After-school program honors students in fall awards ceremony

Published 9:17 am Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Casey Martin, the lead coach with the Dowagiac Middle School Five Star Life afterschool program, presents the “Respect Award” to Austin Sandberg. Sandberg was one of many students honored during the program’s fall award ceremony on Monday afternoon.

Casey Martin, the lead coach with the Dowagiac Middle School Five Star Life after-school program, presents the “Respect Award” to Austin Sandberg. Sandberg was one of many students honored during the program’s fall award ceremony on Monday afternoon.

It’s hard enough for educators to capture the undivided attention of the average middle school student during the eight-hour school day, much less after the last bell of the day has rung.

A handful of counselors were able to do just that Monday afternoon, getting nearly 100 Dowagiac Middle School students to dance and shout long after class ended for the day.

The Five Star Life after-school program concluded its fall season Monday with its annual awards ceremony, handing out certificates to the children who demonstrated tremendous growth in both their academic careers and personal lives. Like every other Monday afternoon, the middle school’s cafeteria was filled with energy, with both kids and adults alike jumping on the tables and stomping their feet in celebration.

For the first time this season, parents were invited out to the ceremony. Not only were they able to see their children receive awards, they also got a first hand glimpse into just how the Five Star program operates.

“Everything we do today has a purpose,” said Casey Martin, the head “coach” for the program. “It may look like chaos, but it’s a very organized chaos.”

The ceremony is the first time that awards have been given for the fall semester. The after-school program first came to Dowagiac Middle School in January.

Despite the raucous atmosphere the coaches create for the students, the primary focus of the program is motivating young Michiana adults to improve their grades.

“Last year, 74 percent of the students who participated in Five Star raised their grades or maintained a 3.0 GPA or higher,” Martin said. “We’re seeing immediate results at the schools we come to.”

The program, which began in 2004, has teams in 13 different schools throughout Michigan and Indiana, with more than 300 coaches serving 2,500 students.

Like the name implies, Five Star models their program around five principles: respect, responsibility, integrity, sacrifice and courage.

“It’s not rocket science,” Martin said. “These five values are the same values by which many successful people live by.”

Five Star divides the school year into three different seasons, fall, winter and spring. This season, which began in September, focused on the theme of “respect,” with the students focusing on a particular lesson about the subject every week. To open the ceremony on Monday, the coaches had the kids reflect on the various lessons they learned over the past seven weeks, such as loving your family and honoring your teachers.

“We’ve been on a journey this season,” said Cameron Blake, one Martin’s assistant coaches. ”Like at the end of any journey, we should take some time to reflect on how far we have come.”

Five Star coaches employ a curriculum that bears little resemblance to that found in the traditional middle school classroom. The kids participate in various group-oriented activities, clustered in teams of six to seven under the supervision of a single coach.

On Monday, students were given the chance to write a letter expressing how the after-school program has made an impact on their lives. Martin then selected a number of letters to read aloud to the entire cafeteria.

Following this, the children were given the chance to release some pent-up energy, taking to the hallways to play such games as “Gaga Ball” and “Ninja Games.”

In the meantime, Martin met with the parents who came out to the ceremony to explain the goals of the Five Star program in greater detail and to answer questions.

The actual award ceremony concluded the day’s event, with coaches handing out certificates for achievements such as perfect attendance and outstanding academic performance. They also honored select students with awards such as the “True North Award,” for students who completed the given challenges every week, and the “Extra Mile Award,” for those who exceeded expectations on a weekly basis.

In addition to these group awards, a number of individual honors were bestowed. One of these awards, the Sacrifice Awards, was given to Billy Preston, who helped the staff clean up the cafeteria and carry equipment to the truck at the end of every program throughout the fall.

“[Preston] is a very quiet student, but he stood out to us more than nearly every other student this year,” Coach Blank said.

The afterschool program will go on a brief hiatus throughout the rest of December, before resuming for its winter season on Jan. 14.