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Clubs keep students involved
Groups focus on behavior, character
Members of the BI Gents club pose for a photo with the gift basket they prepared and donated to a family in need last Thanksgiving. - photo by Photo provided.
When they aren’t learning the all-important reading, writing and ’rithmetic, Liberty County students find themselves gravitating to other on-campus opportunities to expand their horizons. Arts, music, athletics and civic participation top the list of popular clubs, but growing in popularity are organizations that help students improve themselves as members of society.
Button Gwinnett students can learn to be ladies and gentlemen in the making through the Ladies Club and Gentlemen’s Club, advised by school counselor Frednell Walthour. This is the first year the school has offered the club to students and Walthour hopes they will take advantage of the opportunity.
Walthour said the clubs are modeled after programs created by Stephen Peters, who wanted to help intervene in the lives of troubled students and help them enhance their self-esteem and self-image while succeeding in school.
“This is going to help build character, and it will teach them about building life skills and friendships,” Walthour said. “Some teachers will work with students on a weekly basis, we’ll be bringing in community leaders and we’ll raise money for trips.”
Because of the clubs’ specific goals, students must be referred for participation; a maximum of 20 students may participate, Walthour said. Additionally, there will be a dress requirement that occasionally calls for members to wear a type of outfit that is close to what the current school dress code enforces.
“This program is designed to help with behavior in and outside school,” she said.
Opportunities to better oneself aren’t limited to the elementary set. Bradwell Institute economics teacher George Holman is advising the BI Gents Club for its second year, which also focuses on self-improvement. Holman said the club’s goals are to “restore hope, identify dreams and aspirations, to redirect talent and energy and to produce productive members of society.”
Holman said he was inspired to start the club by the works of two authors. Stephen G. Peters (“Inspired to Learn”) and Mychal Wynn (“Empowering African-American Males to Succeed”).
In BI Gents, students meet new acquaintances  who serve as mentors, and work on academic success through weekly modules designed to help them manage their unique school needs.  “For example, some modules may target study skills, while others may help improve upon their social skills. The club’s activities are 80 percent by the students, 20 percent by me,” he said.
BI Gents is not for every male student on campus, Holman said; only those who might be defined as at-risk are considered for participation.  “The participants are selected based on their unique school-related needs, including but not limited to attendance, suspensions, office referrals, academic achievement, performance on standardized testing, and their overall attitudes toward school.”
Holman added that within BI Gents, success is the only acceptable outcome. “Failure is not an option,” he stressed.
He said school clubs like BI Gents are vital to the long-term success of students once they graduate, as much as the traditional classroom offerings. “Our schools cannot survive without special programs and incentives for certain students whom we are held responsible for educating,” Holman said. “These students do not come to school ready or eager to learn. We show them we care.”
At Taylors Creek Elementary, students have an outlet for helping make the connection between home and school through the Parent Involvement Club. Dr. Jennifer Walts, curriculum coordinator at Taylors Creek Elementary School, serves as the adviser for the club, now in its second year.
“We feel as thought our students’ voices should be heard, and we feel students should have input,” Walts said of the club’s purpose, which helps fulfill a goal to actively involve parents in school. The club is open to students in all elementary grades, which she said helps the younger students learn that they can speak up.
“It’s great for the littlest ones.. we tell them everyone’s voice is important,” Walts said.
In Parent Involvement Club, students meet “to talk about things we can do to get parents in the school,” she said. “Research tells us any time you allow stakeholders to have a sense of participation, they have a sense of ownership.”
Walts said a major benefit to hearing from students comes from their youth. “Because they’re so innocent, they really think outside the box,” she said. “One thing they wanted was for parents to come in and teach things like cooking classes.”
Taylors Creek does have planned events for parents to be part of, like Family Night, where club members help with decorating and preparations. Members of the Ambassadors Club act as greeters.  “When they walk in the door, we want them to feel welcome, that this is a warm place. The goal is for parents to have a good feeling about our school,”  Walts said.
Walts said though the school has 13 different clubs, she is positive that students appreciate the opportunity to get their parents involved in school. “I love it. I love that we do this with our students. I believe the children are eager to participate in the club,” she said. “They’re faithful in attending the meetings; they’ll give up a few minutes of computer lab or recess. They care enough to give up things they like to do this.”

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