Life Skills Taught at End of School Day
The South Side Communication Center is much more than a safe place for middle school and high school students to gather after the school day ends. The center, opened in January 2011 through a partnership with the Southside Community Coalition, Syracuse University’s South Side Initiative Office and Home HeadQuarters, offers computer access, tutoring support, mentoring and positive reinforcement.
The South Side Communication Center is administered by Dean Bea González at University College.
Rachielle Scrivens, site coordinator at the center, runs the house as she would her own home—reminding students of projects due, that they should treat people with respect and requiring them to start over if they’ve interrupted someone without saying, “Excuse me.”
“They call me Mom,” she says.
The center is open from 3-7 p.m. on school days and averages 12-15 students daily. “Students are coming from different life experiences and different demographic backgrounds,” explains Scrivens. “They may be taking care of themselves as well as their siblings at home. Our goal is to give them a sense of direction on where they want to go and put them on a path to move toward that goal.”
Scrivens says that she teaches the students that they don’t have to be victims of their circumstances. “They only hear what they can’t do. They need to hear that they can succeed in life. We are here to support and encourage them. We look at the individual student and determine what their barriers are. We act as a liaison between students and teachers, or parents and students, to make sure they are getting what they need. We want them to know that there is someone in their life that cares about them,” she says.
The students have taken cooking classes, learned cursive writing and how to play chess. They also participate in the “Economy Game of Life” which teaches them about practical life skills they will need in the future. “They investigate job options, whether or not they will go to college or trade school and how they will pay for it,” explains Scrivens. They are taught how to look for a job, fill out a resume, act appropriately at a job interview and how to pay taxes. The students get a “paycheck” for coming to the center. “We have them look up the salary of different jobs and how they would pay their bills on the income of that job. Can they afford to buy a house? A car? Do they have enough money to get their nails done? They are surprised at the outcome and have more understanding of the choices their parents make,” says Scrivens.
GED and job preparation, ESL services, drug prevention and leadership training are just a few of the programs that take place at the center as a result of the newly opened satellite location of Liberty Partnership Program (LPP) run through SU’s School of Education. The program served 279 students in grades 6-12 last year. Students in the LPP program had a 91.8 percent graduation rate.
“When we had an opportunity to open a satellite office at the South Side Communication Center, we knew it would be a great fit,” says Chandice-Haste Jackson, director of LPP. The site is especially beneficial because many students don’t have transportation to campus for evening and weekend programs. Additional services offered through LPP are a result of a survey sent to parents. “We asked the parents what they needed. Now we are offering “Parent Power”—a program that offers engagement, advocacy and support for parents/caregivers.”
During the school year, academic programs take precedence, but in the summer, the staff can focus on enrichment programs such as self-esteem, poetry, team building and outdoor recreation.
One of the summer programs offered at the center was learning how to sew. Young men and women from middle school through high school gathered each week to learn the basics. The first instructor quit after two weeks, but Scrivens was very fortunate to have SU student Maisa Young come to her door to drop off donations. “When I told her our sewing instructor quit, she offered to teach the students herself and she’s been here ever since,” says Scrivens. The students learned more than the mechanics of sewing. They learned patience and perseverance that resulted in a feeling of accomplishment. “They thought they couldn’t do it. They couldn’t thread a needle and didn’t know how to run the machine. At the end, the majority of them successfully completed their project,” says Scrivens.
Ronnaeyshia Goodwin, an 11th grade student at Nottingham High School, was anxious to try her hand at sewing. After watching “Project Runway” on television, she wanted to learn to make her own clothes. “My aunt makes her own clothes and I wanted to learn the process. When I completed the skirt, I knew it was something I could do,” she says. As a result of making a complete outfit, Goodwin was the winner of the sewing contest and received a new sewing machine. Now she’s making hair bows and bow ties for her friends. “I sew a lot now. My brother always comes to me to make his clothes into something different. I take clothes out of my closet and make them into something else as well.” Goodwin’s goal is to obtain a business license and open her own shop—a combination of cosmetology services and fashion design.
Like Scrivens, Haste-Jackson says the students experience a family atmosphere at the center. “They have somewhere to go after school that is safe and feels like home,” she says. “There’s a sense of belonging.”