Grace Hill Skate Club!

Skate club has been one of my favorite things about SOAR. I believe that there are so many benefits to having skate club. It instills confidence in our kids, and it also gives the kids an outlet to try a new hobby that they might not get to try outside of SOAR.

So many of the students that come into skate club usually don’t have any skateboarding experience. They join the club because skateboarding is cool, but they don’t know how to do it. This makes them very hesitant at first. They don’t believe that they are good at skateboarding, but each week that passes they learn more and more. Seeing them progress and learn and gain confidence has been so rewarding, not only for them but for me.

Skate club is an awesome outlet for kids to try new things and learn that doing hard things is worth it. It teaches them perseverance and is something cool that they can tell their friends and family. Skateboarding is something not everyone gets to try, but because of SOAR, our kids get the chance to try it and become better doing it. Skate club is the best.

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Why should you work at SOAR?

SOAR provides opportunity for you to gain experience through meaningful work. As a staff member, you will gain practical skills that you can apply to many future events, including: the workforce, volunteering, and family situations.

For future educators, you will gain classroom experience through instructing classes, discipline, classroom management skills and interaction with elementary aged students. For future social work or counseling majors, you will interact and engage with students from low-socioeconomic homes with a high cultural diversity. For anyone specializing in ESL or Spanish majors/minors, you will get daily opportunities to practice conversational Spanish with students and families. SOAR will definitely provide you with useful tools that you can apply to any workplace. Let’s hear from a few past SOAR workers about how their experience has shaped their career!

“My time spent working at SOAR not only helped me gain experience with a diverse set of children, but it also gave me a heart for diverse people. Working at SOAR taught me to value the differences and similarities among myself, my coworkers, and my students.

Being with these kids everyday helped me to understand their interests and hobbies. For instance, many of them LOVE soccer, Shopkins, or even smashball. In my current classroom, I use my knowledge of the interests of these students to help me plan my lessons. Incorporating their interests into writing prompts and/or math problems makes learning for them so much more fun and engaging! As an educator, it is my hope to meet the needs of all students. From this experience, I was given the opportunity to truly get to know the children and their families on a personal level. Having that opportunity allowed for me to establish relationships of respect and rapport, which enabled me to serve the children better. ”

-Hayden Alexander, 4th grade teacher in Rogers, AR

“Over the past year and a half of working at SOAR, I’ve learned so much about being flexible while teaching a class or leading instruction. No matter how prepared I am for a lesson there always seems to be a time where things change. There isn’t much time to gather my thoughts or create a new game plan, instead I am forced to make quick decisions and think on my feet.

Last year I was teaching an art class to students of all ages, and the plan was to paint on large sheets of paper to make a mural. About 20 minutes into the class, the beautiful idea I had for the mural had turned into brown unrecognizable paintings. But instead of being upset or frustrated that the lesson wasn't going as I had planned, I stopped and looked around at the students painting. Every students had paint covering their hands and they were smiling from ear to ear. EVERYONE was participating and EVERYONE was proud of the work they had done. How could I possibly be upset that the mural didn’t turn out as I had planned when instead my students were making memories? Even though my lesson didn't go as planned, the students were proud of their work and that was the ultimate goal.

Being flexible while teaching is something that my education professors talk about, but I would have never been completely comfortable or as understanding without my time at SOAR. Without my experiences at SOAR, I would not be confident in keeping a positive and encouraging classroom environment while also changing the lesson to best fit the needs of the children along the way.”

-Chloe Nanos, University of Arkansas MAT Program

“The SOAR after school program is hands down the best after school program I have experienced or heard of in the local school districts. I was fortunate to get to work at SOAR for about two and a half years, and it was the best way I could have spent my time. As a freshman entering college, I was determined to become an elementary teacher in the NWA area. Besides my classroom studies and field practicums with the University of Arkansas, working at SOAR had the most influence in my journey to become a teacher. It wasn't school, but it was daily interactions with elementary kids in a structured environment where I could gain more experience in teaching, disciplining, playing, and caring for kids...and that is exactly what happened.

