Operation Graduation connects students with community support

Rev. Charles Nash sits in his office in Champaign, Thursday. Erica Magda

Rev. Charles Nash sits in his office in Champaign, Thursday. Erica Magda

By Alissa Groeninger

The Champaign Unit 4 School District launched a program to increase graduation rates from Central, Centennial and Columbia high schools on Jan. 28.

The program, “Operation Graduation,” is supposed to improve graduation rates by providing students with community support for their academic achievement and consistent attendance.

“Our goal is to help students to reach their full potential,” said Robin McClain, attendance improvement and dropout prevention coordinator for the district.

McClain said there are four categories to the program, including collaboration with local ministers, reaching out to businesses in the Champaign area, becoming involved with social service organizations and communicating with parents.

“The way that all these things work together will help (the) student,” McClain said.

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    Local ministers speak with students before school, after school and during lunch periods on the second and fourth Mondays of every month. The hope is that the visibility of ministers will provide students with guidance and support, McClain said.

    “(The ministers are) trying to keep them on the straight and narrow if they are having any difficulties,” McClain said.

    The goal of this type of program is to teach students about the importance of a good education so they can become a contributing member to society, said Rev. Charles Nash, president of the Minister Alliance of Champaign-Urbana and president of Religious Leaders for Community Care.

    Though some students were slow to respond to Nash, he said they eventually realized his goal was to help them.

    “The experience, in working with and talking to the young people, was they are concerned with their education, they just need more community support,” Nash said.

    Ministers are also participating in a part of the program called “talking points.” During two Sundays every month, the participating ministers speak to their congregations about an issue or topic parents should be informed of. The messages are also published in church bulletins twice a month, McClain said.

    The district hopes the ministers’ speeches and church bulletins will enlighten parents on subjects crucial to helping their children succeed, McClain said. She added this will hopefully allow parents to reach their children.

    By collaborating with social service organizations and workers, the district will provide students with people to talk to in case of trouble, McClain said. The establishment of the social service base will provide the school with contacts when children are in danger or in need of help.

    “Operation Graduation” will also eventually include business leaders as guest speakers in the high schools. The business leaders will speak about possible career paths high school graduates can take. This will give students an opportunity to research what options they have after high school, McClain said.

    “It should be a positive impact on their ability to be more motivated,” said Olabisis Adesida, a Centennial High School graduate. “They will be able to see people who have gone through what they’re going through now.”

    Planning for “Operation Graduation” began in late October 2007 and continued through early November 2007. The school board and district faculty members laid the groundwork to develop relationships with local ministers, business leaders and social service organizations, McClain said. She added that they established an electronic program to make contacting a social worker simpler. They also discussed how to reach out to parents.

    “When we (communicate with students) and do that well we can keep them focused on education,” Nash said.