Middle schoolers are commonly depicted as hormonal tweens with split personalities, exhibiting the qualities of people caught in between the comforts and familiarity of elementary school and the vast jungle that is high school. Service to others -- heck, even thinking about another human being -- isn't typically used in the same sentence as "middle schooler" but sometimes even we adults get it wrong. The 4KIDS program at Hudson Middle School challenges what we think we know about sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders by asking the kids to "take a second to make a difference and be a leader."
For kids and by the kids
The 4KIDS leadership development program was brought to Hudson Middle School in 2004 in an effort to create a strong leadership development program within the school.
During the past eight years students have participated in numerous service projects that are designed, developed and implemented by the students with help from faculty advisors.
During the 2012-13 year, the roughly 80 participants have renovated and reclaimed the courtyard at Hudson Middle School, raised money for the Children of Ubumi, implemented a school-wide recycling and composting initiative, and planned numerous activities for Staff Appreciation Week, among other activities.
Comprised of kids from all social groups, 4KIDS engages the students by involving them at the very beginning of a project.
They brainstorm at the beginning of the year with their advisors, choosing various projects that meet their goals to impact the Hudson community, the world and their school. According to Karen Weber, assistant principal and 4KIDS advisor, the students choose projects based on their interests and then they learn how to be active committee members by actually doing the work. All projects are tracked using specially designed tracking sheets, teaching the kids to document all work and to keep detailed records. The kids then begin to learn leadership skills that will give them the confidence to take on roles within their committees that will help them successfully implement their projects as both integral team members and strong individuals.
The leaders of tomorrow
Now in its eighth year at Hudson Middle School, 4KIDS was begun by Arthur Fayne, president and chief executive officer of the 4K Program Consultants & Development Group and the 4KIDS Leadership Endowment Foundation.
The larger 4KIDS organizations are the result of a childhood spent living in tough neighborhoods and housing situations in the city of Cleveland. Fayne decided long ago not to become a product of his environment and, after meeting with his mentor in a summer youth and training program, he began his commitment to social and community development. He founded 4KIDS in 1998 after serving as executive director of the Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center and the Hough Community Council, expanding their services to the community and helping to revitalize Cleveland's Hough neighborhood. He also served as executive director of the UAW Ford Motor Company's Family Service and Learning Center, launching six center programs. Fayne is still actively involved in working with youth, visiting Hudson Middle School each month to teach the leadership portion of the school's 4KIDS program.
Fayne engages the kids in a 20-minute leadership activity, teaching them to greet people by shaking their hands firmly and looking them straight in the eye. He also helps the kids determine their strengths and then how to use those strengths to become leaders in their school.
"Our goal is to provide the tools, strategies and opportunities needed for youth to excel while developing a vision for pursuing life dreams," Fayne says. "Through these experiences students learn valuable lessons about the importance of maintaining a positive attitude, how to make good decisions by thinking about possible consequences, how to define and set goals and how to apply inherently positive values of working together to every day life."
Meetings are held each month, with some committees meeting more often in the designated 4KIDS office. Leaders and record keepers are chosen for each committee and then other roles are designated as needed.
Each committee member plays a pivotal role in making the plans come to fruition, forcing some kids into the spotlight when it is clearly not in their comfort zone.
"We have kids involved in multiple athletic activities to not being involved in anything at all," Weber says. "It's about finding a place where they belong."
And, once those kids take ownership of their projects and their school, the sky is the limit in what they can achieve.
Achievements for 2012-2013
Throughout the past eight years, the 4KIDS program has kept its promise to serve the school, the community and the world while developing the leadership skills of tomorrow's business people. This year, several committees were formed, each reflecting the interests of the students and each impacting the community at large.
The suggestion box committee sorted through the school suggestion box and worked with Hudson Middle School principal Chuck DiLauro to implement many of the desires of their fellow classmates. The Friends of Rachel Club promoted a chain reaction of kindness throughout the school.