Honestly, it was pretty tough sometimes. With each kid came new challenges. Some of the kids definitely brought more challenges than others, but through working at SOAR, I grew to care for every kid the same. I even found myself being drawn to the kids who required more discipline and attention rather than being exhausted by them. After my tenure with SOAR, I walked away feeling more prepared to manage a classroom of students. This being my first year as a teacher, I have realized how important and hard classroom management really is. I currently teach fourth grade at Bonnie Grimes Elementary in Rogers and I absolutely love it. Of course sometimes it is difficult and a little defeating, but I feel purpose in it. SOAR gave me a taste of the growth I could see in kids lives through relationships and it encourages me to give everything I have to my kids. They deserve it.”

-Brad Mitchell, 4th Grade Teacher in Rogers, AR

Parson Hills Soccer Tournament

The SOAR year is in full swing, and the last Friday of September officially kicked off our first special event at SOAR Parson Hills! Our students are crazy about sports, so naturally with the start of football season we had to make the theme all about sports. We hosted an all SOAR family soccer tournament, The Backyard Bash, at Parson Hills where we split all of our students up into eight equal teams. We even had four fields painted onto the playground for the students.

The goal of hosting special events is to encourage parents to come and support their students and our program. The victory in this first special event was having at least 20 different families show up to support their students in the soccer tournament! We even had a few parents jump in the game and play with their children!

This first event embodied all that we hope to accomplish through our program. Family involvement and support both play a pertinent role in all that we are trying to cultivate through our program. We aim to empower and fight for our students, but just as much as, we also aim to cultivate relationships with our students.

We also hope to build those same relationships between our program and staff with the parents and families. We are for our families as much as we are for their children, and our special events are a great way for us to foster those relationships and bonds between our staff, students, and families. Family involvement is vital to the success of our students because the more support they receive, the more empowered they will feel and become. Moving forward, we hope for even more than 20 parents and families to be able to take part in the joy that we as staff have for these students and this program.

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Bilingual Buddies

At SOAR we believe every child has something they can teach. A new club at SOAR Grace Hill was built off that idea and has turned into something truly special.

Bilingual Buddies is a club that is made up of two kinds of students. Half of the students were raised speaking only English, and the other half call Spanish their first language. Our bilingual students have taken on the role of teacher, and with it, the responsibility to share their knowledge with their peers through one on one and small group interactions.

Beyond the basics of Spanish greetings and common phrases, the club has become a forum for understanding and perspectives. One participant, Joel, shared with the group about his experience learning English as a kindergarten student, 3 years ago. He spoke of the frustrations, the confusion, and the difficulties he endured entering a world where he had to figure things out on his own. It opened up a chance for other students to empathize and to cheer Joel on for what he has accomplished.

“The reason i signed up is because I want to help people to speak in Spanish… if they don’t know words, we help them with whatever they need. If you want to explore the world, like go to Mexico, and you don’t talk Spanish, how will you talk to them? When I was in kindergarten, they taught me how to talk in English. It was hard, but there was one girl who only talked in Spanish too… we helped each other with learning,” Joel said.

The club is being overseen by 2nd year staff member, Hector Contreras, who excitedly jumped at the chance to connect with students within this club. Hector himself is bilingual, having moved to the United States and learned English during his 2nd grade year. “It’s an opportunity for kids to have a platform to talk about their experiences and help non-Spanish speaking students learn Spanish...  and for them to just care about the different cultures surrounding them. They’re now aware of the differences but can realize we are all human,” says Hector. 

Gypsy, a 2nd grader shared, “I wanted to understand my friends who speak Spanish. I am enjoying it, and it’s fun to tell people my name. It’s important to be able to understand people around the world, and here [in Northwest Arkansas].”

Students have lots of ideas for where to take the club next, as they take ownership of Bilingual Buddies’ potential. Plans for next week include making quesadillas from a recipe in Spanish. Skills in mathematics, cooking, language and teamwork will all be utilized…. And it will result in quesadillas!

The Importance of Club @ SOAR

Our Goal…

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Though we believe academics are absolutely important in life, we also believe that teaching students life skills will help them have the proper set of tools they need to succeed wherever they go and in whatever they do in life. At SOAR we love providing areas where kids can thrive in and learn more about areas that they are interested in.

