Program Profile: PODER Shows Students the Power of Planning for the Future
Although the students in the Chicago-based Positive Outcomes Delivered through Education and Respect (PODER) afterschool program have not yet started high school, they are already thinking about their futures. College and career readiness is an important part of the programming that serves some 160 fifth through eighth graders at three sites.
Led by a local tour guide, Finkl Elementary students explored the history and meaning of murals around the community. They discussed the artistic representations of a better quality of life for which former leaders had fought.
The 21st CCLC leadership at Central States SER, where PODER is based, decided to focus on college and career readiness because they saw that many of the youth in the program had a limited vision for their future. “Many youth face challenges that mentally, emotionally, and physically drain them on a daily basis—to the point where many of them cannot see farther than the barriers they face,” says education coordinator Nina Lopez. “College and career exposure offers them the opportunity to focus on a hope and a future.”
The PODER team has taken advantage of their afterschool program’s unique environment to cultivate college and career readiness. For example, activities and experiential learning opportunities are tailored to student interests. Students have had the opportunity to have in-depth discussions with guest speakers, tour local businesses, visit high school and college campuses, and identify and address their personal strengths and weaknesses. All of these activities have enhanced discussion and exploration of college and career paths. The program is also exploring possible apprenticeships for eighth graders and mentorship supports for their ninth-grade year.
While learning about murals and community leaders, students discussed the importance of seizing education and employment opportunities. After the excursion they returned to the program inspired to plan and create their own mural.
Lopez notes that students find the activities relevant and engaging because they have a say in the programming and the support of the 21st CCLC staff. “Youth are given a platform for voice-and-choice within daily peace circles so that enrichment activities, academic field trips, and projects can be based on their own interests,” she says. “Students stay excited about the program because it highlights their strengths, their voices, and hope for new opportunities they never imagined. They recognize the enthusiasm and encouragement that 21st CCLC facilitators have for them, and it empowers them to believe in new possibilities for themselves.”
Some of the students who have participated in college- and career-readiness activities have been inspired to consider high school options beyond their community schools if that will help them achieve their goals. They have applied to and been accepted at more competitive schools that have an application process and selective enrollment. Lopez believes that these students would not have applied to these schools if they had not participated in the PODER program. Some of the students who have graduated from the afterschool program have also returned to mentor younger participants.
Eighth-grade students from Ruiz Elementary took a Downtown Chicago business scavenger hunt that ended with an end-of-year beach barbeque and graduation party.
If 21st CCLC leaders are interested in promoting college and career readiness in their programs, Lopez encourages them to expose students to as much variety as possible. “Introduce students to the unspoken heroes of the community—leaders, parents, educators, entrepreneurs, etc.” she says. “Allow the opportunity for them to listen and ask questions to those who have overcome similar barriers . . . . Encourage them. Plant the seed of passion.” She also notes that the entire 21st CCLC team plays a role in helping students envision and pursue bright futures. “Our entire staff comes from different backgrounds and have a variety of interests, talents, and educational goals,” says Lopez. This diversity exposes students to a variety of topics and passions. She also feels that since many staff members are the first in their families to graduate from college, students are more likely to see completing college as an obtainable goal. “Sharing [the staff’s] experiences and struggles with students not only develops a supportive mentorship relationship, it is a daily reminder that they can accomplish more.”
To learn more about Central States SER and PODER, view their presentation from the 2014 Illinois 21st CCLC Spring Conference.