Making Connections in Gersh Academy’s Social Clubs

Gersh Students on Virtual Class Social Clubs

Check out the West Hempstead Social Clubs, where students connect virtually around social and learning activities, giving them the opportunity to practice vital social skills and enjoy activities with friends and peers. 

After-school clubs are a time-honored tradition. They give students the opportunity to get together with peers who share their interests. After COVID sent schools into remote learning, teachers and staff at Gersh Academy at West Hempstead were determined to provide opportunities to socialize and learn no matter where they were. 

Bridging the Gap

To connect the remote and hybrid-model students together, West Hempstead expanded their social clubs. Every week, teachers and staff host virtual get-togethers around a topic that students are interested in, giving them the opportunity to practice vital social skills and enjoy activities with friends and peers.

“They were so used to going to clubs in school, and this gives them a chance to socialize after school,” said Ms. Spitz, who runs various social clubs on Microsoft Teams in the evenings and weekends.

Her most popular club is Karaoke Night, which runs every Friday evening. Any student from elementary through high school is welcome to participate.

“We can get up to 20 kids on there. They love to sing and interact with one another. They really want to share their talent,” Ms. Spitz said. “They’re always excited to cheer each other on.”

Bringing our Students Together

One great thing Ms. Spitz has noticed is that students are learning to interact virtually and support one another when someone else has the ‘mic.’ Because it is open to all age groups and classes, students are also interacting with kids they’ve never met before. One student, Ms. Spitz recalled, is now more social that she ever was before. Another student was unsure if he wanted to sing, but Ms. Spitz encouraged him to join the group and play piano instead. The atmosphere was so supportive, the student sang at the very next meeting.

Continuing the Learning and Discovery

Ms. Spitz also runs other clubs based on students’ interests. She has a variety of pets at home, from a Bearded Dragon to hermit crabs to her registered therapy dog, so she hosted an Animal Adventures club over one weekend. “They get to see a lot of different creatures and learn about them. We get to teach them about how to take care of them properly.” She even took one group on a virtual field trip to the Monterrey Bay Aquarium for an Ocean Explorers Club.

These groups are also a great way to bring physical activity to the week, like the Salsa and Merengue Social Club, where students learn basic dance steps and then practice with music. The foundational steps are simple and easy to count but can be embellished with fun and flair.

Ms. Fisher, who runs the club, says she has noticed students not only learning dance steps, but developing a rapport with one another during the sessions, chatting during the breaks with Ms. Fisher’s help to keep conversations going. 

She has also noticed students taking initiative. One high schooler who attends on a regular basis now follows the steps “without missing a beat” and has begun to manage her time and inform Ms. Fisher when she will be attending.

Letting Students Run the Show

Another club called, “Party and Fun + Yoga/Meditation” came about from student input.  The club was initially just a way to get kids up and moving, said Ms. Nostramo, who hosts it. It started out with a dance party and some physical exercises like jumping jacks. Then one student asked if the next week could be a yoga party.

“I thought that was such a great idea, and since then I’ve been providing the children with opportunities to do a variety of poses that improve balance and strength as well as incorporating positive statements and affirmations during the yoga movements…” said Ms. Nostramo.

For example, students are encouraged to say, “I am ______,” filling in the blank with something positive, like loving, kind, or sassy. The time usually ends with a visual meditation or watching an aquarium scene while Ms. Nostramo guides them through breathing exercises.

An Example for us All

These clubs give students the opportunity to interact with friends and learn in a safe, no-judgement environment. The fact that these all happen virtually makes it possible for anyone to participate from home and give students practice engaging virtually in an informal environment. If anyone needs a break, they can turn the screen or sound off for a moment. The clubs have given Gersh students easy ways to try new things and interact with new people.

In a time when we, as a society, have felt more isolated than ever before, we want to thank the teachers and staff that are going above-and-beyond to keep our students connected, learning and thriving.

“Well, you know, I have a good time with them too!” said Ms. Spitz.

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