CASTLETON-Serious challenges face America's underserved inner city and rural students: broken homes, drug abuse, domestic violence, gang culture, learning disabilities, even community indifference; these and other factors threaten a generation dreaming to soar and succeed.
Even with a staggering list of hurdles these students must overcome in order to succeed in school, there are inspiring success stories that beg to be told-successes that are resulting from unique partnerships forged by a Vermont-based non-profit organization called CFES, College For Every Student.
CFES is committed to raising the academic aspirations and performance of underserved urban and rural students so that they can prepare for, gain access to, and succeed in college.
Part of the mission of CFES is to instill leadership skills through service in a new generation. To achieve this, CFES's program directors, in colleges and schools from coast-to-coast, act as the organization's "field agents" at the local level; they work together to achieve student successes never thought possible just a few years ago.
•In the rural Vermont village of Castleton, students of Castleton State College (CSC) mentored students at nearby Castleton Elementary School (CES) to create a cadre of young leaders that are transforming the small community.
According to CES Principal Carole Pickett, teaching community leadership skills begins at an early age.
"Thanks to the support of CFES and Castleton State College, we're teaching leadership skills beginning in the fourth grade," said Pickett. "We're also introducing underserved students to the concept of college; some of our children's parents did not attend college, so the very idea of visiting a college can be intimidating to some.
"You'll see our young people leading assemblies, making morning announcements over the P.A. system, taking charge of our recycling program, collecting badly needed supplies for a school in the Amazon, even taking turns raising the flag at the start of the school day. We also initiated a Bus Buddies program where older students help younger students feel safe and part of the group on the school bus," she said.
Pickett's young students, under the guidance of sixth-grade teacher Debbie Alexander, are now looking up to college students as role models to emulate, too. That's where Justin Garritt, a former students enrolled at CSC, showed his commitment to service, too.
Last year, Garritt welcomed elementary school students to the college's campus to befriend the "awesome" NCAA Division III Castleton Spartans football team. Team members welcomed the youngsters to ball practice; the athletes even helped students think about how to score "personal field goals"-valuable advice in any game plan, on or off the gridiron.
The elementary school's mentors helped oversee two so-called gentlemen's clubs for boys. Castleton's single-gender groups-modeled after the highly successful CFES-funded Millville Gentleman's Club in a New Jersey school district-helped harness the energy of young boys providing them with structure, leadership training, social skills, and needed male role models.
"All our community service leadership efforts stress a strong work ethic, academic improvement, and social skills," said Alexander. "In the case of our boys, they can still be boys but they can also discover pride in serving others in their immediate community and beyond."
The Castleton program is one example, among others, that demonstrate that leadership through service programs, sponsored by organizations such as CFES, are working.
French aviator and author Antoine de Saint Exupery might have anticipated the work of CFES's adult- and peer-leadership mentors like Justin Garritt and Maci Bowens when he wrote: "It is not for us to forecast the future, but to shape it."
For information about creating a CFES leadership-through-service program at your school, contact Rick Dalton, president and CEO of CFES, by calling 802-236-1235 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.