SOUTHERN UTAH — “Raise your hands ‘School of Life’ high,” the instructor said, as about a dozen hands shot into the air. It was the second hour of the first session of School of Life Foundation’s after-school program that teaches high school students positive life principles and the students were starting to respond.
At its core, “School of Life” is an outreach program. The program goes into high schools where, for a large portion of the students, it is either “School of Life” or suspension, but it also reaches much, much deeper, not only throwing students a lifeline but teaching them how to swim.
“These are my most at-risk students,” Justin Keate, assistant principal at Desert Hills High School said of the group, many of whom have been, or are, in situations of abuse, abandonment and bullying. As a result, their grades have slipped, putting them in a position where they must act quickly or face not graduating or moving up to the next grade level.
Still, the School of Life Foundation remains focused on the positive by teaching character-based, guiding principles that let the students take control of their lives and responsibility over their choices.
The principles are called “the A’s of life” and the four-week program — one day a week for two hours each of the days — led by certified trainers, teaches the 10 “A’s” through motivational speeches, videos and reading from a manual written by foundation founder Jack Rolfe, entitled “Learn to School Your Toughest Opponent.”
From the onset, students learn to understand that their toughest opponent, despite what their life situations are, is their own self. They are instructed and encouraged to remove their self-limiting beliefs.
“Don’t let you be the one to beat you,” School of Life Foundation’s Director of Training Kip Kint said to the class. “The only thing I want for you, is the thing you want for you. I want you to get what you want.”
“I just like the optimism about it,” participating student Jacob Owen said, “how everything was based on uplifting and good things and becoming a better person.”
In the manual, Rolfe wrote:
Through fear, doubt, lack of confidence, peer pressure, unfavorable circumstances, trials and many other reasons, we let ourselves get in the way of reaching our full potential in life.
Determine today that you will never do that again. Then you will be ready to start living the “A’s” of life and enjoy the new heights available for you to reach. You can do it. Remember you are amazing and awesome.
So what are the “A’s?”
The curriculum taught from the manual is the trademarked phrase, perhaps even motto of the foundation, which is “Achieve Straight ‘A’s’ in the School of Life.” The “A’s” of life are nothing short of keys for success. Success in school, yes, but also in life.
The “A’s” are as follows:
The School of Life Foundation fits what is known as the tier two level of Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports developed by the United States Department of Education, Rolfe said. The three-tiered program was instituted by the government department and requires schools to offer positive behavior interventions and support to the students, Rolfe said but they provided no real way for schools to implement them especially where tier two is concerned.
Tier 1 recognizes all the students in the school and the system expects it to be implemented by the posting of motivational posters and teachers offering positive reinforcements in the classroom, Rolfe said. And tier three is those students who have already dropped out or have been kicked out of school for one reason or another.
Tier 2 is for the students who are at a pivotal point — the students who are starting to slip behaviorally and academically and are at risk of dropping out.
“So tier 2 is the most vital spot because they are sitting on that fence,” Rolfe said. “There are very few tier two programs in the country and even fewer, if any, in the state.”
The School of Life Foundation offers a small class-sized intervention program previously lacking in schools that many are taking notice of.
“The Utah State Office of Education has recognized that we fit that tier-2 level,” Rolfe said “and they have been introducing us to more schools because schools don’t know what to do.”
Schools are supposed to offer small class intervention but don’t have the manpower or funding to provide it, Rolfe said.
School of Life’s program is offered at no cost to schools and data provided on the foundation’s website shows the program is working:
- Of those students who entered the School of Life program off track to graduate, 88 percent went on to complete graduation
- Of those underclassmen who were not on track to advance to the next grade level at the end of the school year, 91 percent went on to complete advancement
- There has been an increase of grade-point average scores recorded by 63 percent of the students with the average improvement being 12 percent
- There has been an increase in character life skills and behavior recorded by 94 percent of the students, with the top five being: overall increased happiness, disposition toward facing challenges, disposition toward planning, disposition toward peer pressure and disposition toward school attendance.
And they do all of it in just eight total hours. On the final day of the session, students are required to give a presentation. Each student chooses one or a few of the “A’s” that had the greatest impact on them and they present that “A” to the class and explain and how it changed them.
“I think the ‘School of Life’ is really valuable,” participating student Lauren Rapoza said, “you learn a lot of important qualities that you can use the rest of your life.”
Presentations range from PowerPoint slide shows to poetry readings and vocal performances. Students share stories of their trials and hardships and how showing Appreciation to those who support them or taking Aim at their goals or putting their plans into Action has had a significant positive change in their lives.
“They’re making changes and they’re making changes literally in hours,” Kint said. And they’re “having such a significant impact on graduation, advancement of grade level, GPA — it (is) pretty impressive.”
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