A program at Elkhart Central High School is working to help its black young men graduate high school by building a network of role models.
This is the third year for Students Working at Achieving Goals (SWAG) at Central, which Central guidance counselor Katrina Barhydt helps lead.
The group developed out of concerns for black males at the school, Barhydt said, including the group’s low graduation rate.
Through SWAG, about 50 Central boys interact with local black role models, talk about issues, do community service and receive encouragement to pursue their academic and career goals, Barhydt explained.
At first, the students were suspicious why the guidance counselors wanted to be so involved. They wondered if they were in trouble, Barhydt said. “Now, we get asked all the time, when is our next SWAG meeting. And I think they interact with each other more positively,”
It also builds the students’ relationships with teachers, counselors and administrators, “just to know that we’re not out to get them,” she continued.
Barhydt said the counselors now want to take the program further. They’re looking for the community to take a role in encouraging the SWAG students. Especially since there are not many black teachers at Central, Barhydt would like to see community members to offer job shadowing opportunities or to come speak to the group or “just be a positive role model for them.”
Central Principal Frank Serge also said that he’s seen an improvement in the school’s atmosphere since the group’s start.
“The older the group gets, the more impact it has,” he said.
Disciplinary issues have decreased and there have been far fewer physical interactions in that demographic, he said. SWAG is also helping develop a camaraderie among that group.
“It’s a group that they can talk about things, they can get engaged in school things and say there’s something here for me,” he said.
Danny Buford, a Central junior, said this was his first year in SWAG, but that the group has already made a significant difference in his high school life.
“I was failing classes, but since I’ve been a part of SWAG, it’s motivated me,” he said. His goal now is to “do all I have to do to graduate, then find a job and work at a job for a year, then go to college.”
He needs a little break from school, he said, but does want to go on to college and pursue a future in basketball. If that doesn’t pan out, he said, he’d like to open a business.
Pierre Moran Middle School began a program this year similar to Central’s SWAG called Minority Men Making a Difference. On Thursday, several eighth-graders from Pierre Moran’s group shadowed SWAG juniors, getting a taste of life at the high school.
The high school students also shared advice and a bit about their early experiences at Central.
Barhydt said that the eighth-graders shadowed the juniors, so that next year, as freshmen, the younger students can recognize the seniors and have someone they can talk to or ask questions of, if needed.
Serge said that the group allows the administration to “just send the message to them that we care about them and that we want them to be successful.”
To learn more or get involved with SWAG, contact Barhydt at Central High School. For more information about Minority Men Making a Difference, contact Assistant Principal Krista Hennings at Pierre Moran.