Our different Clubs are a way to not only  encourage kids to learn life skills, but a fun way where they can discover their strengths and what they are passionate about!

We have different Clubs that kids love being a part of, for example: Gymnastics, Music, Running, DIY crafts, Cheerleading, Cooking, Skateboarding, and Goops and Gadgets. We also have amazing staff that love being a part of this learning process and really motivate the kids to discover their skills and talents.

There are so many benefits that come from being a member of a club.

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Team work

There are so many ways that Clubs help our children develop teamwork. For example, having a small group in each Club definitely gives staff more opportunity to identify kids strengths and recognize how hard they are working. Working in a group helps kids discover their role and also understand their role's importance. In a setting like this, the children also learn how to work in a group, which is a skill they will need for future. They observe and learn how different each person works, and we encourage the children to respect and admire the richness of differences. While they do all these fun projects, they develop friendships that can last a lifetime.

Leadership

We are very intentional in assigning different tasks and responsibilities to kids that will encourage them to show their leadership skills. A leader is not always the person up front, the loudest or the most confident, but the one that serves others first, see others’ needs first, and guides with good example. As staff we see the potential each kid has, and our goal is to help them discover their potential. Leadership is such an important life skill that we want kids to find in themselves, because it will benefit them now and in the future.

Creativity  

The purpose of exposing kids to new and different activities is to create a new perspective. We want kids to generate alternatives on how to do things and bring uniqueness to the table. Creativity comes with being flexible and enjoying the process of learning new things, therefore clubs also help kids learn how to be flexible and try new things when their first idea doesn't work as well as they thought it would. We see kids create and be surprised with their own potential all while they are also learning how to encourage others. It is truly a beautiful combination.

There are so many more benefits that come with developing new activities. We want clubs to be an opportunity for them to create, learn, develop skills, have fun, and be challenged, but most importantly, to believe in themselves and what they can do.

What kids think about clubs...

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I like Clubs, because I get to meet new people. I like to do crafts and learn new things than I can also do at home. I love hanging out with my friends and seeing what we create. Every person does things differently, and I like that.

-Heidi

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We made candles, and I have never made one before. I like that I was able to see how to make it and learn. In Clubs, we also have to help our partners, because we work in teams, and I like that.

-Guadalupe

 



 

          

 

Why I Love SOAR! - Kaylin Smith - SOAR Daily Staff Member

I absolutely love SOAR. I fell in love with it from the moment that I started working here. It sounds cheesy, but it’s way more than just a job to me. It’s a place where I can go and forget about all my other worries and struggles. I walk in, and I know that the children in my group need my focus way more than my group project. I channel my energy because I know that despite how dirty my apartment is or how badly I need to call my mom back, that these kids are craving my attention. They are looking for someone to care for them and love them well. And by working here, I have declared that person to be me! 

So what is really crazy about this job is that it does so much for you. It seems like a lot of work to focus so much energy on one thing, especially being a college student who doesn’t seem to have enough energy to go around. But this job grows you. This job has taught me how to love others just as Christ has loved me. These kids are cute, but they are also hard. They don’t listen and they can be so stubborn sometimes. But my daily realization when I walk into SOAR is how much more Christ loves me, despite how difficult I am. I love them, not because they deserve it or because it’s in my job description, but because Jesus has revealed to me, through this job, that He loves me more than I could ever love Him. But out of my love for Him- out of that overflow- I will love these kids. And maybe, just maybe, through me loving them, these kids will see Christ’s love. 

It isn’t always easy. They are super cute, but they mess up. But this is just one of the reason that SOAR is such a beautiful place. Love requires grace, and every single day, we get the opportunity to show children grace. The way that we do discipline enables us to whip their wrongdoings clean every evening after SOAR ends, and everyday they start clean. I cannot even count the amount of times I have used this example to explain to my kids what grace is. Grace is loving someone despite what they have done, and I feel like this helps the kids know how much we love them. SOAR doesn’t give up on them. SOAR wants to see them succeed and the people at SOAR will do whatever they can to see that each child does just that. 

And that is why I absolutely love SOAR. That I why I feel like I am a really lucky person to get the opportunity to work somewhere that matters and desires to make a difference. This place has changed a lot of children’s lives, and it has also changed mine too.

