Cool in School: Students realizing success in Prior Lake through STARS

8:29 AM, Sep 16, 2010   |    comments
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Students in Prior Lake connect to schol with STARS

PRIOR LAKE, Minn. -- While most schools empty out in the summer, Twin Oaks Middle School in Prior Lake is humming with activity.

"Do we have any more group shots of kids?" asks Jaime McNatt, the school social worker, and the driving force behind a program called STARS, or Students That Are Realizing Success.

Today she's helping students put the finishing touches on an inspirational mural that graces a large gathering area in the school.

"There was a niche of students that just had no connection to school, and so we took about twenty of them, and kind of piloted a summer program to see if working with them in the summer would impact their school year," says McNatt.

That was five years ago.   

The  summer program is now about a hundred students strong.  There's an after-school program during the academic year, and even a school within a school.

"Kids spent four hours a day in their core classes, math, science and English, in a smaller setting classroom where it's more hands on," says McNatt.

It made all the difference for 8th grader Trent DeFreitas, who found himself struggling in the 6th grade.

"I was a C and D student. I wanted to get better grades, and I thought it would help me get on the right track," says DeFreitas.  "This year I've been making the A honor roll the whole year."

The goal of STARS is to build confidence in the students through activities designed to test physical and interpersonal skills.  Students also learn they can make an impact on the lives of others.

This summer, students trained for and completed the annual Miracles of Mitch Triathlon.  It's a challenging event that raises money for children with cancer.

"The first time we did it was last year," says McNatt.  It was one of the most profound things I've ever been a part of, to see the spirit of the kids helping kids was amazing."

"We relate it back during school quite a bit. 'Do you remember when you felt like giving up and we pushed through?' So we use their summer experiences a lot during the school year," says McNatt.

Not only have STARS students improved their grades and school attendance, they've also grown as people.

"I can actually be myself here," says 7th grader Hanna Aszmann.

"When I started this, I thought, I'm not going to have amy friends.  I can't do any of this.  But they've been pushing me to work really hard, and everything's different now. Everything's easier," says Aszmann.




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