The welcoming committee welcomed parents and other guests of the school to such events as the fifth- and sixth-grade parent transition meeting, the spelling bee, and the parent luncheon. There were fundraisers held to benefit the Hudson-based Children of Ubumi, allowing the kids to have an impact on the world outside their doors. On top of all that, there were three large projects that significantly affected the Hudson Middle School community long-term.
A cause near and dear to DiLauro's heart is recycling so it was no surprise that he threw his support behind the recycling committee's efforts to recycle and compost nearly all waste in the building.
Weber pointed out that paper plates and Styrofoam were eliminated from the lunchroom with employees and students opting to use washable trays instead.
All food that could be composted was composted. The students were quite successful in taking garbage down to the bare minimum and in engaging the Hudson community as a whole in a city-wide recycling awareness program.
The courtyard renovation committee applied for and won a grant from the Hudson Garden Club to help fund a renovation of the school's underused courtyard. Using donated materials and time from Vizmeg Landscaping, the students trimmed trees and cleaned up the overgrown space, creating a beautiful and welcoming place for their classmates to enjoy during their focus periods.
Finally, the teacher appreciation week committee organized an entire week of thanks to the faculty who give so much of themselves during the year.
Music teacher and 2012-13 advisor Melanie Sipusic recalls the week fondly, marveling at the kids' ability to plan and implement such a fun-filled week for the faculty. In addition to a wonderful luncheon, the students created coffee filter flowers for each teacher for each of the five school days as well as commemorative candy bar wrappers listing the qualities they felt good middle school teachers should possess. Both Sipusic and Weber were impressed with the level of detail that went into that special week. "They are very intelligent and responsible kids," Sipusic says.
Developing leaders of tomorrow
"The Hudson Middle School 4KIDS program has worked with numerous youth to create leadership development opportunities that assist them in developing strong foundations for a successful future," Fayne says.
By participating in these projects, Weber adds, the kids often get a glimpse of what it's like to hold down a job or serve in student government.
In fact, many former 4KIDS participants have gone on to run for student government at Hudson High School. Some students are easy leaders and communicators while others struggle to find their niche.
Weber remembers bribing a shy child with cookies to join the program and watching him eventually turn into her number one go-to kid. She points out that many parents say they watched their teenagers blossom while involved in 4KIDS.
The projects not only teach the kids to be student and business leaders but also to take ownership of their school.
"This is the first school in the Hudson district that the kids attend for three years," Weber says. "We give them a place to belong."
This is especially true of those kids who do not participate in athletics or other specialized clubs, and the sixth-graders who cannot participate in school-based athletic programs. Many sixth-graders, however, continue with the program once they move on to the upper grades. "We teach them integrity, to be true to yourself," Weber says. "The kids cling to it."
The program's successes are realized first hand by its advisors who devote much time and energy to the kids.
"I have been here for four years and was looking for a way to become more involved with the students," Sipusic says, when asked what drew her to 4KIDS. "I found it to be rewarding to see and work with the students outside of the classroom."
Weber was also searching for a way to get to know the students on a more personal level when she signed up to advise 4KIDS two years ago. She realizes the full emotional effect participation in 4KIDS has on the students when talking with the parents. Weber recalls a meeting with parents to review their child's education plan. They thanked Weber for her work with the group, pointing out that they were amazed at their child's investment in the teacher appreciation week.
Another email to Weber said: "My child [started] with a very small group of friends and now has a bigger group of friends who [he] is comfortable with."
"Our hope is that they will take these skills and opportunities and use them when in high school and college, building on them as they grow older," Weber says. She is hoping to take the program to the inner city of Cleveland in the future, allowing Hudson Middle School students to have a positive impact on schools located in the tougher areas of our region.
It would be a great thing if all future leaders could mirror the commitment, talent and drive of the leaders in the Hudson Middle School 4KIDS program. The possibilities for a more wonderful world would be endless.v