Being the “new girl” can be a whirlwind. I’m usually the one to take my time getting situated, but summertime already tends to feel like it’s in fast-forward and I only had 12-weeks to tackle my project. What I figured out is that if I could fully embrace my “new girl” status I could learn a lot, and quickly.
The role of “new girl” brings the freedom and expectation that I had a lot of questions to ask. Not only did these questions help me understand the organization - and the evaluation processes I was hoping to improve - but, time and time again, my questions helped those at Boys and Girls Club see things they’d taken for granted in a new light.
One of the earliest examples of this was in my first few days. As part of orienting me to the data, my supervisor, Mary Lou, and I were sitting around her computer looking at the past few years National Youth Outcome Initiative (NYOI) results. The NYOI is the big, once a year, survey the club members take to measure everything from “Physical Safety” to their “Adult Connections” at club. As the only source of quantitative feedback from members, this data is fairly fundamental to how the Club leadership make programming and process decisions.
While we were clicking through the data I had a lot of questions about the big rating improvements and falls for Mary Lou. She was able to provide a narrative to match every up and down, but that information lived only inside her head. That exchange helped me realize that numbers don’t explain everything. So, in my evaluation plan, I built in outlets for site staff to record their explanations and stories explaining the data.
Realizing how vital the knowledge of site staff is to the organization, I took it upon myself to meet with the current site teams to use their wisdom to make my project stronger. They did not disappoint.
I took full advantage of my new girl role and interrogated the typical BGCCI way of taking that important NYOI data and turning it into action plans. At one site, the very patient staff explained that when they saw their scores of “Recognition” drop, they decided to implement weekly assemblies with the whole club to celebrate accomplishments and birthdays, etc. These assemblies were fun and exciting for all, at first...after a few months the excitement faded and staff saw that some kids didn’t love being shouted out in front of a packed gym (this would have been me).
The staff and I had the shared realization in this meeting that as good as a Plan A might be, if that plan hits a roadblock or hiccup, without a pivot to Plan B, the impact fades. So, to motivate site staff to make those pivots, I integrated “Status Checks” throughout the year that will prompt leadership teams to reflect on what they’ve tried and, importantly, switch up their strategy if need be.
My last round of questions were for the Club youth themselves; since I saw the kids themselves as the best source of stories to color in the details of the data. So, I hosted two focus groups. With a couple small groups, I asked the groups to describe Club to a friend who was brand new to town, like me!
Both groups opened up and shared very honestly about their experiences making friends, connecting with staff, and their opinions on the Club activities. Approaching the kids with an open curiosity, and not with a survey that feel like a test, was how I ended up with a stack of notes and some great recommendations for the sites and my evaluation plan.
I took my experience … to make sure my evaluation plan worked to emphasize youth voice as much as possible.
I took my experience of hosting the groups, and the information the kids provided, to make sure my evaluation plan worked to emphasize youth voice as much as possible. Particularly, I highlighted the importance of sharing back results of the surveys, polls, and focus groups with the kids themselves. My hope is that this will create a culture at the clubs where staff and kids are more open about giving and accepting feedback; in that way providing even more data for sites to make programming decisions to increase the impact of the Club even more!
Being the new girl can be a little intimidating, but it can be made a little easier by remembering that being new comes with an easily underestimated amount of power to improve an organization. It’s a been a valuable lesson to learn, and one I’ll keep in mind as I start my career after my last year of grad school. Come Spring 2020, I’ll probably still be anxious to start whatever new job I find myself in, but I’ll have a little comfort in knowing that I’ve been the new girl before and it isn’t so bad.