Seniors in Operation Hope prepare for next steps
CHAMPAIGN — The atmosphere was hopeful, naturally, as Central High seniors in Operation Hope gathered for a celebratory lunch Monday.
The seniors almost filled a classroom for the lunch. They'll graduate next week.
"It's been a long road," Sheldon Turner told them, adding that he and Meghan Grant will be in touch, even after the seniors graduate. "We look forward to seeing you walk the stage."
Operation Hope is designed to help students learn about college and careers after high school, give them academic support, teach them about community service and give them positive recreational activities.
Turner and Grant are career services placement liaisons for Operation Hope. A total of 33 students in the program are graduating, and all of them have applied or been accepted to college.
Operation Hope also includes some students at Centennial High School, the Novak Academy, the Champaign school district's alternative high school and the READY Program, the regional office of education's alternative school, Turner said.
It is a partnership among the school district, the city of Champaign, the Champaign Park District, the United Way and other local agencies to meet the needs of at-risk students who live in the Garden Hills and Douglass Park neighborhoods.
Twenty-one of the 33 seniors graduating have been in the program all four years of their high school careers.
In the program, students learn about possibilities for life after high school. Operation Hope is designed to help them develop the passions to make those plans, Turner said.
"It gives incentives, it gives hope, ... it gives them the opportunity to see that there are things out there for them," Turner said, mentioning that students in the program "have had some obstacles."
Some Operation Hope seniors have graduated early and many have been accepted to college.
"We are proud that they have been successful and all our seniors are graduating," Turner said.
Central senior Ashlee Smith said Operation Hope's college visits helped her figure out what she was looking for in a university. She plans to study radiologic science next year at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
She saw the program as a stepping-stone to higher education. She said Grant and Turner have checked in on her grades during high school, and offered resources to help if they started slipping. The program also offered an ACT prep session last year, she said, which she found helpful.
Actavious Crockett, another Central senior, said Grant wrote him a letter of recommendation for Eastern Illinois University, where he plans to study mass communication next year. She also gave him advice on how to approach others about writing letters for him, and two more teachers wrote recommendations, as well.
The program includes students who are freshmen through seniors, and Crockett said it sometimes happens that older students become role models to the younger ones.
"It keeps you on the straight and narrow," he said, adding that he didn't want to get into trouble because he knew others were watching. "There's pressure to do the right thing."