Feature Story

Afterschool Program Provides Employment for Former Students

When Miguel was only 11-years-old, he began attending an afterschool program called the 21st Century Community Learning Center (CCLC). The program is administered in Bound Brook by Middle Earth, a nonprofit that has served youth in Somerset County for over 40 years. The program gave Miguel an alternative to staying home alone, while his parents worked. Now, five years later, he is employed by the same afterschool program as a ‘High School Helper,’ giving back to the community that once helped him.

High School Helpers“Middle Earth helped me come out of my shell,” Miguel said. “It also gave me opportunities that I wouldn’t have gotten otherwise, such as public speaking, going on trips, and making friends. Middle Earth teaches us life lessons that school doesn’t, and no one can take that away.”

The 21st CCLC supports the academic, behavioral, emotional and social growth of 4th-8th graders. As part of the 21st CCLC, Middle Earth developed ‘High School Helper’ positions to provide older teens with paid employment experience that stands out on their resumes and college applications.

“Middle Earth has given me leadership opportunities. Being a High School Helper has been a great experience and never feels like work,” said Erin, another Helper who enjoys working with the children. “In the future, I hope to attend college to study art education.”

High School Helpers assist Club Leaders within the classroom, provide supervision to students, act as mentors to younger students, and provide homework assistance and tutoring. The job provides them with an income and real employment skills such as teamwork, respect for supervisors, conflict management, and problem-solving. The younger students really look up to the High School Helpers.

“What is great about the High School Helpers is that almost all of them were once in the 21st CCLC program themselves, so they can really connect with the young students in the program now,” said Maria Strada, Executive Director. “High School Helpers have to complete an application and do an interview, just as they would for any other job opportunity, which provides them valuable experience in obtaining employment.”

Young students in the afterschool program are offered a wide array of activities, such as academic assistance, character education, educational field trips, health information, and many cultural and artistic opportunities. Many of these students transition to other Middle Earth programs as they enter high school, such as Community Youth Centers or the Youth College Readiness Program (YCRP). They can also apply to become High School Helpers when they are 16-years-old.

Alison joined Middle Earth’s afterschool program when she was a student in middle school and later participated in YCRP. Now a High School Helper, she believes that Middle Earth has helped her prepare for the real world and learn to interact better with people.

In fact, many of the High School Helpers state that Middle Earth has helped prepare them for a better future. In addition to giving them employment experience, Middle Earth arranges college trips and fairs, teaches independent living skills, and informs youth about options for their future. Wendy shared that her favorite memory with Middle Earth was touring John Jay College of Criminal Justice because that is the field she hopes to pursue. Miguel said that originally he didn’t think he would ever be able to go to college, but Middle Earth changed his mind. Now, he hopes to attend a business college to become an accountant.

“Middle Earth has not been just a program to me, but more of a family,” said Camila, another Helper who originally attended the afterschool program in middle school. She believes that the program helped her learn to manage her time more efficiently and develop into a responsible young adult.

Research shows that children who participate in afterschool programs are more likely to improve their grades, behave in school, develop better social skills, refuse alcohol and drugs, have higher self-confidence, avoid criminal behavior, and have higher aspirations for their future. This certainly seems to be the case for the teens now employed as High School Helpers.

“Middle Earth gave me a sense of reality and purpose,” stated Wendy. “(They instilled in) me the potential and motivation that I did not know I had within myself. Middle Earth provides us with a home, especially to those of us who aren't as fortunate as others.”

The Middle Earth afterschool program was funded in its entirety with federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by No Child Left Behind, Title IV, Part B, 21st Century Community Learning Center (21st CCLC) grant funds through a grant agreement with the New Jersey Department of Education.