My Summer Squad Experience by Cristina Polenica

On the last Monday of Summer Squad, Mark, a representative from After School Matters (ASM) came to Union Park to visit with the teens and see what they were up to. And we were up to a lot. We had just finished preparing for our final workshop by selecting activity leaders for each part of the Playbook Two workshop on Tuesday (kickboxing, special needs, and combating peer pressure), and ran through the playbook for practice. And we also finished preparing for our  final Leader to Leader interview by coming up with questions to ask the panelists. Shortly after that, Mark arrived.

A couple of the teens explained to him what a Leader to Leader Interview is, and then we as a team demonstrated a few of the transition games that we like to lead with at workshops for younger girls. Mark participated in a game of Rock Paper Scissors Tag (two teams choose a symbol, and the winning team chases the losing team in order to tag them and bring them to their team), and in a game of Elbow Tag (partners link arms, the runner links onto someone, and then the third in the group becomes the new runner). The teens explained both games well, and everyone was laughing and had fun. They cooperated well in teams and in pairs.

Since there was an odd number of people for Elbow Tag, I decided to step to the side and watch. I noticed the joy in everyone’s faces, even the smiles and laughter when girls who were running were tagged and became the new runner. In that moment, it hit me — my time as a Senior Counselor for Summer Squad was soon going to end. As tired as I had been from hours of traveling and walking all over the city; as taxing as it had been when one or more coaches were sick and unexpectedly out for the day; and as challenging as it was to dig deep inside of myself to use a voice of authority when teens exhibited difficult behaviors — I grew to know and love these girls, and I didn’t want the summer with them to end. I looked forward to seeing them four days a week for the past five (almost six) weeks. I quickly learned all of their names, and enjoyed learning about their personalities. Several girls even asked me if I was coming back next year!

I’d like to think that Mark could see a sense of community among the girls as we played those games, just like I did. As my experience with Summer Squad comes to a close, I look back on both the rough days and the great days, and I am completely grateful to have met these girls and had the experiences that we did. I have grown as a person because my life has been touched by theirs, and I hope that they take with them what they’ve learned from our activities and conversations, forward in life. They all aspire to go to college; they all want to be something, be someone. And they are all teachers and leaders. I love that a program like Girls in the Game exists, and am delighted I had a front row seat to watch the impact it had on each girl.


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