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Junior Jags, but Without the High School Jags

Upcoming Changes to the Junior Jags Program

Though GHA and YA merged to form AJA six years ago, the High School can sometimes feel like an independent entity, separated from the Lower and Middle Schools. However, the Junior Jags program, initiated in 2019, uses sports to help solidify the connection between students across the entire school. 

After school, High School student-athletes become coaches, mentoring the Lower School students. They organize drills and games, focusing on patience, teamwork, communication skills, and following instructions. Over the past years, Junior Jags has become so popular that there are not enough available slots for all the Lower School students who would like to join. 

The students across both divisions appreciate the opportunity to interact with each other. “I enjoy building community at AJA,” Yered Wittenberg explained. “The little kids love hanging with me, and I enjoy seeing them,” — a sentiment reiterated by both Sam and Danit Kutner. Jordan Steinberg said that a highlight of Junior Jags is that the younger kids “get to become friends with older students like me and the other coaches.” Furthermore, he explained, “I remember, when I was that age, all I wanted to do was play sports, so to give the younger kids an opportunity to play a variety of sports with each other was a meaningful idea to me.”

Despite the bonds Junior Jags creates between the students, logistically, this current system has room for improvement. The High School day ends 35 minutes after Lower School dismissal, so the High Schoolers can only arrive to start coaching when Junior Jags is practically halfway through. Until then, Coach Z runs the programming himself. Occasionally, if sports games overlap with Junior Jags, the High Schoolers cannot come at all. With this system, Coach Z feels there is “no stability, and that’s not fair to the first through fourth graders.” 

The Junior Jags program uses sports to help solidify the connection between students across the entire school.

In addition, Coach Z worries that having the High Schoolers come to all 17 Junior Jags sessions can cause them additional and undue stress. For example, Mikey Wilson explained, “[Junior Jags] sometimes makes it harder to get work done because I have less free time.” Similarly, while Danit thinks that Junior Jags is “a nice way to end the day,” she does feel that “sometimes, it’s a lot to stay extra after school.” 

In response to the conflicting schedules and stress for High Schoolers, in November, adult coaches are taking over the High Schoolers’ role in Junior Jags. Coach Z hopes that this will “make it more of a well rounded robust situation where it just flows smoothly.” If High Schoolers want to, they can continue to come to Junior Jags and assist the coaches. 

By not expecting them to come to every session, he thinks this will remove any feelings of pressure or obligation. The High Schoolers, feeling that Junior Jags does not depend on them, can comfortably opt in one day after school purely because they want to join. Coach Z thinks, as an added benefit, that this will result in more engagement and focus from the High Schoolers.

However, Coach Z noted, for the High Schoolers “there won’t be any mentoring piece there,” and this does represent one reason they choose to join Junior Jags. For instance, Mikey said that a “positive part” of Junior Jags is that it provides him with “more experience communicating with and leading younger kids.” 

Yet Coach Z knows that “the school is always focused on ways where the High Schoolers can integrate themselves and mentor younger students,” so they will have other opportunities to lead the younger students. These interactions may not occur in sports, but he is confident that they will still happen. 

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