiff. “What we try to do is get these kids all together and strip them of their armor.”

Sounds like an impossible feat, but Connect Us is making a difference, both at school and at home. Playground activity is becoming more inclusive, and classroom behaviors are improving. Schiff says, “Parents tell me that their kids are being more kind to their siblings. Or that their extremely shy 7-year old is making friends and playing at recess. Or their child who has high-functioning autism is now being asked on play dates with his peers.”

Connect Us is continuing its programs at Cottonwood, and hopes to bring its valuable mission to schools across the country.”Now is the time,” Schiff says, “because, as we know from experience, high school might be too late.”

For those interested, Connect Us will be offering 3 summer camp sessions this year. “Last year was so successful that we are able to offer our camp progams to more kids. We hope that they will build long-lasting friendships to take back to school in the Fall.”

Connect Us is a 501(c)(3) organization and offers afterschool and preschool programs in different locations. Summer Camp programs will be offered for kids from preschool through 4th graders.

Any questions? Visit their website at www.connectusnow.org or e-mail Stephanie Schiff at Stephanie@connectusnow.org