Three Sonora Elementary School students wondered how students could be brought together for an after school program that could promote cooperation, inclusion and friendships.
The girls decided to take student interests away from digital screens and into thought-provoking, old-fashioned board games.
“Our main goals are for the students to become friends and become connected,” said eighth-grader Greta Hildebrand, 13, the spokesperson for the burgeoning club.
“There were no after-school activities,” she said. “It’s just something everybody can do.”
“We just want to have a fun place to go and have them making friends,” added eighth-grader Valerie Harris, 13, while Greta’s sister, Anna Hildebrand, 13, chimed in, “I feel good. The kids have really improved.”
Anna also noted that many have already shown more interest in “friendships and social interaction.”
It was a rare sight in the library of Sonora Elementary School to see students clustered around small tables, and instead of being quiet and studious, laughing and jabbering excitedly.
Games such as chess, checkers and the ever-popular “Game of Life” lay open, their dedicated pieces positioned across the board. A pair of students challenged themselves to the engineering balancing-act of Suspend, hanging notched metal wires upon one another to a create an inverted, twisting mobile.
A pile of other available games were also on hand, including Connect 4, Scattergories, Monopoly, Battleship and Scrabble.
Much of the focus of the students’ attention was governed by the sheer competitiveness of each game: Who was the best chess? Had one of the students finally ended their winning streak in Connect 4? Who was next in line to play Checkers?
But that palpable sense of one-upmanship was just one aspect of the fun, with each of the students embodying a sense of fellowship to guide new players, talk to new peers and altogether forge new friendships in an interpersonal rather than digital way.
Sixth-grader Atticus Narron, 11, shrugged when considering why he had attended the game club during its first two sessions, noting that it just “sounded fun.”
But Narron, the Hildebrands and Harris all pointed to an adjacent table at one of the “more popular” games that Narron had just finished with: a card-based version of the classic computer game, “The Oregon Trail.”
The original game concept in 1971 accompanied the rise of the computer age. “The Oregon Trail” became a feature in classrooms, teaching children organization, preparedness and critical thinking skills.
The popularity of the game has not waned in its non-digital form, however, with multiple students flipping cards and undergoing the trek together.
The students were all sure of one thing, too, Narron said,
“You always end up with dysentery.”
The education that accompanied the game was not lost on them. Each student was able to accurately and fully describe the disease that was more formidable and frequent in a bygone era.
Carrie Schmidt, co-president of Support Sonora School (SSS), a parent and student advocacy organization for Sonora Elementary School, smiled as she looked out on the students hunched and focused on their respective games.
“This is success right here. This is a good turnout for an after-school program.”
Schmidt explained that the impetus for the program had been to provide “opportunities for all the students,” especially for ones that may not have parents or adult supervision available right after school.
Among the other free after-school programs starting up at Sonora Elementary School is the book club, held every first Friday for 10 fifth- and sixth-graders, and the crocheting club, held every Tuesday.
The after-school programs were specifically designed with an eye toward improving the students’ interpersonal and interaction skills, Schmidt said, and limiting the amount of time that may be spent in front of a TV or computer screen.
“This is getting them to talk and put their devices away,” she said.
Also, the programs provide a “niche” for students with alternative or philanthropic interests, she said.
Not only was the crocheting club generating plans for a project that could benefit in-need communities, she said, the game club was actually the result of a concerted and organizational effort by the Hildebrands and Harris for a community service project.
The trio explained that they were each part of Girl Scout Troop 73, of Sonora, and that the organization and stewardship of the games club was part of their effort to attain the Girl Scout Silver Award.
Part of that effort involved making a public presentation to the SSS general membership meeting last Thursday, where each of the girls reported on the attendance and happenings of the first board game club meeting on Sept. 14.
“These girls, this is a big deal for them,” Schmidt said. “They got up and presented it really well. We’re very proud of them.”
Additionally, the girls have been tasked by Schmidt to locate more students that could fill their leadership role, ensuring the perpetuity of the club, as they move on to higher education.
During the first game club session, 16 students arrived. The second session had 19.
The uptick in attendance, however slight, gave each of them renewed hope that the program will continue to expand and invite even more students. An entire stack of boxed games lay on a table beside them, unplayed for the day and available to any other students willing to join, they said.
Eighth-grader Jordan Matney, 14, explained the game club with a nonchalance that characterized most of the attendees.
“I thought this would be a good way to make friends, have fun and eat snacks,” she said. “The friends that I all know from school are here, and it’s nice to see them after school.”
And every time she attends, she said, she’s able to practice her favorite game, chess, with other interested students.
“Chess can stimulate your brain, and that’s cool,” she said.
Many other Tuolumne County Schools, including Twain Harte School, Summerville Elementary School, Curtis Creek Elementary School and Soulsbyville Elementary School also offer after-school “P.M. Clubs,” homework and supervision groups which are not free and are held on school campuses, but run by an independent group.
Most other schools also offer intramural sports and various teacher-led or student-leadership organization activities.