CHAMPAIGN — Most high school students wouldn't sacrifice their Junes and Julys for anything. But for more than 30 Unit 4 students, Mondays and Tuesdays this summer were spent chanting together, eating together and learning leadership skills together.
These are students who have struggled socially and academically and needed a little push to get them on the right track, said Sheldon Turner, career services placement liaison for Operation Hope. He and Unit 4 administrators, as well as members of the Champaign Community Coalition and the City of Champaign, put together the Goal Getters program.
And it has already resulted in better grades and more realistic thinking from the young men who participated in it.
Had they not gone to the first day of the program on June 4, seniors Mekel Brown and Javandre'a Johnson wouldn't have seen the potential of skills-based careers in pipe fitting and welding.
Brown, who plays football at Centennial, is still hoping for an athletic scholarship, but said right now he's focusing on keeping his friends in check.
"We see each other almost every day at school," Brown said of the Goal Getters. "We see each other and remind each other of what they should be doing. If we see someone doing something reckless, we remind them not to do that stuff."
At its core, the Goal Getters are a support group that builds on the popularity of some of these largely African-American students who seem to know everyone. Goal Getters, said Turner, was an opportunity for kids to make some money through community-service work and discuss potential careers and job opportunities.
"I would like to say that for some, things have changed," Turner said. "And maybe all of them have changed somehow. For the most part, they all have shown some signs of growth. But it's going to take more than eight weeks."
Centennial Assistant Principal Kaleb Carter called the group of a dozen students that gathered at the school last week the "founding fathers."
When asked what their next steps would be, though, many in the group said they want to leave Champaign-Urbana.
"As long as you leave Champaign, as long you leave your hometown, you're going to succeed. I feel like that," junior Tyrone Fulwiley said. "You can't stay out of trouble if you're in your own city."
Sophomore Charman Brown agreed.
"Me personally, I want to get out because I don't want to be around nobody out here," he said, responding to Fulwiley. "Say (Fulwiley) got on the best track he can. There's going to be a lot of people that are going to try to get him down.
"There's going to be a lot of people from his past, that he's done bad stuff with, that are going to try to get him back to doing the same thing."
When asked if the program has made them lose old friends, some of them said yes. But Turner reassured them that those same people will see what they've done and return to their friend circle in a better way.
"Eventually, your respect level is going to be so high, they're going to come to you and ask you where they can get a job, or how they can get better in school," Turner said.
Johnson and others said they were already goal-setters before the program. But Goal Getters taught them how to achieve those goals.
"It was like a boost," Johnson said.
Goal Getters is continuing on this semester as an after-school program with a new group of students. Working with the first group has taught Turner more about what it is to be human.
"No one is perfect," he said. "We have some setbacks. But we can learn from those setbacks and we can also be able to help ourselves. This program gives them the opportunities to get their foot in the door for something much bigger than they see now."
Turner teaches the students that it may take time to get to where you want to be, but you can get there.
"With them being able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, that's great," he said. "But we also do reality checks with them. We show them, this is what can happen if you want to stay on the negative side and keep in trouble. And this is what you can accomplish with positivity."