From entertainment to achievement: Club activities at Shelterwood

Shelterwood students have the opportunity to participate in a variety of clubs, from soccer and photography to rock climbing and yoga and everything in between. At Shelterwood, every club is designed to help students set a goal and work to reach it. “The whole purpose of our clubs is to show students that they are capable of accomplishing something they did not think was possible. Our clubs are all about committing to a process and sticking to it,” says Kyle Anderson, Performing Arts Coordinator, who coordinates the student clubs at Shelterwood.

Most young people are not encouraged to stick with something for the long haul, and our culture encourages instant gratification, he says. “So much of our culture in America focuses on entertainment and we keep ourselves busy with passive entertainment activities,” Kyle says, including TV, smartphones, the Internet and more.

To combat that quick-fix entertainment culture, Kyle says, every Shelterwood club is designed around a specific goal. “Most high schools have clubs where students get together to do something they enjoy, but Shelterwood clubs take things a step further. Our clubs are focused on what we want to accomplish at the end of the process. These clubs are an opportunity for our students to say, ‘I can do this,’ and then move forward and be really proud of what they have done,” Kyle explains. This sense of accomplishment can be life-changing for struggling teens.

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This spring, clubs included rock climbing, arts and crafts, weight lifting, soccer, photography, camping and survival, wrestling, yoga and even one designed around escape rooms. The clubs take place Tuesday and Thursday evenings and are run by young adult Mentors. Students began the club session by identifying their goals and committing to the process.

“For example, the photography club set a goal of framing and displaying their favorite images and setting up an art show on the Shelterwood campus,” Kyle shares. Students in the rock climbing club had binders where they tracked their progress in completing different routes and noticed their improvement over time.” Struggling teens see that they can set goals and do more than they initially imagined.

Students have different expectations in the clubs depending on what stage they are at in their Shelterwood journey. When students first arrive at Shelterwood, the expectation is to choose a club and set a goal. “As they move through the program, we expect them to set the goal, show effort to accomplish it and stay mentally engaged,” Kyle says. “During the upper stages of the program, we look to students to be positive leaders, positive peer influencers and to provide their encouragement to other students.”

Furthermore, the club activities build students’ self-confidence and help them practice recreation in a way that is healthy and fun. “The students get to experience activities that are healthy alternatives to some of the dangerous activities they may have been trying before Shelterwood, and they get a taste of an enjoyable, active way to have fun.” Clubs are part of a greater commitment to fun, engaging campus life at Shelterwood.

Not every club reaches their goal, Kyle says, and that offers an opportunity to practice dealing with disappointment and practice problem-solving. “If the goal doesn’t happen, we talk about it. We process why it did not work. This happens in life sometimes — so when we don’t reach our goals, how do we move forward?”

Other clubs, however, not only reach their goals, but surpass them and set even bigger goals. Kyle points to the escape room club, for example. “Originally, their goal was to prepare for their field trip to an escape room in Kansas City with some team-building activities,” he recalls. “Yet it grew so much with students stepping up and spearheading their efforts and the club actually designed and built their own escape room for the Shelterwood staff! Their perception of themselves changed and they understood how they could influence their peers in a positive way, and how to use their voice in a meaningful way.”

“We live in such an individualistic society, but to thrive as an adult, we have to learn how to work together,” Kyle says. “Through our clubs, students are learning commitment to a process, how to receive feedback, how to move forward with confidence and how to work together towards a goal. The skills the students learn through clubs are skills they can take with them into their future. We are really changing perspectives in these kids.”

Shelterwood Performing Arts: Life Lessons on and off Stage

When Shelterwood students participate in the performing arts, the show itself is only the beginning. Performing arts offer students opportunities for real transformation, and many students experienced that during the recent fall play.

This season, Shelterwood students performed the first-ever fall play, Body, Body. “The play is about a high school girl, Madeline, who thinks she is fat,” explains Kyle Anderson, Shelterwood Performing Arts Coordinator. Other characters in the play are Madeline’s body parts, personified. “These body parts bring back painful moments from her past,” Kyle shares.

“The play is a raw story, and very real. Although it deals with body image, the issues the play deals with are more far-reaching.” Other topics included body image, pressure to be perfect, peer acceptance, eating disorders, self-confidence, self-acceptance and more.

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At the end of the play, Madeline breaks free from these negative messages and decides she wants to be the one in charge of where her life is going. With its relatable themes and meaningful messages, the play offered a platform for Shelterwood students to process through issues they face in their own hearts. “The story does not hide from emotion, bringing some real issues to the table,” Kyle explains. “It was easy for students to get into the story because it was relatable.”

Participating in the play was a turning point for some Shelterwood students, Kyle recalls. The night before the performance brought more than just dress rehearsal jitters, so Kyle paused the practice so students could process their emotions. “As we started talking, several students said they felt unqualified to perform the play, because they were still struggling with some of the messages,” Kyle said. “It was a time of honesty and peer encouragement. They grew closer and learned they do not have to live under those strongholds anymore.”

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Ten Shelterwood students — seven actors and three backstage — participated in the play. The performance was a campus-wide event, with all students and staff in attendance. “Having the whole Shelterwood community supporting them was very encouraging,” Kyle says. “The students had worked very hard and got positive feedback from everyone who watched the show.”

Performing arts experiences at Shelterwood are designed to teach students lessons that last far beyond the performance, including the value of work well done, the importance of collaboration and the joy of trying new things.

“One of our goals for Shelterwood performing arts is to give students the opportunity to gather with their peers and accomplish something they never would have accomplished on their own. Students get to practice that healthy team dynamic, when they come together, work together, push through challenges and develop that sense of community pride in what they accomplished,” Kyle says.

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Students at Shelterwood have many pathways to participate in the performing arts, from live plays to video projects and musical opportunities. They are able to build their work ethic and recognize the good fruit that results from hard work. “These students realized that hard work is a good thing,” Kyle adds. “The play was not perfect, but they succeeded. This is a life lesson they will take with them long after they leave Shelterwood.”

Perhaps the greatest gain is in their self-confidence. “It can be scary to perform in front of others, but through the process of preparing and practicing, a lightbulb goes off, and students realize, ‘I can do this! I can be successful!’”

“There is a special kind of confidence that results from working hard and being successful,” Kyle says. “Students walk around campus a little taller, and they are at peace because they are proud of what they have accomplished. When they start believing in their ability, they start to believe in themselves.”