For almost a year, a small group of University students has been preparing for today. This afternoon, high school students and community members will play together in a basketball tournament.
But it is no ordinary street ball game. This game will showcase high school students who have participated in the University’s Take Charge Program.
A University program that allows University students to work with two local high schools — Henry and Central — Take Charge helps high school students understand public health issues they feel are important to them as well as issues that are important to their community.
This year, 16 University students worked as “coaches” to challenge and encourage the students, and to also serve as resources.
“Take Charge is a great learning opportunity for myself as well as an opportunity to make a social contribution,” said Sara Martinka, a Take Charge coach.
Michonne Bertrand, a Take Charge program coordinator, said one of the main tasks of the program is for the coaches to ask more questions than give answers.
“The students often times feel like they can’t do something, and the coaches are there to remind the students that they can, and to let them know that they believe in them,” Bertrand said. “The coaches aren’t there to do the work for the students, they are there to help the students go through the right steps to accomplish their goals, and to act as a resource.”
High school students select public health issues that are important to them in the beginning of the school year.
“The students are passionate about the issues,” Bertrand said. This usually creates a lot of variation from year to year, she added.
This year’s issues involved artistic expression, abuse, cultural interpretation, teenage sexual responsibility, racism/cultural stereotypes and violence.
Each group decides on a project they want to accomplish in the coming year. The project will then benefit not only themselves, but their school, and sometimes the community as a whole.
One of these projects is the basketball tournament, which was decided upon to help promote anti-violence. Bertrand said that the Henry High School students wanted to provide an extracurricular activity for kids to do after school because they felt there wasn’t much for them to do in their neighborhood.
“The students got the community to provide door prizes and refreshments,” Bertrand said. They even got a DJ to provide entertainment.
Although not all of the groups end up doing what they set out to do at the beginning of the year, the process of identifying and trying to accomplish their goals is just as important as the final project, Bertrand said.
Another group’s final project was to get suicide information introduced into the high school’s curriculum. Students at Central High School lobbied the administration and won.
“The students were able to make a lasting change, that will impact future classes,” Bertrand said.