by Carrie Resch
The Downtown Council’s Education Committee has joined hands with A. Philip Randolph Academies of Technology high school to mentor students that could benefit from guidance by the business professionals.
The council joins a program already in place that is part of character education mandated by the state. Every staff member at the school is an adviser in the program as well as members of the School Advisory Council and other volunteers. Every student in the school is part of the program.
Each adviser works with an A. Philip Randolph High School teacher and a group of 10 to 15 kids during an “Adviser-Advisee” activity period for half an hour every day. Once or twice a month a Downtown Council member will meet with the group to do a presentation about the material they are covering. There are approximately 37 volunteers from the council assigned to 37 teachers.
“Our mission is to provide personal and business support to A. Philip Randolph to support both the teachers and the students in their careers,” said Diantha Grant, Vice President of the Downtown Council.
The council has been participating in the program since the middle of January and will continue until April.
The school is located in Northwest Jacksonville on Golfair Boulevard. The Florida Department of Education gave the school a “D” grade in 2004. Lorenda Tiscornia is in her second year as principal. Her agenda includes improving all aspects of the school, and this mentoring program is helping to achieve that goal.
“The culture has really changed around here, there have only been a handful of altercations,” Tiscornia said. “There are Downtown Council people on the campus all the time. This is something that has been really effective to move us toward that direction, helping turn the corner we needed to turn.”
The school is a career academic preparatory school for young people.
“The kids have a diverse background, some of them are high-risk. We want to show them that the community does care and we have an interest in them,” said Christy Szczukowski, one of the Downtown Council members in charge of the program.
The high school age was chosen because it can be another attempt to help guide them on a career path before they graduate, said Szczukowski.
The mentors have been using concepts from the book “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens” by Sean Covey, whose father wrote a book several years ago entitled “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” This book focuses on many issues facing teens and offers suggestions and exercises on subjects like building friendships, resisting peer pressure, and goal building.
The students’ curriculum follows the book page by page. Every student keeps their own copy of the book. Money was funded by a grant and teachers who bought some of the books from their personal funds.
“The overall mission is to try to instill in them that utilizing the guiding principles to shape their character will help them come up with a strong foundation of good habits that will be with them most of their life,” Szczukowski said.
The concept of the program started about two years ago when a former Downtown Council board member and the first to chair the Education Committee,Tricia Pulsifer, had the idea for the campaign and presented it to the board who chose the school at that time.
Grant took over that role when Pulsifer left the Council about a year ago. She has since passed the torch to two other board members, Szczukowski of the Adam’s Mark and Susan White of EverBank.
The Council considered several different methods for its program, but decided group activities would be the best.
“We talked about mentoring, but hundreds of students would be hard to mentor one-on-one,” Grant said. “We decided we would make a greater impact if we met with a group of students at a time with a teacher.
“It’s taken almost a year and a half to get it off the ground. We kept persisting and meeting with the teachers. So far it seems to be going very well,” Grant said.
Szczukowski has started noticed changes in the students behavior. “Participation of students has been consistent, they are starting to open up and share a little bit,” Szczukowski said.
Grant believes that the Council will continue with the same program and the same school while trying to get other councils to start programs in other schools.
“We hope to start up again in August and hope it will continue,” Grant said.
The Council’s Education Committee monitors the consistency of the volunteers fulfilling their commitment and gives continuous updates to the board with periodic conference calls with the principal. They also receive feedback from volunteers, teachers and their students.
About 21 teachers are still looking for volunteers for their classrooms. The Council is looking at possibilities to remedy that including merging two classes together, getting alternates for the classes, or getting existing volunteers to take on additional classes. If the council continues with the program next year, another possibility would be to assign volunteers to the teachers who didn’t get volunteers this time first. Next year the program will focus on a different book.
The Education Committee is also planning an outing to a Suns game for the students of the month and also is planning a
job fair at the school, possibly