When Shay Goodman, an 18-year-old McKinney Boyd Senior High School, went on his tour of college campuses earlier this year, one of the stops shocked him.
The Angola State Prison is certainly not on the “To Visit” list for most high school students. But for Goodman and a busload of other students on the Boys & Girls Club of Collin County (BGCCC) “Choices Tour,” Angola was the stop on the itinerary sandwiched between Louisiana State University and a tour of Bourbon Street.
The students who participated in the tour spent three weeks in preparation for the trip, taking practice SAT and ACT exams and researching colleges and careers. But for students like Goodman, who has been attending BGCCC since he was 12, the preparation has actually been going on for years.
THE TOTAL CHILD
Children can start attending BGCCC at age 5 and are immediately immersed in the established curricula in Character and Leadership, Education and Career Development, and Health and Life Skills. Far from the common misconception that Boys and Girls Clubs are simply after-school childcare, the BGCCC uses this established curriculum to develop the total child.
Shay Goodman (left) and Legacy Graham (right) welcome Olivia Oliver to her first day at Boys and Girls Clubs of Collin County McKinney Club.
When students arrive on one of the 22 buses dispatched by the club to pick them up from a McKinney school, they are given a meal and set to work on their homework. Each student spends an hour daily on his or her school work, and must show the teacher in the study room that they have completed it. Academic support is available as needed as well – whether they need algebra tutoring or just a pack of army men to assemble their 4th grade social studies project. Oh, they check report cards at BGCCC, too. When a student is struggling, the staff knows and steps in to find out why and find a solution.
The Health and Life Skills curriculum covers everything from proper nutrition to street and school safety. And these kids take it seriously. One mother laughingly complained to Debra Sweezer, BGCCC Vice-President of Programs & In-School Services, about how long shopping takes now because she has her daughter there checking every label.
In Character and Leadership training, club members are expected to give back to the community. Students might be involved in community clean-up, coat and blanket drives or nursing home volunteer programs. The club must submit a report of their Code of Ethics describing their members’ community involvement to the national organization annually. For the past two years the BGCCC has been given gold status, which has afforded students who might not ever leave the state the opportunity to travel to Garden Grove and Anaheim, Calif.
Of course the kids get to blow off steam and get in some exercise, too. The gym was alive with excitement while students enjoyed all sorts of games. The staff keeps the younger members busy with sports, billiards, movies and more.
Angola State Prison
The teens have their own space to just be themselves in a safe environment in the BGCCC Teen Center. They have other activities geared toward their age group; lock-ins, dances and basketball leagues.
THE CHILD, THE FAMILY, THE COMMUNITY
This comprehensive approach to developing the total child impacts the entire family, explains Sweezer. She describes a mother of five who was forced to relocate to McKinney after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.
Because the BGCCC gave her children a safe place and took an active approach to getting them acclimated, she was able to get a job and therefore chose to keep her family in McKinney. She is now a college graduate and homeowner. Two of her children are high school graduates and three are currently “A” students in McKinney ISD.
Parenting seminars are offered covering topics such as warning signs of drug use, as well as financial management and home ownership. The BGCCC program truly works with the entire family, equipping educating and empowering everyone to make good choices.
BACK AT ANGOLA
I was fortunate enough to get to tour the facility with Goodman, the nose tackle for Boyd, and to hear his perspective on the years he has spent attending the club.
“It’s everything to me. They got me tutoring when I needed it. They made sure I could get to football practice. They found a place for me to stay when my mom moved, and they helped me find jobs.” Just then we walked into the cafeteria and his naturally smiling face lit up even more as he introduced me to the woman in charge of the after school meals. “That’s Miss Debra. She’s like my second mom.”
Walking the halls with him, it’s easy to see that Goodman is a bit of a local hero. Every boy under 12 wanted to be wherever Goodman was. He tells me he often hears, “Shay, I wanna be just like you.” He says it’s shown him how important it is to be a good example – leadership training at its finest.
Goodman contrasts this experience with the group’s experience at Angola State Prison. There they met a man who was about their age when imprisoned 20 years ago who described his regret over his poor choices. Goodman explained to me that this man is forced to work for pennies per day. The group also met a 16-year-old on death row and visited the room where this young man will eventually be executed. Goodman understands that these prisoners are there because of bad choices, and he understands that they were indeed choices.
Goodman hasn’t decided what he will do after graduation. He is looking at his college options as well as the possibility of joining the Army. Goodman didn’t always realize he had choices like these. But after his years at the Boys and Girls Club of Collin County, he’s developed the skills to make good ones.
About the author: Amy Rogers is a freelance writer who lives with her husband and three children in McKinney. You can find out more about her work at CopyinDisguise.com.