Programmed for success

Be Great By 8th helps students develop skills for life beyond graduation

Paintbrushes, colored markers and glitter transformed beach towel-sized sheets of drawing paper on an early spring Friday at Camas Valley Charter School.

Student artists were creating the banners for a project involving airplanes and advertising. But the deeper lesson was all about teamwork.

As they discussed designs and negotiated placement, the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders were also learning “teamwork means you can’t always have it your own way,” said class co-instructor Erika McIntyre. “That’s a skill they’ll need on jobs in their future.”

Since February, 30 Camas Valley middle schoolers have been picking up that lesson and many others through the 12-week program called Be Great by 8th. It’s taught locally by McIntyre and Erik Wood, both of whom are AmeriCorps members hosted by Douglas County Partners for Student Success. The program was launched in Douglas County at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley in Roseburg.

Kendra Wilson, director of operations for the agency’s local chapter, said funding came from a two-year state grant awarded through the Oregon Youth Development Council. The initial idea was to work with middle school students who demonstrated study habits or lack of organizational skills that put them at risk for missing the transition to high school.

“Some kids think middle school isn’t important, that they don’t have to get good grades because they can fix that in high school,” Wilson said. “But the numbers show us that if they aren’t ready for high school by eighth grade, they may get so far behind that they feel they just can’t make it up.”

As more students signed up for the program, staff at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley found they could tailor the curriculum to meet the needs of participants. Wilson said some kids might have great study skills, for example, but needed help planning goals for high school and beyond. Ultimately, the goal is to increase high school graduation rates while encouraging students to have plans for their futures, Wilson said.

“It’s not a cookie-cutter program where kids check boxes,” she said. “It’s helping kids to develop the goals they need to succeed,” Wilson said.
As part of the program funding, Be Great by 8th is able to offer a special incentive. Each student who participates is awarded $200 at the end of the session. The money is intended to go to a personal fund for education or other career-related cost.

Organizers are hoping to expand Be Great by 8th to perhaps a couple of more schools before funding ends in July. Meanwhile, Camas Valley Vice Principal Tyler Ochs said he has been pleased with what he’s seen of Be Great by 8th since the 12-week program rolled out at the school last winter.

“It’s been a flexible program aligned with what our kids need – mainly career-based,” Ochs said. “They’ve gone over resume-writing and mock interviews. We’re talking about bringing out some professionals to talk to them.”

Ochs said he believes the instructors have been able not only to make the activities fun, but also less intimidating. By breaking down the interview process to simple steps, or breaking out costs for college and other post-high school expenses, “it makes what seems really difficult into something kids they can be successful at.”

Camas Valley seventh-grader Jazmin Ode said Be Great by 8th has made her feel a little less anxious about the future. Her post-graduation plans are to enter the military and ultimately become a detective.

“We’ve been talking here about some of the skills you need to approach people,” she said. “Also about costs for housing and cars … it makes me feel a little more relaxed about the future.”

Eighth-grader Riley Stutzman said he was interested in signing up for Be Great by 8th to help him prepare for college, but also to do a good job in life as well.
He shared the results of a questionnaire he’d filled out that showed he fell into the category of “a growth mindset with fixed ideas.” What that means, he explained, is “I’m open to change but not entirely … open enough, though, that there a lot of jobs I could potentially do.”

He said the mock job interviews had been some of the most helpful activities so far.

“You learn some of the obvious stuff like don’t chew gum, but also making eye contact, asking good questions and that you need to have a firm handshake,” he said, demonstrating the latter with a vigorous but not crushing grasp.
After finishing their banners and eating their program-provided lunch, students went back into team formation for a “Jeopardy”-style contest with categories relating to college and careers.

Whether joining voices for a chorus of the “Jeopardy” theme song or choosing team leaders by a round of rock-scissors-paper, kids were clearly enjoying themselves. That’s an important aspect of the program, according to instructors McIntyre and Wood.

“We try to make if fun, because it’s something extra for them – they are doing it on their off days or after class,” Wood said. “What we’ve seen so far is that the kids enjoy it and can’t wait to do the assignments.”

“They also like the idea of being self-supporting,” McIntyre said. “They realize the time will come when they aren’t with Mom and Dad and they’ll have to know about budgets and tuition.”

Be Great by 8th is one of three related programs initiated by the Boys & Girls Clubs Oregon Alliance that stretch from elementary school to high school levels, emphasizing skills to help children excel in school and beyond. To find out more, contact Kendra Wilson at the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Umpqua Valley, 541-440-9505 or

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