-Kaylin Smith, 2-year SOAR staff member

Rise Up!

This August marked my fourth year of working for the best after school program in the nation. We have created an atmosphere that allows students to feel safe and supported by promoting an uplifting after school program experience. Our program enables students to have an amazingly-fun time throughout our jam packed schedule of classes, clubs, and ongoing opportunities. We see growth in our students through the interactions that occur with a team of staff who are dedicated to fostering healthy mentoring-relationships. Our program promotes 6 character traits, which calls our students to act in a manner that raises the bar. We have high expectations for every one of our students, because we are confident that they are capable of achieving greatness. I am thankful for the journey and the experiences that SOAR has provided me over my time here. I know in my heart that SOAR is impacting the lives of every student, family member, and staff that are involved in our programs. SOAR is teaching, using, and challenging Northwest Arkansas to Rise Up and overcome the challenges of living in today’s world.

What has SOAR taught me?

I have learned a lot through working for SOAR; things like improved educational approaches, a wider knowledge of classroom management skills, and a deepened appreciation for staff development. While my educational background has improved, I think the biggest thing that I have been taught is to disregard my insecurities and ignore any hint of uncomfortableness. Once I have learned to master this skill, I can manage anything that is placed in front of me. I work on developing this skill through my weekly routine. My job allows me to interact with students, staff, and parents and help them solve problems in their lives. I learn by working side by side with partnerships that are flourishing well with what they do. I learn educational techniques from a school that has a team of top-of-the-line educators and a highly dedicated administration. I have learned to see students for who they are, not what they have been labeled. I have learned to communicate with parents in a way that is not accusatory or degrading. I have learned to love my staff in a way that makes them feel appreciated and needed within the program. I have learned to encourage students to Rise Up and be who they want to be!

How has SOAR used me?

It is crazy to think about how a role, or position, may have used you--but looking back, I know that I have been given much responsibility and granted much trust from this job. SOAR has used me to love each student and staff individually for who they are, and what they bring to the table. SOAR has used me to carry on the traditions that my former boss started when the first ideas of SOAR were formed. We are passionate about service, opportunity, academics, and recreation. These 4 components are what we stand for and what we create our programming around. SOAR has used me to challenge students to make a difference and apply the SOAR 6 to their life. SOAR has used me to go outside my comfort zone and into the lives of families involved with our program. SOAR has used me to be an advocate, a voice, a friend, a teacher, and a guide in many ways. I hope that I am used in a way that will promote positive community engagement and substantial educational growth for the students in SOAR. I am used well at SOAR when I choose to Rise Up.

How has SOAR challenged me?

SOAR is a place that pushes you to do something different. Whether you are a student or a staff member, a teacher or a parent-SOAR will challenge you. We have a successful program because we have accepted the challenge and gone above “the norm” of afterschool program care. SOAR has challenged me to learn about new groups of people and immerse myself in their culture. SOAR has challenged me to put myself in other people’s shoes and consider different perspectives. SOAR has challenged me to stand up for what I believe and for those who are underappreciated. After working for SOAR, I have been challenged in areas I did not know needed growth. As a SOAR staff member, you will be challenged more than you have in any other job. You are challenged to do better, because you are working with children who desire your best. I want to love well, serve hard, and respond when I’m called. Because of my experience with SOAR, I have been challenged to make a change. I want to eagerly respond to the challenge of rising up, and I want to challenge others to Rise Up!

Panther Parent Academy at Parson Hills Elementary

Panther Parent Academy is an adult education program for Parson Hills Elementary parents that seeks to inform, equip and come alongside families to advocate for their overall economic, social and personal well-being.  

When Camp War Eagle’s After School Program, SOAR, expanded to Parson Hills Elementary in 2015 part of the vision for expanding and growing was to kickstart a program for the families of our kids and the school.

During SOAR’s involvement with Jones Elementary, we came alongside an existing program that the school was running called Parent University. Parent University, or P.U. a weekly opportunity that incentivized parental involvement in classes and topic studies relevant to them culturally, economically and socially. P.U. started with the efforts of Principal Melissa Fink and other Jones teachers. The partnership with SOAR and P.U. led to unique opportunities for deeper partnerships with Camp and the school and strengthened or created relationships that had never before been accessed by our organization.

