Middle school can be a tough time — and also a critical time, when young people define themselves and begin to make decisions that could determine their path for years to come.
“When kids are in elementary school they’re pretty impressionable,” says Boys and Girls Club of Dane County. “Once they get to middle school they mature and get a mind of their own. It’s important to let our kids know there are adults in the community who care about them. Those are critical years to be able to do that.”
Johnson and the Boys and Girls Club will join with Madison365, the United Way of Dane County and other community members to show that support this Friday at 7:15 at Cherokee Heights Middle School, 4301 Cherokee Drive in Madison. Organizers hope to gather 100 or more people at the front door of the school to cheer students on as they enter the school for the first full day of classes. All are invited and encouraged to participate.
“We want to wrap the school in love and support and good, positive community energy, to let the teachers and students know we are here for them,” says United Way of Dane County CEO Renee Moe.
“This is a great opportunity to engage the community in our kids,” says Madison365 Publisher and CEO Henry Sanders. “Kids need to know they’re loved and supported, that we want them to succeed. They feel a lot of pressure to do everything right, and with all the pressures around them it must seem sometimes like they’re set up to fail. We just want to be there, patting them on the back, giving out some high fives, letting them know that whatever else is going on, we want them to thrive. We want them to know they’re loved.”
Friday’s event, announced by Johnson and Sanders in an online video, was literally days in the making, starting with a lunch Johnson was having at McGee’s Chicken. A part-time employee there, who also works at Cherokee, recognized Johnson and approached him and urged him to get involved with the middle school where she works.
“I told we are involved, we’re doing the tutoring and the mentoring and all those things, but she said, ‘No, we need to see you,’” Johnson recalls. After a meeting with Cherokee’s new principal and school/community coordinator, it was decided — a large crowd of community adults greeting students and voicing their support was the way to go.
“Henry (Sanders) jumped on board, I called Renee from United Way and she jumped on board,” Johnson says. “I talked to my staff, we’re talking about getting a gift for every teacher in the school as our way of saying thank you for taking care of our babies, and the community stands with them.”
Friday’s event is the latest in a string of events to get the community back into the school year spirit, including the Boys and Girls Club’s daylong picnic and backpack giveaway last weekend, as well as two neighborhood block parties sponsored and organized by Madison365, one each in the Leopold and Mendota neighborhoods, organized in cooperation with the local schools, community organizations and churches. Leopold and Mendota Elementary Schools are beginning their first year as “community schools,” designated as hubs for services well beyond the school day.
“These things hardly ever happen without partnerships and communities doing things together,” Sanders says. “That’s why we’re glad to be part of this and several other efforts with the Boys and Girls Club, United Way, local churches and other partners. When we pull our resources together and support each other, we can all do great things for our kids and our community.”