By Melody EverlyJune 20, 2013
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- Helping students to make conscious decisions that affect their future goals and achievements can be a challenging task. Middle school students, in particular, often can use a guiding hand as the consequences of the choices they make may follow them into high school and even into adulthood.
Positive Action for Student Success, better known as PASS, is an Army pilot program aimed at providing additional resources and support specifically for middle school students. This year, the Army chose Fort Drum as one of three installations in which to test the program.
Child, Youth and School Services school liaison officers Michele Carlton and Terri Spencer were responsible for implementing the program, and they chose to do so in cooperation with Carthage Middle School.
The first step was having school administrators identify students whom they felt would benefit most from additional resources and mentoring. Some students were selected because they needed a push to achieve at a higher level academically. Others were chosen so that they might work on altering behavior patterns to allow them to be more successful in a school setting.
Participants and their parents began the program with a survey that helped them to express their unique goals for the PASS program. Parents and students alike identified the need for additional encouragement and help within the school setting.
The students who were chosen were invited, along with their parents, to an ice cream social at the start of program. There, they met Air Force Capt. Jason Hawkins.
Hawkins shared the story of his troubled childhood, including being expelled during his second attempt at completing eighth grade. After barely graduating from an alternative high school for students with behavioral issues, he enlisted in the Air Force.
Early in his career, Hawkins made the decision to turn his life around. He earned his navigator wings and became an officer, deploying several times aboard reconnaissance aircraft. He now serves as an air liaison officer assigned to Fort Drum, and he is a happily married father of four children.
What Hawkins most wished to impress upon the students was the fact that all choices have consequences -- some short term, and others more long-lasting. He encouraged students to think carefully about all of their choices and where these decisions might take them in life.
After the opening event, Spencer and Carlton then began meeting with students during their study hall periods. They met frequently to decide how best to implement the program for each individual student.
"We met regularly because we needed to get to know them. We had to figure out what their weaknesses and strengths were," Spencer said.
They also spoke with the students' teachers to gain additional understanding of how each participant functioned within the classroom setting. Once they identified students' individual challenges and strengths, Carlton and Spencer worked to motivate them according to their specific interests.
The students identified some of their career interests, and they were provided with opportunities to meet with professionals working in nursing, security and veterinary science. They also were taken on outings to several locations.
"We took them on field trips -- some educational, some fun. We always tried to have an educational or team-building piece in it to keep them interested in the program," Spencer said.
To ensure that students did not miss class time, the majority of these trips were planned during school breaks.
"For three days of their five-day vacation (in April), they were with us," Carlton added. "The last field trip of that week we took them to Destiny USA in Syracuse, and they were able to do the ropes courses."
Other trips included a visit to the Jefferson-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services, where students toured the campus and discussed vocational options available to them. They also toured the campus of Jefferson Community College, Watertown, and discussed the benefits of attending community colleges.
Students also received gift cards for meeting their academic or behavioral goals.
Recently, students and parents were asked to take another survey. They unanimously agreed that the PASS program has had a profoundly positive impact. The participants' teachers, who have been in touch routinely since the start of the program, agreed.
"For the majority (who) were struggling academically, their grades have increased. For those who were having issues with behaviors, the referrals (behavior write-ups) have reduced to almost none," Spencer said. "The communication with the teachers (indicates that) the kids are trying harder and doing better."
One program participant said that the program taught her to think about the consequences of her actions and to make better choices both in and out of school.
"The most important thing I learned was how to continue making right decisions no matter what influences I'm under," she said. "My behavior at school has gotten better since being in the PASS program. I have been doing better in school, and I haven't gotten any referrals."
To mark the hard work and dedication of the program participants, Fort Drum hosted a celebration Tuesday at Remington Park. Parents and students were treated to a barbecue lunch, and they participated in team-building games and activities.
At the end of the celebration, each student received a special gift: a personalized dog tag engraved with their name and PASS. This memento is one that the school liaison officers hope students will wear as a constant reminder to continue to make good decisions that help them to achieve their dreams.