Neihof: Help us 'Close The Deal'

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By James Neihof

School children swarm the downtown area like bees to honey each fall when the Fountain Committee volunteers describe historic sites. The field trips have been going on for more than 15 years and provide hands-on, real-life connections to the core content about community or state history.

Or you may have seen Sharon Hackworth, Sherry Jelsma and other members of the Historical Society in period costumes as guided explanations are given at the History Museum for all age groups. Countless others visit classrooms to share memories of our community from their childhood days here and to compare those scenes to their lifestyle today.

Shelby County Public Schools is thankful for these groups – and others – for working with us to make academic opportunities available beyond the classroom walls. “Describe,” “explain” and “compare” are examples of what students know as “power verbs,” and we certainly see power in volunteers helping us get that message across.

All volunteers typically report that they come away from their visits to schools or classrooms knowing a relationship is being developed that means as much to the adult as it does to the student.

That’s what we’re all about: building positive relationships with all while setting high expectations for all.

You can help.

Commonwealth Bank came up with the idea last school year to provide Business Buddies for the elementary schools. Employees were linked with a child who needed a friend to have lunch with, to check homework with, or to attend a program at school in the event the parent could not get off work. We have several students identified this year who could use a Buddy – you do not have to be associated with a business.

Individuals at Alcan have stepped forward for Readers ROCK to work with middle school students who need a boost in reaching goals in reading. We also have a host of parents and grandparents meeting weekly with first-graders throughout the county through Project READ. Other engineers from Alcan are offering enrichment activities in math to push identified students beyond their potential.

Now we’re turning our attention to the high school.

Twenty people have signed up to help us “Close The Deal” at Shelby County High School. The concept is based on a program at Valley High School in Jefferson County. Of their 140 seniors, only 20 went on to college. Administrators there worked with community leaders to assist every student in completing materials required to pursue higher education opportunities. As a result, 100 went to college.

About 50 percent of the graduating seniors at SCHS go on to college. About 30 percent get jobs. Others enter the military or go to vocational-technical schools. Less than 3 percent are termed unsuccessful in their transition to adult life.

Even though the statistics are good, we believe more may go to college if they had assistance in mastering the paper trail that is required.

That is what happened at Valley High, and that is what we want to happen at Shelby County.

You can help us “Close The Deal” by signing up to be trained Dec. 9 from 9-11 a.m. at SCHS by contacting Cathleen Johnson, 633-2344. Experts will be there to guide us through processes for financial forms, college applications and other materials.

Then we will work with seniors in February on completing the paper work with the expectation that more can and will go to college.

Volunteers are willing to close the deal on raising funds, making copies, reading with students, speaking to classes. Our students are successful because of those efforts. However, we need more volunteers to literally “Close The Deal” for high school seniors because a college education is their key to a successful future.