Academic Champions League
When you hear “player of the week” it’s easy to think of the MVP from your favorite sports team. You know the one; the person who makes the extra point or puts forward the extra effort to lead the team to victory. This year the title Player of the Week at the Ober center isn’t highlighting the athletic abilities of participants; it’s highlighting a young person who puts forth the most effort for the week working on homework and strengthening academics skills that help them become an academic champion.
Academic Champions League (ACL) is an afterschool enrichment opportunity that began this year through the efforts of Amanda Duhon, an AmeriCorps Vista through the City of St. Paul, working with the American Oromo Community of Minnesota. “Students seem to be really motivated by the academic competition aspect of the program. When surveyed about what they were most looking forward to, students included things like ‘becoming player of the week’, ’doing good in my work and getting points’ and ‘getting A+ in all subjects’ ”. Points are tracked both individually and as a team. Points are earned throughout the week for activities like completing homework, reading, and demonstrating leadership, sportsmanship, and team spirit. Participants can cash in their points for prizes, and the team with the highest points gets first dibs at field trip and specialty opportunities throughout the year.
The program is open for young people ages six through eighteen and operates four days a week from 3pm-6pm. In addition to homework help, there are other daily enrichment activities including world folktale performances, math trivia challenges, and geometric shape building. Demetrius Lolar, the Ober staff person in charge of delivering the program says, "Since the addition of the Academic Champions League, the kids are more excited about doing homework. Not just the kids, I'm more excited about it. I went from just helping kids with homework to actually helping with everything. I feel like I've developed closer relationships with them."
Amanda does a great job coordinating the program, but couldn’t do it alone. Partnerships have been key to a successful launch of this new program. A major partner is the Ober Center. In addition to providing space, staff resources, and program supplies, the Ober Center also has found it helpful to incorporate required study time for their in house 10U and 12U soccer and basketball teams. “All of the teams are required to attend the homework center in order to participate in sports at Ober. For them to be successful on the court or on the field, they need to be successful in the classroom. We have found that not only are the student-athletes becoming successful in their school work, they are also building team camaraderie amongst one another” Elizabeth Govrik, Ober Center Sports Coordinator.
Other partners in the ACL include volunteers that come in to help tutor, mentor, and lead activities with the Academic Champions; the Monarch women’s soccer team, 10,000 lakes men’s soccer team, Saint Paul Police Department and Youth Farm and Market Project.
More about the American Oromo Community of MN
Part of AOCM’s goal as an organization is to act as an advocate, bridge-builder, and navigator for Oromo youth and families. As advocate, they work with community organizations to expand awareness and services for the Oromo and East-African communities. As bridge-builder, they develop partnerships through a pipeline of community-based programs designed to engage Oromos and East-Africans ‘on the ground.’ As navigator, they works with and for the Oromo and East African communities directly by recruiting youth, connecting with families, conducting home visits, and doing whatever it takes to get youth plugged into programming that will propel them on their path to success. The Academic Champions League is a critical component of AOCM’s role as bridge-builder because it provides a culturally inclusive academic environment for Oromo youth and families, while utilizing the staff, resources, and location of the Ober Community Center. Prior to 2012, Ober’s academic program served 5-10 students per week. Since the program launch in September 2012, the Academic Champions League has doubled in size, starting with roughly 25 students per week in September and increasing to over 50 students per week in November.
The American Oromo Community of MN is excited to be launching the Oromo Mentoring program at Ober Center on December 7th through a partnership with Big Brother’s Big Sisters.