Thursday, March 8, 2012

New Hope for Jordan

    During the Connected Corridor project, Jordan High School, whose senior graduation rate was 66.6%, received funding to start a service learning program involving Jordan seniors and a local senior center. When the program got cut by the school district a year later however, the service learning continued, and two programs at the school have continued to build connections between students and their community.

    The Architecture construction and Engineering (ACE) academy was one of the groups at Jordan to receive a piece of the Connected Corridor funding. The academy used the money for a project where students cast benches from concrete and decorated them, before installing them at local parks where they could be used by the whole community. Mr. Mike Zeke, a construction teacher and member of ACE academy faculty, believes that those types of connections between academics and tangible community improvement are the cornerstone of service learning at Jordan. “We need to add that emotional connection and relevancy,” Zeke said in reference to the various construction projects he's helped his students with in the wake of the senior center assistance program. “We built some wheelchair ramps after that program ended,” he said, “and the kids really connected well with veterans and the elderly.”

    Zeke went on to describe school as a kind of “vaccuum” for kids who can't seem to connect the theory of text-book education to the application of real life skills. A disconnect that another member of Jordan faculty, Candace Meeham has fought against in her own enrichment programs.

Meehan (top right) leads a discussion of the Xi sisterhood about
body image, and issues of self-esteem.  The sisterhood will host a
sexual abuse awareness conference on April 25th.
    Meehan is program supervisor for Jordan High's Winners Reaching Amazing Potential (WRAP) program, a service learning program so successful, she has used it as a model for other programs she's designed over the past seven years. “Academics are not enough,” Meehan said. “we need to bond the children to each other and the school, because these kids don't come to school for the academics.”

    Meehan was hired just one year before Jordan High saw a race-related riot on their campus of over 4,000 students in 2006. School officials could not simply create a change in the environment, so they held a leadership summit and left the conflict resolution to the heads of rival gang factions on the campus; And it worked. Meehan from that moment onward employed the same type of student-led, student-planned, and student-executed model in the WRAP program, and it's subsidiary leadership groups, Xi sisters and Omega brotherhood.
Brande Hall is the home of the WRAP pro-
gram at Jordan. The facilities of Jordan
 are  just one of the many challenges facing
 Candace Meehan and her kids.

      From a tiny common room under the bleachers at the Panthers' football field, brotherhood of Omega president Jose Salas talked about what it means to lead his peers through the service learning process. “We joke around a lot,” Salas said. “But when it comes to taking care of business, I get the guys settled down, and we do what we have to... The quicker the better. We don't wanna be looking foolish and make a bad name for ourselves in the community.”

Dealing with negativity is something that is common for members of WRAP, as they struggle with redefining the public perception of themselves as functioning and capable students, instead of the “bad kids,” most other Long Beach residents see them as.

     “Many people look down on Jordan kids,” said Xi sister Andrea Lopez during a meeting her and her sisters had to discuss body image. “We're actually students trying to make a difference.” The program's director Meehan said that she's been shocked on many occasions to hear members of the public openly express disbelief that her students were from Jordan. 

“There's not enough caring adults,” Meehan said.
Members of the Omega brotherhood package jeans for their involvement with the jeans for teens program as part of 

    The Omega brotherhood is currently working on a denim drive with to donate pairs of jeans to the homeless; So far they've donated over 200 pairs.
     The Xi sisterhood is currently planning a sexual abuse awareness conference for April 25th (which coincidentally is called denim day)

    Jordan High's graduation rate at the end of last academic year had grown to over 76%, a 10% increase since the Connected Corridor project began.

    It can't be said for sure that the state funded project instigated the change at Jordan, but it definitely didn't hurt, and people like Zeke and Meehan continue to foster the real connections between the students and their community that build lasting change.

     Zeke said, “As soon as the kids realize they're building something that is going to last and be meaningful to the community, they get really excited.”

     Students like Xi sister Sovadany Wang give reason for teachers to stick with the Jordan model. Wang said, “We learn something new everytime we do a project, and the things we learn like fundraising and organizing, we'll be able to use in college and beyond.”

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