Empowering Young Men: A Holistic Enrichment Experience at Great Oaks Legacy Charter School

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AmeriCorps member Jalen Ballard grew up in Atlanta, Georgia where he also attended Georgia State University for his undergraduate studies. Mr. Ballard double majored in Psychology and Sociology at GSU and continued his education at NYU to get a Master’s degree in Sociology of Education. Clearly interested in education, Mr. Ballard applied to AmeriCorps’ Urban Education Fellowship in Newark, NJ because “I felt like I could make a lasting impact in ca smaller group setting. I had previous experience as a teaching fellow, biology tutor, and even as a social and emotional education fellow but all of the classes were more than 15 students. I was interested to see how dynamic I would be if I had a smaller cohort at my disposal.”

The AmeriCorps year at Great Oaks Legacy Charter School also provides opportunities beyond tutoring, such as leading and organizing after school enrichments. Mr. Ballard works at the Great Oaks Legacy Middle School campus where he started the Gentlemen’s Club. After school Mr. Ballard and a group of students meet to work on homework, meditate, complete problem solving activities, and discuss current events together. Mr. Ballard hopes that the students will gain “a sense of identity and a firmer understanding of who they are. I want them to learn how to embrace their differences amongst each other [and] to see these differences not as detrimental characteristics, but as unhatched gifts that require practice, self-confidence, and discipline for it to blossom rightfully.”

Having time and a consistent place to reflect and work on one’s self is important for everyone, but especially for children during their teenage years. Mr. Ballard has created a space for the students to “socialize, be expressive, and open up to myself and their peers about what is occurring in their everyday lives.” The importance of this is not lost on Mr. Ballard, as he explains that “I think it was important to have enrichment at this campus because the scholars for the most part were lacking an effective outlet. With their only form of enrichment classes being gym and theater, the students required more opportunities and chances to display their natural talents and attributes that a normal school day wouldn’t be able to provide.”

Mr. Ballard strongly believes in the intersection of social and emotional learning with academics shown through the aims and success of the Gentlemen’s Club. The boys and the enrichment has also taught Mr. Ballard about the “patience, influence, and inherent nature of compassion for [the] boys … Some of these children don’t have an older sibling to look up to, guide them, and have fun with. Thus, I fostered that new role for them and was able to build with them as they navigated their pathways of success here at Great Oaks.”

As a tutor and an enrichment leader, Mr. Ballard has been able to cultivate his beliefs of a holistic educational approach by teaching the kids that “living the best whole life is priority.” This is a lesson he hopes will stick with the students hoping that they will “remain self aware, open, communicative, and respectful of themselves and others.”

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