by Rebecca Zisch
This spring has seen the debut of Crossroads, a partnership between Nevada State College and the Clark County School District that to help middle school students succeed in school and life.
On Wednesday, April 9 Crossroads leaders and participants met for the third time at the Henderson Convention Center. For the uninitiated, it may have appeared as an unusual scene.
Picture this: 120 7th and 8th grade students from Clark County School District’s southeast region middle schools were divided into groups of four or five working diligently on projects across the carpeted floors. They had been given the task of building structures out of marshmallows, jelly beans, peanut butter and toothpicks. When asked what they were building, the answers came back: a very colorful house; a church after a hurricane and we just call it creativity.
But, ultimately, it isn’t the product that mattered but the process and the engagement of the students. All of the students attending Crossroads have been identified by their school counselors as at-risk for not finishing high school. And the mere fact that they are working together successfully, and their attention is focused on the project at hand is a huge sign of growth and potential for academic success that their teachers do not see in them regularly.
It can be a daunting task to facilitate a large group of middle schoolers. But these students are engaged and thinking critically about the activities, says Dr. Lori Navarrete, Associate Dean of the School of Education at Nevada State College. It’s fun to observe the program and see the growth in these students who otherwise may not even think about going to college.
Kris Ziegler, a Counselor at Mannion Middle School, agrees. When there are twenty or thirty kids in a group, they can be a handful. I give [Crossroads] a lot of credit for getting these kids to participate at this level.
The sometimes-atypical activities at Crossroads are inspired by the Success Highways program, a national program administered by college personnel that has shown to effectively increase the GPAs of at-risk students. Through the Success Highways aspect of Crossroads, students learn non-academic skills such as time and stress management, motivation, resiliency, self-esteem and decision-making tactics.
Dr. Rene Cantu, Vice-President of Multicultural Affairs at Nevada State College, brought his idea for this program to the attention of the Clark County School District.
Cantu sees Crossroads as an alternative path for at-risk middle school students who are disengaged from their schoolwork. If the problem isn’t addressed prior to attending high school, those students will almost surely be overwhelmed once they enter high school and are very likely to give up and drop out.
Crossroads was able to move forward because of a generous contribution by community leader Randy Garcia, founder and CEO of the Investment Counsel Company, an investment management consulting firm. “Crossroads is making a positive, sustainable difference among our most prized asset, the youth in our community, and is clearly worth making a long-term investment. It is inspiring to see the success of Nevada State College’s program and know that lives will forever be improved because of its mission.”
CCSD Southeast Region Assistant Superintendent Dr. Patrice Johnson recalls that our principals were so excited about the Crossroads Program and endorsed the program right away. It is extremely evident that our principals in the Southeast Region are absolutely willing to do whatever it takes to help our students succeed at every level.
The school counselors are also dedicated to the success of their students. By accompanying the Crossroads students on their monthly trips, they have a unique opportunity to observe these young people in a different environment and talk with their colleagues, comparing experiences and results.
Jennifer Petrick, a counselor at Bob Miller Middle School, said that she has seen a difference in the participating students between the second and third sessions. I’ve seen grades improving they’re becoming more engaged in the educational progress.
Erin Varella, who brought eleven students from Schofield Middle School noted that some students only come to school because they’re supposed to Crossroads gives students something to look forward to have hope this makes them feel special.
Wanda Davis agrees saying that her twelve students from Brown Middle School, come up to me asking When is the next Crossroads day? It inspires them to come to school. And they definitely come to school on Crossroads day.
But it’s the student’s reactions that really tell a success story for the Crossroads program. Ask any of these students and they can tell you how they’ve changed in just the past few months.
Chris, a seventh grader, talked about how Crossroads is helping him build up his self-confidence.
Trae, who is in eighth grade, feels like education is more important than he used to before he came to Crossroads.
Ashley, another eighth grader, was held back from starting high school because of absenteeism, but now she can see her future clearly. She talks about being in the Air Force and even becoming a wild animal veterinarian in Alaska.
For many of these young people, their futures used to seem vague and unsure, but Crossroads has helped them realize that graduating high school, going to college and being confidant enough to reach for one’s dreams are all achievable goals.
After finishing their marshmallow and jelly bean sculptures, the students were gathered into small discussion groups. The group mentors asked them: What is confidence? The answers come back rapidly. Be positive! Trust yourself! Make good decisions!
Attending Crossroads is a good decision, which will hopefully only lead to a lifetime of more good decisions for all of these bright and promising local young people.
For more information on Nevada State College, call : 702.990.2000 or visit : nsc.edu.