Lakota school’s boys club more popular as pandemic lingers

The now three-year old Boys Club at Lakota's Ridge Junior School continues to see more boys join as the home-grown club grows in popularity. The club was started three years ago by a Ridge teacher with 10 members and now has 50 boys participating. Some of the members are pictured in a Ridge school hallway. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)

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The now three-year old Boys Club at Lakota's Ridge Junior School continues to see more boys join as the home-grown club grows in popularity. The club was started three years ago by a Ridge teacher with 10 members and now has 50 boys participating. Some of the members are pictured in a Ridge school hallway. (Provided Photo\Journal-News)

A Lakota school’s popular club for boys is growing as word spreads among students, school officials said.

The Lakota Ridge Junior School’s Boys Club, which is focused on community involvement and improvement, is adding members in its third year of existence, said founding teacher Andrew Wuest.

In the beginning, Wuest had about 10 students attend.

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That number has grown to around 50. Students can come and go from the group, depending on their other extracurricular activities and commitments.

“Whether there’s 50 kids or 20, I’m going to be serious about this club,” Wuest said. “If it just reaches one kid, it’s worth it.”

The Ridge Boys Club focuses on the teens sharing experiences and building friendships with fellow classmates they might not meet otherwise.

Toss in life lessons and skills; conversation and fun and the club has grown more popular.

Ridge Eighth-grader Yassien Salam said “we get to all be together. We learn how to become better men, better people.”

The on-going coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated long-standing mental health and socializing needs among students of both sexes and spotlighted the need to build deeper relationships among peers.

A recent PEW Research Center article reported in November, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared that the pandemic-related decline in child and adolescent mental health has become a national emergency.

“With young men, it’s important that they understand it’s okay to have emotions,” said Wuest. “I want them to know that they can reach out to a trusted adult to talk about things.”

Nathan Jeffers, a fellow teacher at Ridge, is helping out with Boys Club this year.

“I am big on building relationships in the classroom and within the school building, so when (Wuest) asked me if I wanted to help out, it was almost a no-brainer,” said Jeffers. “Being a part of the Ridge Boys Club has allowed me to build relationships with students, have fun after school playing sports and doing other activities, and feel a part of the community here at Ridge.”

Wuest said he enjoys the fact that students who may not meet during class or other activities are getting to know each other here.

“The kids just want to make a connection,” he said.

Ridge’s principal, Stacey Cahill, has seen the positive impact the club is having on the students. “The school’s Boys Club is a community of diverse students that come together, build relationships and learn the soft skills needed to be successful,” she said.

“Students have stepped up to assist others around school and allow others to feel welcome. They learn important skills to allow them to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens.”

The Ridge team is looking to possibly introduce a similar after-school club for girls next semester “so they can learn how to build healthy relationships and become mature leaders in the building as well,” Cahill said.

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