CORUNNA — Students at Corunna High School this year have a new block of time set aside during every day to meet with “advocates” — members of the faculty who provide students career advice, as well as emotional support.
The program was instituted by new principal Barry Thomas, who previously worked as a principal in Oklahoma, where he was introduced to the program by another faculty member.
Thomas said he witnessed the program save the lives of students, some of whom were contemplating suicide.
“All of our advocates have access to what the other advocates are doing in their groups, whether it be a game or a presentation. They can see what is working and try to make it their own,” he said.
He said there is no curriculum for the program. The goal is to make students feel safe coming to school and show them they have someone they can talk to.
Paul Brieger, starting his third year as the CHS operation’s principal, is a first-time advocate.
“I think it’s a great program to help build relationships with the students and just from my perspective it allows me to interact with students in a positive manner. I’m talking with students on a daily basis that I might not necessarily deal with throughout the year,” Brieger said.
Thomas said the program allows teachers to build better relationships with students, allows them to offer advice on problems they may face at home and even help point them toward career paths that might suit them.
Thomas explained some students come from difficult socioeconomic backgrounds and may even be working a job to help support their family. The program is designed to help spot students who might be at risk of failing academically or students who might have a challenging family life.
Through the program, each day at 10:30 a.m. a group of up to 20 students, ranging from eighth to 12th grade meet in groups with their advocate to discuss topics of concern to the students. The meetings last 25 minutes. To make room for the extra 25-minute block, the school shaved a minute of passing time between classes from five to four minutes and cut a couple of minutes off each period.
“In that 25 minutes you might do a personality test or an ability test that points them to a career or college track they want to pursue or you might just do nothing and talk,” Thomas said.
Breiger said, for him, it’s important the groups aren’t segregated by grade and he sees the program as having long term benefits.
“It gives students a chance to interact with one another and for some of the seniors to develop leadership skills to help the younger students out. I think it’s going to create more unity in the student body and more leadership among the students,” he said.
Mariah Brasseur, Lydia Walker and Emma Geer — all eighth-rade students — are participating in the advocate program.
“It’s helpful because the groups help us get to know different people and talk with them, it’s kind of like a family,” Brasseur said.
“Yeah we’re going to grow like a family because we’re in eighth grade so we will be with some of these people for the next five years,” Geer said.
Walker said she appreciates the life skills her advocate is teaching.
“Later this year we’re going to be learning how to change a tire and what to do if you break down on the side of the road. There are a lot of people who think I have AAA so I can just call them and they will fix it, well it’s important that you know it so you don’t have to depend on someone else,” she said.
Teachers Steve Herrick, Sam Schuster and Lisa Lambert are taking part in the program as well.
Herrick has been with Corunna Public Schools for more than 20 years. He has already seen the benefit of the program.
“Some of these students didn’t know who I was and I didn’t know who they were. I’ve already begun to build relationships with them. I’ve seen them at a football game or Meijer and they come up and say, ‘Hi.’ The No. 1 benefit is relationship building,” he said.
“It allows them to have another person they feel comfortable with that they can go to and we can be an advocate for them,” Schuster said.
Lambert sees the program as helping to inspire students.
“It goes down to the basic root that we grew up in a time that there was a family component. Some kids are missing that element and they’re getting lost. School should be something that makes you feel better as a person, not something that just makes you smarter,” she said.
Thomas noted while the program is obviously beneficial to the students, the teachers also benefit.
“I’ve had educators tell me that this has revitalized their teaching career. They felt stuck and they were teaching the same things every year. This is a very flexible program. For me, it makes me feel like I’m much more in touch with my building and not just this guy in an office,” he said.