I was fortunate to be able to attend the 2015 National Forum on Dropout Prevention for Native and Tribal Communities back in April, and was blown away by the amazing work being done around the country to keep kids in school! Dr. Sandra Fox, Bill Mendoza, Rev. Dr. Michael Oleska and Dr. Sigmund Boloz each gave wonderful and inspirational keynote speeches, dozens more provided engaging and informative break-out sessions for participants to attend, and ample time was given to network and make connections with professionals from around the country. I was privileged to find myself eating lunch with both recipients of the 2014 Crystal Star Award for Excellence on two separate days, and was truly inspired to hear about the work they have done in striving to keep students in school, each improving the graduation rate at their sites by over 40%!
Although I left Wednesday afternoon with many lessons learned and feeling highly motivated, one group in particular stood out in my mind. I attended a session called Cobbler 2 Cobbler (the high school mascot is the Cobbler in honor of former coach Euclid Cobb). This program, which was started by Tim McGowan from Rapid City Central High School, is totally lead by students. Mr. McGowan ingeniously realized that high school students are more attentive when listening to their peers (lightbulb!), and so began this peer leadership program. He oversees and trains the peer leaders, high school juniors, but it is the students who do the connecting with a group of high school freshmen in teaching leadership skills as well as building a system for support with these students. They use games and interactive activities to relay life lessons to underclassmen, several of which they demonstrated with our group, then follow these with conversations about real-life issues that teenagers are dealing with. Admittedly I felt a bit silly at first introducing myself to other with a “gobble gobble,” but quickly realized the way this silliness broke the ice and got all participants not only relaxed, but engaged, then found myself elated when I won the “rock, paper, scissors” game and had twenty people I’d just met cheering me on! These lessons are not lost on Mr. McGowan or the student leaders he works with. These students explained the purpose of each activity and it became evident how invested they are in this program.
Read more about this program on the Rapid City Central High School website and in news articles from 2011 in the Rapid City Journal at Peer-mentor program makes progress and Central students help peers in Cobbler 2 Cobbler program.
Not only was I left inspired, but wondering, in what other ways can we help facilitate student engagement activities lead by students themselves?
About the Author: Jana Hallas, M.Ed., is a project coordinator and member of the Check & Connect training team at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota.
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