Oakdale Junior High School staffers Ben Cortez and Brandi Chavez are aiming to join forces. During the 2014-2015 school year, Cortez the teacher and Chavez the staffer each have pioneered new programs which are proving successful on the campus.
Cortez began the school year with his traditional school year curriculum enhanced by his Mind, Set, Go intervention class. It’s an elective class he describes as one geared toward seventh grade students not achieving their potential. Prior to the start of the 2014-15 school year 20 incoming seventh graders were identified and offered the class as an elective.
“It’s okay to not be good at math,” Cortez said of the class and its approach. “Being in the class doesn’t mean you’ll move to an AP class or be a GATE student, but you can get better.
“It’s a choice. We have to switch the mind around to get better.”
Recognizing the increased vulnerability and social challenges students face during the seventh and eighth grade transitions, Chavez has placed her efforts behind the Step Up Club. Chavez shared she became inspired to start the club when ‘Rachel’s Challenge’ was cancelled last year.
Rachel’s Challenge is a structured program with the objective of engaging students’ hearts, heads and hands in the learning process. Encourage a safe learning environment, as well as re-establish civility, compassion and anti-bullying/gossiping behaviors.
“A lot of it is to prepare the kids for high school,” Chavez said of the Step Up Club, the first of its kind and the only current organized club on the OJHS campus. “It teaches them to have a voice, not only for themselves but other people as well.”
As the two adults have guided the students in these new roles, they have also identified a unique opportunity to meld them together in the coming years.
“It’s about not making fun of others and speaking up for others,” Step Up club member Hailey Cabral said. “Don’t make someone else feel bad because you’re going through something.”
The seventh grader shared that she is learning to use a proactive voice, speaking up when she hears others making assumptions or spreading rumors about others which might not be true.
“I like my friends and I know they would do the same for me,” she said.
“It’s easy to put a smiley face on because you’re hurt,” seventh grader Leah Elemen candidly shared. Leah is one of the 20 students benefitting from Cortez’s class.
“The class is teaching me how to see in a different way,” she said. “It’s okay if I don’t get it right the first time.”
“Now I’m working harder,” classmate Jacob Jarrell shared of his class experience. “I’m not just quitting at everything I come to.”
Step Up club member Ynez Venegas noted the cruelty and ignorance fellow students may have based on assumption. She shared a story of a ‘smart’ friend who spends time in Cortez’s portable classroom and hearing others speculate at the notion that they thought that individual was a ‘smart kid.’
While Cortez does work with challenged students, he also opens his classroom to students during the lunch period for extra study time or additional help.
“I feel if they need to go, then they should,” Hailey said of her classmates. “People assume things that are not always right.”
“I always get their input on what works and what doesn’t,” Chavez said. “I want them to have fun, but have an impact. I want these kids to be leaders, not followers.”
Demonstrating wisdom beyond her seventh grade years Leah stated, “Time goes by quickly, but you remember the rough things. It is fun to play but you remember how hard it is to get through it.
“Mrs. Fyke told me a quote once and I always remember it, she said ‘It’s hard to be a diamond in a rhinestone world.’”
The Step Up Club meets the first and last Wednesday of each month for 30 to 40 minutes after school. For additional information contact a Club member or Brandi Chavez.