ST. GEORGE — A St. George-based nonprofit educational program that focuses on raising high school graduation rates is expanding its reach to the Independent State of Samoa.
Founded eight years ago by Jack Rolfe and his wife, the School of Life Foundation teaches junior high and high school students – most of whom have been identified as at-risk of not advancing to the next grade and/or graduating – to “school” their toughest opponent using a largely character-based training program.
The program was first implemented eight years ago at Desert Hills High School, Rolfe said, and has since grown to several school districts across Utah.
Besides impressive growth, the program has seen high rates of success in keeping students in school and raising high school graduation rates, he said. Nearly 90% of students who take the afterschool course end up staying in school.
Those numbers have been validated with scientific research done through a University of Utah College of Education faculty research grant, Rolfe said.
“It’s nice to have an outside party bringing that added confirmation that we accomplished what we hoped to accomplish.”
Additionally, according to data from the 2017-2018 school year for schools using the School of Life program, students prior to taking the School of Life course with a 2.0 grade point average or lower recorded a 22% increase in GPA after completing the program. The program has also shown to decrease absenteeism and tardiness.
School of Life Foundation is adding an emotional and social learning component to the character-based training already in place.
The program has garnered interest from school districts and other entities outside of Utah, Rolfe said, adding that he is excited about spreading the program but wants to grow responsibly, especially as a nonprofit that relies on grants and donations.
School of Life Foundation just licensed its program to a group in Anchorage, Alaska, known as Leader Lawns which has a youth training program that mentors future leaders and provides valuable job and life training through landscaping. Leader Lawns plans to implement School of Life’s character-based program alongside their existing work program, Rolfe said.
It is the first time School of Life has licensed its training.
The foundation’s biggest growth will start in August when the group travels to Upolu, Samoa, where they will meet with two schools and begin implementing the program there.
Much of the groundwork for the expansion was laid by St. George resident Situtuila Sissy Vuki. She was born in Samoa but moved to the United States when she was young. Still, she maintained a love for her birth country and has a passion and desire to help the people there.
In Samoa, Vuki is a high chief and is addressed as Faalogo.
Her desire to bring School of Life to Samoa began in 2016. At the time, the South Pacific island country did not have a unified 911 call center.
“When we needed that assistance we didn’t have a number to be able to reach someone,” Vuki said.
In 2017 it was announced that effective Jan. 1, 2018, Samoa would no longer use the three emergency numbers that were in place and unify everything to a single 911 number and call center. Vuki and her husband were on board, she said, and started raising money to donate to the Samoan government to show their support.
The fundraiser was so successful that Vuki wanted to extend it into a scholarship program to benefit first responders and their children.
“Their pay is very low there, but education is so expensive.”
As she was setting up the scholarship, she asked Rolfe and his wife to join the committee in helping score the essays.
While working with Rolfe, Vuki knew that the mission of School of Life to raise graduation rates and to help promote the importance of education, would be a perfect fit for Samoa.
“This could answer a prayer for our Minister of Education,” Vuki said.
Vuki recently returned from Samoa where she introduced the foundation and said that the mission and passion of the foundation was well received.
In August the foundation will head to Upolu, Samoa, to begin implementing the program in two high schools – the LDS Church College Pesega and Samoa College. Samoa’s new school year will begin in January 2020 so from August through December they will be learning how best to bring the program to the students, Rolfe said.
Because of the initial tie to the first responders, Rolfe said he will also meet with firemen and women and police and present more information about the program.
“Our program can benefit anyone. I also want to let them know what their children and their families will be receiving.”
Vuki hopes that the program will not only benefit students but filter out into the communities and villages of Samoa. And of course she hopes it provides an added benefit to current and future first responders and their families.
For Rolfe, the goal has always been to reach as many students as possible and help them achieve their full potential.
“We are very humbled and very honored with this invitation to come to Samoa.”
To learn more about the School of Life Foundation or to donate, visit its website.
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