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By Bill Griffiths
San Juan Diego Middle School: An interesting place to learn about, an exciting place to learn, a great place to volunteer in Racine
· The adults who work with this school really care about me.
· The adults who work with this school listen to what I say.
· The adults who work with this school challenge me to do my best.
· The adults who work with this school encourage me to do well in school.
· Being involved in this school makes me want to learn more about new things.
These are only five of 20 statements students at San Juan Diego Middle School (SJDMS) are asked to evaluate each year. On these issues and others, students rated their own San Juan Diego experiences very favorably.
I don’t know how many of us would grade our experience in middle school as positively. I am pretty certain, that 15 or more years ago, nobody was asking students these sorts of questions.
But students are asked at San Juan Diego, www.sjdms.org, a nonprofit, Catholic middle school at 1101 Douglas Ave. The school, with about 70 students, has just started its sixth year. Its mission is to serve those with economic challenges, and to help develop the students personally, socially, spiritually and academically. Students of any ethnic or faith background are welcome.
The five questions above come from a survey based on research conducted by the Search Institute www.search-institute.org of Minneapolis. The Search Institute identified 40 developmental assets that experts determined are necessary in the healthy growth of a child. The S.C. Johnson Fund first conducted a county-wide survey on youth development about 12 years ago and repeated it in 2006 to gauge how the Racine Community is faring in supporting children. Students at San Juan Diego take the survey annually, so that school officials can better understand how well the organization supports its students’ growth.
According to Laura Sumner-Coon, the Executive Director of the school, "Students in poverty, in general, are lagging years behind their more affluent peers academically (as shown by standardized testing with the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE)."
"We’ve created our program to provide as many resources as possible in order to help make the students successful. It’s very experiential learning. There is cooperative learning among students and more connection in the community to learn classroom concepts as they exist in the community."
"Apart from our small class size and experiential learning, we also have an extended day. Three days a week, we have Afternoon Curriculum, which offers students opportunities to learn something new, identify a new talent, or develop a skill they didn’t have (like swimming, martial arts, step dance, digital photography, etc.). Pretty soon the students develop a confidence that they can build a skill from not knowing it…to accomplishing something. You can see their confidence grow and you see that translate into their academics."
"One of the most profound aspects of the program, started four years ago, is Evening Study. One day a week students come back for Evening Study, with a mentor. Last year we had 55 people from the community involved in mentoring. Mentors meet with students one night a week, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. to help them with homework. In exchange, mentors learn what it is to be a child in poverty in Racine. As much as the evening program is about helping students with their homework, it's about encouraging them to do well, and letting them know the community cares about them."
Right now the school is seeking mentors for middle school students and high school students in its Graduate Support Program. The goal of the school is to match every student with a mentor. Many are needed. The school is searching not only for individuals who may want to mentor, but also for service groups who may want to take on mentoring as a project.
This is a terrific opportunity to be "an adult who works with this school"; to be a mentor to one of these motivated students by volunteering for 90 minutes once each week. To volunteer or get more information about mentoring, you can contact: Laura Sumner-Coon, Executive Director, at 619-0402 extension 235.
Bill Griffiths does industrial market research, is a volunteer mentor, and is always on the lookout for new things to appreciate about Racine.