Mean­ing­ful work

Stu­dents get lessons in char­ac­ter build­ing on day off from school.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FAMILY - By DOUG LIV­INGSTON

WITH classes can­celled on a re­cent Wed­nes­day as teach­ers at­tended pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment work­shops, stu­dents wel­comed a day off from school. About 45 showed up any­way. Th­ese at-risk fresh­men were trans­ported from their high school to places through­out the com­mu­nity, where they learned a valu­able les­son: “Help­ing peo­ple,” said 14-yearold De­vante White, shov­ing food into a box at the Akron-Can­ton Re­gional Food­bank in Ohio, the United States.

De­vante joined 16 other stu­dents at the food pantry. Other stu­dents vol­un­teered at a se­nior center, and still oth­ers at Sal­va­tion Army.

The stu­dents are in Akron’s Clos­ing the Achieve­ment Gap pro­gramme, which pro­vides aca­demic en­rich­ment ex­pe­ri­ences and com­mu­nity sup­port for strug­gling stu­dents and their fam­i­lies.

The 225 fresh­men in the pro­gramme are iden­ti­fied in eighth grade as at risk be­cause of low test scores or be­havioural is­sues. They’re se­lected from four high schools with lower-than-av­er­age grad­u­a­tion rates in the city. Pro­gramme par­tic­i­pants are paired with men­tors – em­ployed by the school – to pro­vide en­rich­ing ex­pe­ri­ences for stu­dents and to match their fam­i­lies with com­mu­nity re­sources.

The goal is to cur­tail dropouts and ad­vance each stu­dent to 10th grade. Char­ac­ter-build­ing is part of the process.

“I feel strongly that con­nect­ing kids to the com­mu­nity helps build as­sets,” said Carla Si­b­ley, com­mu­nity out­reach di­rec­tor for Akron schools and pro­gramme co­or­di­na­tor.

This fall, Si­b­ley ex­panded the pro­gramme, now in its fourth year, to in­clude more ser­vice learn­ing projects, among them vol­un­teer work at the food bank.

“They lay their hands on the food and it be­comes real. This food is go­ing out to a fam- ily in need,” said Laura Ben­nett, vice pres­i­dent and chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer at the non-profit agency. “It’s mean­ing­ful work. It’s go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence.”

The kids en­tered the food bank shy and un­easy, said Sun­day Atkin­son, an Akron schools pro­gramme spe­cial­ist and men­tor. Once they started work­ing, Atkin­son wit­nessed a change.

“It’s like two dif­fer­ent stu­dents,” Atkin­son said as smil­ing stu­dents whirled around her with boxes and food in hand.

Fund­ing is­sues limit pro­gramme en­roll­ment to about 25% of all el­i­gi­ble fresh­men. Pri­vate do­na­tions and a Race to the Top grant, which ex­pires this school year, af­ford sea­sonal out­door learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ences in the pro­gramme at Cuya­hoga Val­ley Na­tional Park.

Si­b­ley touts the pro­gramme’s pos­i­tive out­comes as she ac­tively seeks fund­ing to con­tinue the ini­tia­tive.

An in­de­pen­dent as­sess­ment con­ducted by Kent State Univer­sity’s Re­search and Eval­u­a­tion Bureau con­firmed Si­b­ley’s praise. Pro­gramme grad­u­ates are less likely to be ab­sent from school com­pared with sim­i­larly per­form­ing stu­dents not in the pro­gramme.

When en­rolled in out­door en­rich­ment pro­gram­ming at the na­tional park, stu­dents ad­vanced to 10th grade at an even higher rate, with more high school cred­its and fewer dis­ci­plinary in­frac­tions than other pro­gramme par­tic­i­pants. – Akron Bea­con Jour­nal/ McClatchy Tri­bune In­for­ma­tion Ser­vices.

buch­tel High ju­nior mikaela coteat, 16, took part in a les­son of civic en­gage­ment by vol­un­teer­ing at area food banks, se­nior liv­ing fa­cil­i­ties and the Sal­va­tion army.

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