Editor’s note: This is one in an occasional series on “20-somethings” in Milwaukee.
“It is the perfect way to start your day,” said Drews, 23, who has worked for Playworks, a national organization that aims to teach positive life lessons to kids through recess activities, since August.
The Shorewood native loves teaching. Indeed, he spent his first year after graduating from Williams College in Massachusetts helping grade-schoolers in Thailand learn English. However, the job at Hopkins Lloyd is not always high-fives.
“Some of these kids have been through a lot,” he said, “and they try to act really mature and tough, but underneath they’re still kids. Goofy, innocent and impressionable kids.”
Drews teaches “game time” to 19 classes a week at Hopkins Lloyd. The classes vary in age and skill level, but the goal is the same: teaching how positivity can come from play. The students learn strategies to resolve conflict, leadership skills and how to be team players. After the class, they go to recess, where they have the opportunity to apply what they’ve learned.
“The lessons I’m teaching them are ones they will appreciate later in life,” Drews said.
Drews tells of a typical scenario: A little girl is accidentally tripped during a game of tag. Drews takes her to the nurse, and then talks to the boy who tripped her about watching out for others when he is playing, while reminding him about respecting boundaries.
Incidents with the young children are easier to solve, he said.
Drews keeps it simple if an older boy picks an argument with another student. He sends him to the end of the line, communicating that poor behavior has consequences. Of course, instances of physical conflict are not uncommon. When they happen, Drews must intervene. Occasionally school safety officers are called in to help.
Sometimes Drews wonders if he’s helping at all. But then a seventh-grader leaps out of his classroom chair to give Drews a high-five as he happens to pass by in the hallway.
“I can see the change,” he said. “In classroom settings sometimes I tell myself, ‘Wow! It’s really working.”
Wisconsin Playworks executive director Deborah Lukovich agrees.
“Peter brings great creativity, laughter and enthusiasm that extends beyond his job,” Lukovich said. “He is a natural for Playworks.”
Drews especially sees his influence in the 16 junior coaches he works with. The fourth- and fifth-graders help him facilitate recess for first- and second-graders. Along the way, the older students learn leadership and conflict-resolution skills.
“We just want to make Hopkins Lloyd Community School a happy place,” said Latrell Jones, 11. “That’s why I decided to become a junior coach, to make my school a happy place.”
Seeing the junior coaches take their role seriously brings an enormous smile to Drews’ face. He loves where he works and cannot imagine his life without helping kids.
“I know I need to experience something different,” he said of the future. “But, if I had to bet, in 10 years I still see myself in a work environment that involves helping children.”