Kids prepare for high school with some help from The Castle

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Photo provided The Castle's music teacher Johnny Wittnebel plays guitar during teen time at the South Beloit Boys & Girls Club. The Castle provides programming every Thursday at the Club thanks to an Ecolab grant.

SOUTH BELOIT - Kids are getting emotionally prepared for the transition to high school and its many social challenges thanks to a little help from The Castle.

In October, the Castle started offering teen time at the South Beloit Boys and Girls Club every Thursday with music teachers Johnny and Jack Wittnebel and curriculum assistance from music director Jacob Handrich. The programming is paid for through a grant from the Ecolab company. The programming attracts five to 10 kids each Thursday.

"Johnny Wittnebel does a great job getting our teens to not think so seriously about themselves and break out of their shell and have fun. He does fun programs that are centered around music and the teens have really enjoyed it. We are now trying to get him to come during our normal program hours and do a few music-centered programs with our younger members," said South Beloit Boys & Girls Club Unit Director Meghan Moffett-Minter.

Those with The Castle have been researching interactive games and musical exercises to teach soft skills such as thinking of others first, having confidence when necessary or learning to reach out to others who might be more shy.

One of their activities, the telephone game, taught kids how gossip and rumors start.

"You might think you have a juicy piece of information, but it can be mean to spread rumors," Johnny Wittnebel said.

Those with The Castle also try to impart the message that people can work together and get along, even if they aren't best friends or are different from each other.

Musical activities seem to captivate the kids the most. They do percussion and are learning new dance moves each week.

"We are letting the kids come up with new moves," Johnny Wittnebel said.

During conversations kids hold a ball if they want to speak, helping them to learn to take turns talking. Their discussions cover most aspects of youth life.

"In their lives right now cliques are forming, and groups are becoming tight. It's OK to be fluid with your friends and accept others. It's more important to have strong emotional stability rather than lots of people who think you are cool," Johnny Wittnebel said.

With kids having a lot of energy after school, The Castle also offers a lot of physical activities with different messaging.

For the Wittnebels, the work is a perfect fit. Johnny Wittnebel said he likes to play games as he's creative and is a play-driven type of person.

During their time together, the kids are beginning to open up to the Wittnebels.

"A few times they have talked about things that happened in school, or a bully. I'm there to listen to their stories and hear what they have to say and I'm learning from them," Johnny Wittnebel said. "We are trying to support and encourage them."

The staff at The Castle hopes to find more ways to reach out to youth. Last year they did a character-building assembly at Beloit Memorial High School, but thought a small group environment might be more effective. In the future, the Wittnebels plan to offer a high school class and/or another character-building assembly at an area high school.

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