Two programs at Alcoa Middle School are teaching students leadership skills and giving them the opportunity to serve the community.
Principal Jim Kirk praised the Alcoa Youth Empowerment and the Jay-Teens and Jay-Tweens programs, two of the extra things going on at Alcoa Middle that teach important life skills.
“Alcoa Youth Empowerment is put on by the city government and the school board. It’s like Youth Leadership Blount. It acclimates the students as to what the mayor, school board and city commissioners do,” said Kirk. “They learn how city government works. They learn that education has a price tag and that their parents, the taxpayers, are really paying for all the schools. I think it makes them more appreciative.”
Lon Fox, a teacher who helps oversee both programs, said school board member Julie Rochelle, city commissioner and former Alcoa High School principal Clint Abbott, mayor Don Mull and the police Chief Ken Burge went to a conference and came back with ideas for ways to encourage the youth of Alcoa to get involved in the community and empower them to be part of the community.
“So we created a leadership program in Alcoa for middle school students. It’s designed to bring out the best in the kids, bring awareness to their community and encourage them to become grounded in the community. It encourages them to get involved,” Fox said. “This community over the last 20 years has grown, but it’s been controlled growth. We really want to empower kids to get involved in the community.”
AYE students are nominated by teachers, and Fox explains the program and time commitment to each student before he or she accepts.” I go to the student and tell them about the program,” Fox said.
Ty Garrett, 8th grader, said the things he learned during AYE did create in him a greater appreciation for his education. “It’s a lot of fun. I learned about Alcoa. We went to the water treatment plant, landfill and service center. And, it made me feel more appreciative that I go to this school.”
Fox said the AYE students get to meet different leaders in the community. “They get to meet a lot of different people and instead of seeing them in a seminar environment, we go to them and see them in their environment,” he said.
Being appreciative, giving back and honing leadership skills are common themes that run through the extra curricula activities and sanctioned clubs at Alcoa Middle School. Alcoa Youth Empowerment helps the middle school students learn how to interact with city officials, office managers and those who make things happen in Alcoa, said Lon Fox, who is the teacher responsible for administrating the program. The Jay-Teens and Jay-Tweens programs then teaches the students how to become those leaders, and how to give back to the community.
The principal said the Jay-Tweens and Jay-Teens are affiliated with the Jaycees organization and also reinforces good leadership skills training. “It also teaches life skills and community service,” he said.
Jay-Tweens are fifth and sixth graders and Jay-Teens are seventh and eighth graders. The two groups help the local community service Jaycee group with their projects, get help in return from the adults in Jaycees and really reach out to the community and to the school to provide fun activities.
Rami Eid, eighth grader, is a member of the Jay-Teens club. “Jay-Teens is a program that does service projects and helps out around the school,” he said.
Even the “fun” programs like dances and Haunted Hallway during the Halloween season are geared to teach leadership skills, said Fox. Rami said Jay-Teens and Jay-Tweens also do projects and fundraisers such as a Valentine’s Day Dance, a Game Show fundraiser, and the group also organizes Fifth Quarter gatherings at the school after some of the home football games.
Fox said at the Fifth quarter events, there is a live band and plenty of food and fun things for the students to do. “It’s neat,” he said. “It’s a fund-raiser, but we keep the cost down, so it is really more of a service project than a fundraiser,” he said.
Kinsey Midkiff, a seventh grader, said being in Jay-Tweens and Jay-Teens opens a student’s eyes on how they can help people. “It makes you feel good at the end of the day,” he said.
Fox said the students participating in Jay-Tweens and Jay-Teens activities do 85 percent of the planning for the special activities they do. “They do the public relations, planning, management, and they plan menus,” Fox said.
Rami said he gets a lot out of being in the Jay-Teens. “You meet other people and learn interaction skills as well as help others,” he said.
Kinsey said participating in Jay-Teens helps the community. “And it builds your confidence up,” he said.
Fox said, “We do a lot on the ropes course (at Maryville College) with the Jay-Tweens. They learn team work and communication.”
Kinsey was president of Jay-Tweens as a sixth grader before moving on to the seventh grade. “It was intense, with a lot of management to pull off the events,” Kinsey said. “You work hard and put a lot into it, but it’s fun.”
AYE is done during school hours and Jay-Teens and Jay-Tweens meet from 3 to 4:15 p.m. on Thursdays for regular meetings, plus the extra events and planning time needed for the events.