Higher Ground Youth Center
Learning key social and emotional skills - and having lots of fun - in a safe, loving environment of inclusion and belonging.
About the Youth Center
Higher Ground’s Youth Development program at the historic Wakefield Middle School is not just any after-school program. In addition to providing the youth in our community a safe place to go after school, we give them a range of behavioral health and other support services, delivered through fun, engaging activities they may not otherwise have access to… all at no cost to the family.
Because the majority of our youth are considered “high-risk”, we have designed a unique research-based social-emotional curriculum that is integrated into each of the activities we offer. This curriculum is aimed at helping our youth develop those key social and emotional skills and management strategies that are often lacking in their lives, due to living in poverty, experiencing repeated physical or emotional trauma, having a disrupted home life, or lacking positive role models.
Additionally, Higher Ground is a Behavioral Health AHCCCS Complete Care contracted provider.
Our student activities are used as a delivery mechanism to teach communication, creative problem solving, emotion management, mindfulness, growth mindset, self-control, and Grit - an effective method delivery based on the evidence of researchers like Dr. Adele Diamond and Dr. Angela Duckworth.
How It Works
From about 2pm to 6:30pm every Monday through Friday during the school year, students from local elementary, middle and high schools arrive at Higher Ground, either by foot from nearby schools, driven by a family member or guardian, or picked up by our Higher Ground transport vans. We have students from nearly 30 different schools in the Tucson area.
Students spend time finishing their homework under the guidance of University of Arizona interns and other volunteer tutors, after which they are given two activity sessions, choosing from any of the following options: archery, basketball, boxing, dance, drum-line, jiu-jitsu, judo, and outside sports. These activities are taught by highly-qualified and trained coaches, who believe in the power of their chosen passion to ignite the interest and potential within each student.
Between the two activity sessions, the students receive a snack - donated by generous local vendors - then have an interim 30-minutes STEAM (Science, Technology, Electronics, Arts and Mathematics) session, in which students can learn about coding, digital design, robotics, art composition, plant cultivation, and dissection, among other things.
During the summer break, Higher Ground runs an all-day Summer Camp, from 8:00am to 5:30pm, as a place for youth to go when they’re off school and to prevent the “summer slide”, the tendency for students, especially those from low-income families, to lose some of their achievement gains made during the previous school year. During the summer camp, in addition to the usual SEL-based activities, we also focus on experiential learning, with hands-on activities directed at improving students’ math, science, and reading skills. For example, students engage in science projects centered around biology (dissecting frogs, creating terrariums), chemistry (creating smoke effects), and physics (building trebuchets, hydraulic machines) that integrate math and reading based on their age group. They also attend field trips to explore careers and real-life applications of what they learned during the summer, as well as learn basic life-skills, such as cooking, basic car mechanics, basic economics, job skills, and others.