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Local mentoring program Be Great: Graduate expands statewide

By Heather Graves

GREEN BAY – Be Great: Graduate (BGG), a mentoring program through the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Green Bay aimed at helping at-risk students graduate on time, is expanding locally and statewide.

“Nine years ago, the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Green Bay utilized a small grant to launch a mentoring program aimed at helping at-risk youth graduate from high school,” said Eric Vanden Heuvel, interim executive director of the local club. “That year, 40 middle school students were paired with club staff, or graduation coaches, and the Be Great: Graduate program was born.”

Over the last nine years, this program has ran at the club’s two locations on Oneida Street and University Avenue.

Vanden Heuvel said during that time, 92 percent of program participants have graduated on-time.

“It’s exciting to be able to confidently say that we know this program works, Vanden Heuvel said.

Locally, the club has partnered with four area school districts to place a graduation specialist in their schools.

“The Green Bay, Howard/Suamico, Denmark and Ashwaubenon School Districts all have graduation specialists within their schools, working with students who are currently struggling to succeed in school,” Vanden Heuvel said. “These graduation specialists will work with students, before, during and after school and address whatever barriers are preventing them from being successful.”

During the 2019-20 school year, more than 200 students will be supported through the BGG program in the Northeast Wisconsin area.

“But this doesn’t represent the end of our local growth,” Vanden Heuvel said. “We know the need in Northeast Wisconsin is even greater. So the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Green Bay has an aggressive vision to expand the program to serve more than 600 youth in Be Great Graduate within the next five years.”

Thanks to state support and local donations, Vanden Heuvel said the BGG program is expanding statewide as well.

The program targets the kids most at-risk of leaving high school and uses early warning signals exhibited by students in grades 6-12, such as poor attendance, behavioral problems and course failure, to identify the youth most at risk of dropping out.

“Seventeen other clubs/school districts (in Appleton, Oshkosh, Milwaukee, Fond du Lac, Madison, La Crosse, Eau Claire, Stevens Point and Wisconsin Rapids, to name a few) will be replicating the program that originated right here in Green Bay,” Vanden Heuvel said.

He said club staff from Green Bay will provide training and technical support to clubs around the state their programs get off the ground.

“More than 1,000 high school and middle school students who are struggling to succeed in school now have a path, a purpose and a person who is solely dedicated to their success,” Vanden Heuvel said.

He said the program uses as strengths-based approach and helps students utilize a growth mindset.

“Coaches meet with their graduates for a minimum of one hour each week,” Vanden Heuvel said. “Conversations focus on incremental improvements in order to find and maintain a path toward graduation and develop a plan for success after high school.”

Through the program, coaches are able to access the student’s up-to-date school data.

Vanden Heuvel said this access allows coaches to have real-time, relevant conversations with students about what they need to do to succeed in school.

He said the program has seen several improvements over the last nine years, but one thing has always remained the same – its “intense focus on helping our most vulnerable teens develop confidence, make good choices and graduate high school with a vision for the future.”

In the early stages, funding from AT&T was leveraged to secure a grant from the State of Wisconsin, championed by state Rep. John Klenke.

State Rep. John Macco championed support for the program, resulting in an increase in state funding to expand it in three areas in Wisconsin: Fox Valley, Oshkosh and Milwaukee.

“Rep. Macco has been a champion for children in his early efforts to push the BGG program starting years ago,” said Andy Gussert, alliance director for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Wisconsin. “Much like when a teen graduates and leaves home, this program has grown and now goes on to help thousands of youth graduate across Wisconsin.”

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