It’s a typical Tuesday afternoon at EASTCONN’s Quinebaug Middle College (QMC) magnet high school. Nearly 40 students dash from room to room in the school’s basement: one group huddles around a board game; students are sketching in their notebooks or playing computer games; a pizza is shared among friends, while an anime movie plays in the background; paper, paint and Star Wars stickers are scattered over a craft table.
Welcome to The Geekery, an innovative after-school club at QMC, that provides a safe, healthy and welcoming space for students seeking positive social interaction and a connection to their peers – and their school.
“School needs to be joyful and all students need to feel like they are loved and that they belong to a group that supports them,” said QMC Principal Gino LoRicco. “The Geekery is that group.”
Founded in 2013 with just 10 students, the club initially was limited to tabletop games and served a niche group. Today, the Geekery’s membership is nearly a quarter of the school’s population with 40 students regularly attending the weekly meet-ups.
“We’ve reworked [the club] to be an inclusive group by diversifying the activities,” said Geekery advisor Casey Brown. “The Geekery creates an environment that draws in students who might get lost in a traditional academic setting.”
QMC enrolls nearly 170 grade 9-12 students from 21 northeast Connecticut towns. The students who attend QMC are capable, independent and motivated, but often have not flourished in their hometown schools.
Brown said that magnet school students often face the challenge of connecting with their peers after school because they are coming from districts across the region. In some instances, QMC classmates may live over 30 miles away from each other.
“I’ve been here since the club’s inception,” said QMC senior Tom Menten of Sterling. “For freshman coming into a magnet school, it can be hard to make friends, especially if there aren’t many students from your sending district. This helps.”
Geekery staff advisors provide a general outline of activities each week, such as computer games, a craft project or the screening of a film. At least once a month they organize a community activity. However, Geekery members are also encouraged to pursue what interests them.
“Many students come just to draw. It is a safe space to relax,” said Brown.
“I learned about The Geekery at QMC’s open house,” said junior Colby Arcamone of Canterbury. “The club was playing games that I liked but I had no one in my hometown to play with. That’s why I came here.”
In addition to QMC students, three of EASTCONN’s Regional Transition Services (RTS) students are also members of the club. RTS assists young adult students who have disabilities, ages 18-21, as they transition to post-high-school settings.
“This is where [my students] feel comfortable and embraced,” said Weatherlay Santiago, RTS teacher and Geekery advisor. “I was picked on in high school for reading anime comic books and I didn’t have a place where I fit. QMC has created a space for all students to fit in.”
Brown explained that The Geekery is not just about “geeky” things; it’s also a club that creates positive social opportunities.
“It is so welcoming. You don’t need to identify as a ‘geek’ to participate,” he said. “One of the most important things that comes out of Geekery is that the kids learn to be themselves. Students may have struggled at their last school or be struggling at home. But here there is no struggle. They stay until the very last second.”
Learn more by contacting QMC’s Casey Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org.