JP Brags

In Thank You, Youth by Ashton Smith

For the past 5 years, I have worked as a Youth Program instructor at our Jamaica Pond location. There’s a lot to love about the Pond but one of the things I really like is how small it is. We have 15 students, 6 instructors, and a team of Adult Program staff. The size is great for the kids – our youth program is relaxed, fun, and extremely personal. And the small size means that we, the staff, have a lot of control and flexibility over what our day to day schedule looks like. We get to try new things, make adjustments, and fail, all in the controlled comfort of our tiny little program.

One new thing that I wanted to try this year was a brag board. In Charlestown, the brag board is a whiteboard that serves as a platform for staff to write nice things about each other. You could tell someone that they did a nice job docking or say thank you for handling a particularly difficult group of kids. It’s a great way to boost staff morale. I wanted to bring this to JP but struggled to see how it would realistically be implemented. Would it be feasible with such a small staff? It was one of few times where I saw the benefits of a bigger program.

So I decided to try something new. Instead of staff writing brags for each other, I wanted to ask the kids to write brags for the staff. I had no idea how the kids would respond to such a request but wanted to find out. So one rainy day I pulled out our whiteboard, gave the kids markers, and asked them to write nice things about their instructors.

The first brag board was completed with minimal success. Yes, we had a board with a few nice things on written on it. And yes, the instructors appreciated the gesture. But the kids were not engaged, did not enjoy it, and seemed to have no idea how to say nice things to other people.

But we all decided we liked the idea. We liked that the kids were reflecting on their time with us and we selfishly liked seeing the good things the kids had to say about us. We wanted to try again with next week’s kids.

The following week we changed it up a little bit. On Thursday afternoon, we made a brag board for the kids. Not only did that board serve as a model for what we were asking but it also made the kids feel good, making them more invested in the activity. On Friday we presented the board to them and they in turn made a board for us. The entire exchange was great. We made each kid feel special and we loved seeing what the kids had to say about us. Even though their brags were silly and made little sense, they still put a smile on our faces.

The brag board is a perfect example of why I love the Pond. We, as the instructors, have the unique ability to take control of the program, shape it how we want, and make it our own. I am extremely grateful for my years at the Pond and can only hope that I changed that tiny little boathouse as much as it changed me. -Katie

About the Author

Ashton Smith