By Charlotte Steinecke, communications manager at the Afterschool Alliance, and Sam Harp, site director at SOAR, the Camp War Eagle Afterschool Program.
Every afternoon, the Jones Center in Northwestern Arkansas fills with children and young people shooting hoops in the gym, playing clapping games in the hall, and heading towards the game room or the ice rink for a few hours of fun after school. Jeans, t-shirts, and hoodies were everywhere, until visitors reached the East conference room, where the dress code became considerably more buttoned-up. About 40 elementary schoolers in khaki bottoms and polo shirts struggled to contain their excitement as the adults put the finishing touches on a competition space just beyond the double-doors.
These students were about to put their hard work and training to the test at Springdale, Arkansas’ Amazing Shake.
Modeled after a competition in Atlanta, round one of the Amazing Shake was a test of all the situation-based professional language strategies these students had learned during their semester at the Amazing Shake Club, one of the enrichment activities offered by the SOAR Afterschool Program with Camp War Eagle in Northwestern Arkansas. Equipped with the ins and outs of office etiquette, career exploration, resume-writing, public speaking, and professional development, the students stepped into a 20-booth scenario space, complete with props and volunteer actors and judges.
Their task was to run the gamut of scenarios, ranging from the fun and exciting (hosting a book signing and presenting as a sportscaster) to situations that would make adults quake (a two-on-one job interview and responding graciously to an undesirable birthday present). As they went, the volunteer actors would grade them on their composure, presentation, confidence, passion, and je ne sais quoi – the “it factor” that made a student’s performance memorable. Each scenario lasted only 2.5 minutes; enough time to complete the task, make an impression, and head to the next staging ground in anticipation of their upcoming task.
Students used the breaks between their scenarios to look ahead and strategize. “I’m going to the New Year Eve’s toast booth next,” one student said. “What should I say?” she mused as she watched a classmate completing the same task. “Maybe I should talk about reflection on the past year.”
Round one concluded with group photos and high-fives as volunteers began the tabulation of scores. Students headed home eager to learn who would be advancing to the second round of competition.
A few days later, Ben Rediske, director of the program, reflected on the students’ hard work and praised the competitors for a job well done. After the advancing contestants were named, students were briefed on the logistics of round two and the competition began. Students walked into an open space with 15 volunteers from a variety of professions.
During round two, SOAR students were challenged to “work the room” and have conversations with as many people as possible in one hour. Students received scores from the people they talk to, based on handshake, composure, conversation depth, je ne sais quoi, and exit. The total number of conversations increased a student’s score, so it was important to move swiftly and decisively. The challenge was intended to simulate real-life networking opportunities students could face in the future.
After the challenge, students were escorted back into the foyer while volunteers tallied the scores. As Ben announced the final seven that would be moving on to the finals, SOAR students celebrated each other’s success.
All that stood between these seven students and victory was a five-minute presentation about their “big dream,” delivered to a board of community members in front of an audience of family and friends. With less than a week to prepare, students immediately began researching and bouncing ideas off of their coaches and fellow participants. Students considered what they were passionate about and why, how they would accomplish their dream, what steps they would need to take, and the character they’d develop to reach their goals.
On the day of round three, all participants crowded into the room, along with family members, friends, and administrators from partner schools. Five judges sat at a long table, ready to listen.
Nerves were evident as each student stood before a room of faces, but their practiced confidence smoothed out any anxiety. With scoring similar to previous rounds, students knew the expectations and were eager to exceed them. After each speech, cheers erupted and judges took a few minutes to ask follow-up questions. The natural charm and friendliness of students came out, adding humor to their professional presentations. The dreams presented by students included becoming a sports physician, a professional athlete, an artist, and a business owner.
Gabrielle from SOAR Jones Elementary was named the champion. Amid a confetti shower and applause, she was handed a trophy and congratulated by her SOAR Family. Gabrielle’s dream to one day work as a family lawyer specializing in custody cases had inspired and impressed everyone in attendance.
The Amazing Shake proved a powerful vehicle for opening students’ eyes to future possibilities and equipping and training them with the skills to make their dreams a reality!
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