As a summer camp and an after-school program there is limited interactions with the families of the kids we set out to serve, so this development was indeed unmapped wilderness for Camp War Eagle. It prompted discussion for the new SOAR sight at Parson Hills, which was well funded by the Walton Family Foundation and a 21CCLC grant through the state, to have an element of its program be specifically dedicated to engaging the families of the school.

That led to the Parson Hills site starting what we now call Panther Parent Academy, or P.P.A. The goal of the program is to connect on a personal level with Parson Hills families, and especially those of our SOAR families through weekly gatherings where we facilitate adult classes about cultural, financial and personal issues, provide childcare and offer a family-style dinner. We have partnered with organizations all over the area like Freedom5one, Art Feeds, Team Springdale, The Jones Center, the Springdale Police Department and Springdale Schools.

Principal Heather Cooper, who came to the school four years ago, said it has been difficult to form much or any kind of parent involvement outside of what is mandatory. So when SOAR brought the idea to Mrs. Cooper she was thrilled about the possibilities it would create for the parents to get involved in something that could further the school’s relationships and opportunities for the families.

In previous sessions we have covered things like personal health and wellness and partnered with the school nurse and UofA med students, we also did a miniseries on safety and awareness and brought in the school’s resource officer to give a presentation on gang awareness and even did a miniseries with Freedom 51 on personal finance and budgeting.

This semester we are doing a series inspired by a very successful class at Jones Elementary P.U. called ‘pathway to graduation’ where we bring in guidance counselors from the proceeding schools our Parson Hills students will feed into to talk about the specifics of that grade level. Whether it be emotional health and wellness, athletic or extracurricular opportunities, or how parents can be involved we are covering it from middle school all the way to their college experience.

We also break up these classes with nights of pure fun for the whole family to let loose and have a good time with each other! The most recent one we had was a family BINGO night that was held in the school’s library. We had over 70 people in attendance- some who had never played BINGO before! It was a night full of pizza, prizes and giggles and something that is on the verge of becoming a tradition.

The program is small but growing and we are learning just how much these families care not only about themselves and their own well-being, but that of their kids and we are so grateful for a place to partner with them- we are excited for the coming weeks and years of this partnership!

 

 

 

Growing Together

           As a SOAR staff member, I am always trying to find ways to help better teach the kids educationally and through life lessons.  However, what I don’t think about is that they indirectly teach us, too!  It’s not just a one-way discipline cycle, we all grow and learn through each other and it’s a beautiful thing.

         Monday, September 20th was the very first swimming day of the year.  As a past competitive swimmer I was super pumped to be able to share this past experience with them now.  The kids were super excited when they arrived that day and wanted to fly through dinner so they’d get more time to swim.  As we walked into the hallway the immediate smell of chlorine filled the air and all the kids were jumping with excitement.  Although I had one worry.  It was small and silly but it scared me a little if the kids noticed and reacted.  After we all changed in the locker rooms the kids lined up at the door and met Miss Sam to give them permission to go jump in the pool.  The pool was such a rush; the water is always cold at first but kids never seem to be phased by it.  The boys were throwing the football and the girls playing tag.  It made me happy to see them so happy and enjoying their time. I was just wading through the wavy water making my way around the ecstatic kids.  One boy in particular called me over, and asked me what my name was again since it was only week four of SOAR.  After I told him he remembered saying, “Oh yeah, you wear glasses usually!  And today you look very pretty by the way.”  This struck me as a surprise since he was one of the younger kids and a boy who usually doesn’t think to compliment others at that age.  This comment also happened to confront my worry that day.  My face had been broken out pretty bad and I didn’t want the kids to react in a negative way since we were swimming and it wasn’t going to be covered up.  It’s a silly thing to worry about but it filled my 18-year-old mind.  This little boy’s comment immediately made my day and realized just how thankful I am for their presence in my life.  It’s amazing how they can indirectly make me feel better without even knowing I had the problem in the first place.  The humility children have without even knowing is astounding.  

