JDCC hosts UPS
By By Bill Crist, Special to The Advance
Take 50 middle school students from around Escambia County, plan three days and two nights of organized, activities on a college-campus setting and the result is UPS Summer Camp.
The UPS program, short for Unlocking Potential in Students, got underway this weekend with a three-day, two-night retreat at Jefferson Davis Community College (JDCC).
The group will meet six more times during the school year and graduate this spring in a ceremony that will also be held at JDCC. The three-day camp this weekend focused on character education, health awareness and life skills.
Dr. Bill Thallemer, Dean of Students at JDCC, said that the goal of this weekend's camp was to help the participants get to know each other.
"It's a chance for the students to get to know each other better so they'll be able to work together during the school year," he said. "We're trying to show them how to be a good role model and how to influence others to be a good role model."
Thallemer is leading the program with the help of Ricky Elliott. According to Thallemer UPS has five basic goals.
"We want students to develop personal character traits that will become their moral foundation as they become young adults," he said. "We also want them to develop a better understanding about the benefits of a healthier lifestyle and to understand the importance of life skills and their role in becoming a successful and responsible person."
Thallemer said that the final two goals were to see the participants become tutors and mentors in their communities and schools and to achieve a holistic approach to living a moral and upright life.
He went on to say that the goal of UPS is to attract students that fall in the middle of the spectrum.
"You have the 10 percent that are involved in everything, 10 percent that absolutely won't get involved in anything and then 80 percent that are just kind of out there in the middle," Thallemer said. "It's those kids in the middle that we're designing this program for."
In addition to hearing from a variety of speakers at the camp, participants also spent time working on posters and skits they will be presenting to area schools. The focus of those skits and posters is to deliver an anti-smoking message to other students, at all grade levels.
Campers also learned about higher education and career preparation and well as general healthcare.
UPS is a partnership between JDCC, the Escambia County Board of Education, the Escambia County Health Department and the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County. The Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County and the Escambia County Board of Education jointly submitted a grant request to the Alabama Department of Public Health to help get the project off the ground. They were awarded a $20,000 grant that was made possible through Act No. 99-390.
"We think this program is going to be successful because it combines grants which will help eliminate overlapping programs," Thallemer said.
The Children's First Trust Fund was established with the revenue from the Master Settlement Agreement between the states and the tobacco companies. Because of that, a large portion of the program will focus on the prevention of tobacco usage among teenagers. A survey done in 2000 shows that 37.6 percent of high school students and 26.5 of middle school students in Alabama currently use tobacco. Those numbers are higher than the national average.
A similar program, funded through the same grant, is being introduced to the Brewton City Schools this year as well. That program will get underway in August.
According to Elliott, UPS is really a redirection of a program that was already in place here.
"This is kind of a refocus of the Leaders for a Healthy Tomorrow program," he said. "That one was geared toward high school juniors and seniors and participation was really falling. By getting the younger students involved, we think the long-term success and benefits reaped will be much greater."