Angelyca’s School’s Out Story
Have fun, be kind, be safe, be respectful, try your best: these are the five principles of the United Way BC School’s Out Friendship Club run by Burnaby Neighbourhood House in the Metrotown area.
Every Wednesday and Thursday throughout the school year, approximately 20 kids, aged 5 – 12, run out the school doors and up the ramp to a portable when the final school bell rings. They’re happy and excited to be here. This is a place where good things happen – games, snacks, indoor and outdoor play. While there is plenty of structure, it’s also a place where choices are respected; the kids can have fun with friends or enjoy some alone time, they can read, do arts and crafts, or learn something new. They even go on field trips!
Like most United Way School’s Out programs across British Columbia, this vital after-school program is offered free of charge to students and families based on assessed needs. Students are selected by school administration and/or community support staff based on who they believe will benefit the most. At this specific program site near Metrotown, there are three kids are on the autism spectrum, two are from the Ukraine, and most are from newcomer and/or low-income families.
Angelyca’s family is originally from the Philippines, but she has grown up in this neighbourhood. She loves it here because it’s close to everything – the pool, parks, school, and friends. She likes volleyball and swimming, fantasy books, painting, and food (especially sushi and her mom’s spaghetti).
Angelyca has been attending this School’s Out program for three years now and she’s happy to say that she met her best friend here. “We’re besties now,” she says with a big smile. At 10, she knows that good friends are important. It’s not just about having someone to play with, but also about having someone you can talk to, especially when you’re feeling sad.
This United Way BC School’s Out program, like 37 others across the province, offers a lot of social and emotional support and development.
“We always start with a bit of free time,” explains Maria Rojas, Afterschool Programs Coordinator at Burnaby Neighbourhood House. “This is an opportunity to have individual check-ins and do a bit of 1:1 bonding with each child before the activities begin. We integrate a lot of flexibility and conversations into our program to meet kids where they’re at. We always ask: How can we help you?”
For Angelyca, “The program has helped me be nicer to people, share my feelings and speak out about how I feel in a nice way.”
During her time here, Angelyca has become much better at communicating things she doesn’t like in a way that doesn’t hurt others’ feelings. Her developing communication skills have helped her become a good leader. A couple of weeks ago, she did a great job of showing her friends how to make slime – a big favourite among this group.
“I just wrote the recipe on the board,” says Maria, “And Angelyca did the rest, helping each child along the way. It was such a rewarding sight.”
In addition to helping children address challenging behaviours by modelling and talking about what’s Ok and what’s not OK, this School’s Out program provides kids with tools and coping skills that will benefit them for life. But the best part of the program for Angelyca is that it’s a blast!
“Maria makes it really fun. Especially in summer – we get to watch movies and we get to go everywhere, to Metrotown, and for Bubble Tea! She just makes it very fun.”
Outings like this (offered during a new School’s Out Summer session in 2022) are a real treat as many parents are balancing multiple jobs and commitments to make ends meet.
In a neighbourhood where economic instability, precarious housing, food insecurity, and everyday struggles are realities for many, life can be incredibly stressful, and kids pick up on the anxieties their parents rightfully feel. In fact, children in low-income families are three times more likely to have or develop mental health problems like anxiety if supports don’t exist to help parents who are at capacity.*
Maria notes that typical stress responses for kids of this age group can often vary between hyperactivity and shutting down. If the energy in the room is too high, Maria and her assistants provide a more calming environment – a quiet space, dim lights, sensory tools like a giant, cuddly bear, classical music, as well as visual supports and reminders on the whiteboard. If the mood is too low, brighter lights, movement, and more upbeat music are on the agenda.
In addition to the many benefits for the kids including emotional support, social skills development, healthy snacks, and learning new things, Maria feels that the biggest benefit to their families is the after-school care as it can also help with poverty reduction. “It’s a few more hours per week that parents can focus on work or household needs while we’re helping their kids transition from school to home.”
Over 75% of children participating in School’s Out programming report improved health and wellness, greater connectedness, and increased competencies in their areas of interest. These programs are making a difference in the lives of future generations.
Trisha Dulku, Strategic Initiatives Manager at United Way BC, adds that, “We know how critical the afterschool hours are for a child’s development and that building resiliency, connection, and the ability to self-regulate emotions during middle years will help children be more prepared to seek new ways to overcome challenges and achieve goals in the future. School’s Out programs create opportunities for growth and greater self-confidence – the basic building blocks that will help a child along the pathway to success.”
At a time when the rate of anxiety in kids is growing higher than ever, Schools Out programs like the Friendship Club in Burnaby are invaluable in providing the support kids need, along with some pure fun and joy.
Last year, thanks to donors like you, almost 5,000 children participated in United Way School’s Out programs, but our waitlists are long and growing. Children in our communities need our support more than ever.
Let’s bring the joy back to childhood. Donate today. For tomorrow.