This experience opened my mind and made me realize this is a perfect example of why Jesus tells us to love others like children do (Matthew 18:3-4).  Children have this unconditional love for everyone.  They accept things in simplicity.  It’s only when we grow up when we start to question everything.  The currency of the kingdom of heaven is faith.  This is why we must have faith like a child.  I am so blessed to be a part of the SOAR family and also have the influence of every single one of these kiddo’s in my life.  We help them, and they also help us develop and learn in the faith, too!

“But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory now and forever.  Amen.”  2 Peter 3:18

Author: Creighton Panas

Family Bingo Night at Jones SOAR

"Bingo!" Mr. Javier yelled from his table in the back. He had won his first Bingo game. EVER. He had never heard of Bingo. He had no clue what he was getting himself into when his two children had begged him to stay for family bingo night. He had no clue when he said "yes" to his children; and let alone, he had no idea he'd have beginner's luck and win a prize. 

On September 21st we had our first family event of the year at the Jones Center. I had advertised one week in advance and had personally invited families to attend just a couple of days before Bingo Night. I greeted them and reminded them to join us for a night of food, family, and fun hoping to encourage them to come. I had four families that signed up, totaling my numbers up to twenty, and families that verbally told me they would come. I was nervous but very excited to see the outcome for the following day.
 

Javier & His Family

Javier & His Family

It was finally the day of Family Bingo Night. I was so distressed and worried, especially since I have never had a family event that was specific only to SOAR families, and held in our own program area. I feared that no families would show up and the prizes and pizza I had bought would be a total waste. My mind was in a hundred places at once and my discouraged heart clouded my judgment and my thoughts. A half hour before we kicked off our family night, I distracted myself with clearing bingo boards, finding plates and napkins, and putting the prizes together. (When I am nervous and discouraged, I tend to fidget and distract myself with small busy work.) My colleague, the director of the program, called me out and redirected me to reality. She told me to leave the busy work to her and for me to go get ready to greet families thatwill show up. I repeated that in my head, "will show up, will show up, will show up." And boy, am I forever grateful for her ambitious heart. She saw the positive outcome, and I was only looking at the worst outcome. I let my doubtful heart get the best of me so I chose to rid myself of negative thoughts and I heard a voice telling me "So what if you only have 1-5 people show up? Sit with them. Laugh with them. Play bingo with them. Love them." 

I made my way to the front desk as the last families were checking out of the program. I had one family waiting in the hall and asked them if they were staying and they said "Yes!" There was four of them in the family! My heart leapt for joy and I directed them to the program area. Shortly after, I saw two of our students with their father saying "please, can we stay?" I then went up to Mr. Javier, shook his hand firmly, smiled, and asked how he was and if he'd like to play bingo. He nodded yes and his children jumped with a fist pump as he went to the car to invite his wife, oldest child, and toddler son inside. At this point, I was more than happy to have a total of nine people! Shortly after, a third family arrived and all my doubt was shoved aside. We had fifteen people total. Fifteen! I was ecstatic!

We served the families pizza and I nervously sat down with Mr. Javier's family and asked him about his work and his wife's hobbies. I was afraid the language barrier will shy them away from speaking to me so I kindly asked for his children to translate. I learned that Mr. Javier and his wife has never even heard of the game bingo. I learned about his job and I learned about some of the talents and interests his wife has. I learned about their oldest daughter's passions and strengths in school. I bonded with his two children that are currently in our afterschool program. Oh, how sweet it was to see their faces light up when I would speak to their children! I soon wished I could just sit with them all night and learn more and more about them. But we were running out of time and had a schedule to stick to.

My colleagues were also seeking out families and bonding with them. I was blessed to be able to witness something as simple and kind as them laughing with families, attending to their needs, and serving them to the best of their ability. Words cannot express my gratitude for their help!

Right as we were about to begin the first round of bingo, more and more families kept trickling in. I was preparing bingo and Sam and Andrew were helping families get settled. At one point all three of us were scrambling the get the new families settled! Our number of the night ended at 37! I was so surprised by the number of families that showed up for our first ever family event! What a joy it was to see families enjoying themselves, talking amongst one another, and playing a fun game of bingo. I was completely overwhelmed by tasting and seeing the effect of an afterschool program that brings families together for one purpose--to see grace and love be extended to them as it was extended to us.