As part of seven new Boys & Girls Clubs that recently opened in the Denver metro area, U Prep Steele Street now has a branch within its campus to provide after- school programming.
Joshua Licerio, the director of collaborations for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, said there was a partnership with Denver Public Schools (DPS) in place to bus students to one of the existing clubs from the school before the U Prep Steele Street location was established.
“What we realized last year is that it was wildly successful,” Licerio said. “We were having over 30 to 40 members every day being bused over to our biggest standalone club. We want to have an after-school program that really fits the needs of the community.”
Licerio said the club wants to incorporate its values with youth development, which includes getting children outdoors and exercise as well as introduce them to new experiences in the community and help with education.
“We’re really focusing on literacy,” Licerio said, adding making sure students catch up to their necessary proficiency since the COVID pandemic hampered that critical education. “We really want to bridge that gap in terms of the academic component in the literacy gaps that are shown in Denver Public Schools.”
Licerio said in addition to literacy help, the club wants to “bridge the gap” between what students are doing in school and what they do during the after-school programs. Although most of the children who participated in the after-school program appeared to be U Prep Steele Street students, the club is open to all children.
“U Prep Steele Street Boys & Girls Club is one of the smaller club locations, but our goal for the average daily attendance is around 60 members with a goal of 130 total registered members,” said Suzanne Whitney, director of marketing and communications for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Denver.
Currently the club has 92 members.
“We are already seeing an influx of families from the school registering and attending programs after school,” she said.
Beyond traditional programs Boys & Girls Clubs provide, Liciero said the organization has expanded its mental health programs
“Every club now has a social worker that attends their club at least twice a week,” he said. “Coming out of COVID, we knew mental health was something that a lot of schools were focusing on, and we are just there to say, ‘This matters.’ We need mental health professionals in spaces and in buildings with kids, not just to intervene and to be prevention, but also to really have dedicated time where they’re talking about mental health and they’re normalizing that conversation in a way that’s meaningful to kids and age appropriate.”
Licerio said getting more families engaged can take time with a brand-new location.
“There’s always a gap between the beginning of a program and when we can really do the fun stuff, as I like to call it, where we’re doing more family engagement events and really bringing in communities into our spaces,” he said. “We need to build that relationship first, and that’s really what we’re focusing on at our expansion clubs for the next year.”