When the Covid-19 Pandemic caused school closings in March 2020, JAM Circles temporarily discontinued its school-based youth mentoring circles.
Like most organizations, the closings forced us to re-examine how we operate and adapt to the new conditions.
The Circle Program Goes Online
We realized our approach would need to change if we are to deliver on our mission in a post-Coronavirus world. The result: Virtual JAM Circles.
Like our in-person circle programs, Virtual JAM Circles are designed to provide a safe environment for youth to connect. This space enables them to come together in community and relate with peers and mentors, talking together and sharing a little fun.
This online “space” is designed to provide youth with a non-judgmental, supportive atmosphere in which they can unmask their true selves and speak freely. And, participation in the circles is free!
Each Virtual JAM Circle is typically scheduled to meet weekly via interactive platform (e.g. Zoom or similar) for 75 minutes.
The circles are organized around two age groupings: 12-15 year-olds and 15-17 year-olds. Circle size varies, but generally ranges from 6-9 youth participants with 3 or more trained adult mentors who facilitate the circle discussion.
Participating youth (or their parents/guardians, if desired) receive an encrypted link to the session each week via email. Participants log on to the platform at the appointed time and can see and hear each other.
How Virtual JAM Circles Work
The circle leader initiates discussion, with participants free to respond to each other and express themselves openly. Each circle session is unique, although there is a general structure that includes the following elements:
Grounding or Mindful Moment: supports everyone in being fully present
Agreements: establish or briefly reinforce agreements that guide group participation (see below)
Check-in: each individual’s opportunity to say what’s needed and/or give a personal update
Connection: game or activity designed to build relationship with the group and others
Content: focused conversation, if desired. Sometimes the connection is enough.
Check-out: bring closure, goodbyes, etc.
Requirements for Participants
If you wish to participate in a Virtual JAM Circle, or if you are a parent/guardian whose child wishes to participate, here is what is required:
Youth may be either male or female between 12 and 17 years of age with the express permission of a parent or guardian.
Participants must have access to a desktop or laptop computer or a tablet on which the Zoom app can be installed. The device should be equipped with a camera and microphone. Phones are NOT accepted devices for participation at this time.
Participants should also have access to a private space in the home or designated location (such as with a caregiver) where he/she can participate in the Virtual JAM Circle sessions with a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Participants must complete the Youth Application (see link on this page).
Their parents/guardians must complete the Parents/Guardians Application (see link this page).
Agreements are designed to support individuals, ensure physical and emotional safety for everyone and support effective functioning of the circle. Agreements come in two forms: General Commitments and Group Agreements.
General Commitments- Virtual JAM Circles can only function effectively when everyone agrees to follow basic guidelines. JAM Circles requires the following guidelines for ALL groups:
Participants agree to be fully dressed and sober during the session (no alcohol, cannabis or other mind-altering substances unless prescribed by a physician).
Youth must be stationary during the session. Walking around with a mobile device is not permitted.
All participants must have video and audio enabled so they can be seen and heard.
Participation in activities and discussion is voluntary. Group members are free to pass at any time.
Once signed into a circle, participants are asked to stay for the duration of that session unless other arrangements are made in advance. They agree to continue to pay attention to the Circle even if they choose to remain silent, to keep their video on and not to use any other online site or game during Circle.
Mandated reporting is in place. Mentors are REQUIRED to notify parents/guardians and/or other appropriate authorities if they are concerned about the safety of a participant or someone a participant may interact with.
Confidentiality is expected. Other than mandated reporting, participants agree not disclose details to others about what members shared while in session. This includes no screenshots or audio recordings and no commenting about what happened in Circle on open social media. Participants may exchange private messages with others who were present in their Circle.
Group Agreements– As it forms, each new circle is encouraged to establish its own unique set of agreements for members to follow. If so, those agreements will be scribed by one of the mentors and kept on hand whenever that circle wishes to review or amend them.
Joining a Virtual JAM Circle: How to Apply
Youth are invited to apply for a seat at a circle.
Parental/guardian permission is required.
Parents/guardians and youth each complete a brief online application (see links this page).
Once the initial screening requirements are completed, JAM Circles will follow up with a notification about the application within three business days.
In most cases, applicants are accepted, and JAM Circles will provide further details about the upcoming circle.
Youth Application (estimated 2 minutes to complete). Asks about your interest in the group and how the group will benefit from you being part of it. Requires an email but not a phone number. Access the Youth Application >>
Parental/Guardian Application (estimated 5 minutes to complete). Asks questions about your child, how you will support him/her in participating and requires you to formally grant approval. Access the Parents/Guardians Application >>