Inspiring students to reach for the stars

Thursday, June 21, 2018

STAR Students

STAR students visit the UW-Oshkosh campus.

Contributor: Kayla McNamara, Director of Targeted Support Services for STAR Program & TRAC Services at the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley

We have a beautiful, vibrant, increasingly diverse community, and yet the only way we will reach our full potential is by recognizing areas in which we need to improve. In this case, that means investing in all of our youth, especially those who need us most. Many of our students who identify as Black/African American are not experiencing academic success in our school systems, which is clear from Fox Cities LIFE Study data showing a Black-White graduation gap.

Several years ago, a group of local community leaders were brought together by the ThedaCare Community Health Action Team (CHAT) committee to take a deeper look at what life is like for Black/African American families in the Fox Cities. They found the experience to be eye-opening and decided to do something about it.

Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley was selected as the backbone agency for
Scholars on Target to Achieve Results (STAR), a community initiative modeled after the TORCH Program in Northfield, MN. With the support of a strong Advisory Board made up of community leaders, I have been developing programming aimed at addressing the high school graduation gap and post-secondary enrollment gap. We rolled out a pilot semester of STAR in February 2018 with five full-time Opportunity Coordinators supporting Maplewood Middle School, Menasha High School, Wilson Middle School, and Appleton West High School.

STAR Opportunity Coordinators provide school-based support for students. We currently have more than 140 students enrolled in STAR. Each school site has a designated STAR space where students can check in with staff and other STAR students. The program focuses on relationship-building through a strengths-based approach, working to make sure all students know they matter each and every day.

I recently accompanied students during STAR’s first “College Experience,” which was a field trip to UW-Oshkosh. Twenty-three students participated in sessions on financial aid, diversity and inclusion services, and career exploration. Students ate at the café and stayed overnight in the dorms. Hearing the students ask questions that pertain to campus life and knowing they are seeing post-secondary education as an attainable goal makes it all worth it.

All seven of the high school seniors who participated in STAR this past semester graduated high school. I want to see our graduates growing up to become teachers, carpenters, government officials, board members, writers, and doctors. I want to see them grow up to someday work for STAR as mentors, leaders, and the program director.

Academic success for all students has long-term implications for the health and well-being of our entire community. We will continue to work tirelessly to make sure Black/African American students graduate high school and have the opportunity to continue their education so they are able to live fulfilling and connected lives as adults.

United Way Fox Cities has given STAR a $80,000 grant. In addition, Tony Gonzalez, Vice President of Community Development at United Way Fox Cities, serves on the Advisory Board.