Joining the SWAG Club
Clemson students are surrounded by opportunities for educational experiences and campus involvement, so much so that the routine of going to classes, attending organizational meetings, and rushing amidst a packed schedule to make the intramural game the same night is typical. However, not all children may attain this point in their education; for some, high school graduation may not become a reality for them. One Creative Inquiry, currently in its final semester, is dedicated to providing a program for children at risk of not completing their education. Lecturer Laura Shick of the mathematical sciences department has been crafting a program with a Creative Inquiry team for these children who do not have the opportunity to participate in programs that promote their educational and social development. The students who joined the Creative Inquiry team realized that an after school program would be most ideal, as it would provide closer and more frequent interaction between the students and children.
The program has now expanded from the meetings with a few children in the small front office of Creekwood Village Apartments in Clemson to about ten or eleven children at a church a few hundred yards from the complex. Clemson students meet with elementary and middle school students three days per week, during which they play games, work on homework, and provide snacks for the children. They have dinner on Thursdays and seek to provide the children with extracurricular experiences, including going to basketball games and attending events at the Brooks Center for the Performing Arts. They have even created "SWAG club," which stands for "Students With a Goal" and encourages the children to "speak kindly, work hard, always love, and give respect."
Shick explained, "Research has shown that if children have mentors and... goals in middle school, then you stand a really good opportunity to keep them. If you lose them in middle school, they're gone." Through the program, the children's willingness to learn has increased, and their social skills have developed. Two elementary school children, for example, had a speech development issue and are now speaking more frequently to the student volunteers. Such interactions will hopefully encourage these kids to graduate high school and pursue degrees in higher education. One Clemson student, Hannah Swoap, is mentoring a high school student to help her understand the process of applying for college. She is able to provide resources to the student that are unavailable at home, giving her advice on the application process and encouragement to seek higher education.
The greatest challenge for the Creative Inquiry team was getting the program into operation. The students had to work with regulations and policies, liability issues and health issues. "I definitely think all of us have grown in our leadership capabilities because now we're actually running the program," stated Swoap. "I'm learning what it takes to run an organization. It forces you to grow and learn and do things I wouldn't have learned just sitting in class." The fact that the students in the Creative Inquiry come from a variety of majors such as early childhood education, sociology and civil engineering emphasizes that they are truly working outside of their classes.
As the project comes to the end of a semester, Shick, Swoap, and the other students hope to make the program sustainable by making it a community initiative. They hope to establish a program through which volunteers outside of the Clemson student body may be trained to continue the program as the Clemson volunteers graduate. The community effort to provide these children with mentors and the motivation to form goals will influence their future education. In the long term, the program could increase the high school graduation rate and lead to an educated work force and improved economy. An investment in this program would undeniably be an investment in the future of the community.