CHOICES program puts students on path to smart decisions

For the second year, Russellville Middle School students were given a glimpse at what smart decisions can lead to and what not making those decisions might entail.

A year ago, almost by a bit of serendipity, the CHOICES program arrived at Russellville Middle School. After looking for a program that could help eighth grade students start their path to and through high school on a solid foot, Deanna Hollimon and other staff members were presented with an opportunity.

“We were looking for some kind of program where we could show kids smart decision making skills,” said Hollimon. “We wanted to expose eighth graders to future decisions and choices that they would be making.”

The program was paid for by a grant in 2014, but Hollimon said Russellville City Schools Superintendent Rex Mayfield felt strongly enough about the program to continue it this year.

“This is really one of the highlights of our year so we are very pleased that Mr. Mayfield decided to keep this program going,” Hollimon said.

Presenters for the program come from around the community and for Hollimon that is one of the most important aspects.

“Being able to bring people in from around the community, from all different kinds of occupations, and talk to the students about what it takes to be successful and to talk about making smart choices—that is a very valuable thing,” Hollimon said.

This year, the two-day program consisted of Adolfo Ruiz from Best Buy, Mark McNatt from G & G Steel, Doug Clement from the Russellville Water and Sewer Department, and Mollie Hamilton, a retired banker from CB&S Bank.

Alana Parker trains the presenters and by the time they walk into the classroom they are ready to discuss everything from self-discipline to money management.

In Ms. Clark’s eighth grade class Ruiz went through an exercise with the students that allowed them to make a choice and see what the consequences would be. Scenarios familiar to the students were presented such as choosing between studying and going to a party. Volunteers were able to make their choice and hear what Ruiz deemed as the result of that decision. And sometimes the poor decision led to some laughter from the other students.

McNatt led students through a discussion on time management. Using the analogy of daily activities and requirements as different size rocks and sand, McNatt challenged students to recognize what is important in their daily lives.

In Ms. Smith’s class, Clement explained that picking up smart decision-making skills would lead to students going from a basic cell phone to a new iPhone. These analogies seemed to make it clear to the students the importance of making smart choices and for Hollimon this skill is the centerpiece of the annual program.

“The way things are structured now students need to be able to start looking down the road and the paths that they will take to be successful,” Hollimon said. “If we can impart to them now the importance of making smart, sound decisions and how that will help them later in their four-year plan, then we can greatly help them.”

Hollimon said that each year there are different presenters and that she hopes the pool can continue to grow.

“As you can see we have people from different walks, from different occupations, and that is key because then students can see things from different perspectives,” Hollimon said. “Some students won’t be planning to attend a four-year college, and some students won’t be planning to join the workforce upon graduation. So this allows everyone to hear and learn what he or she needs to.

“These presenters are taking time away from their work and we are so grateful for that and the fact that their occupations allow them to volunteer their time” Hollimon said. “We hope the group of trained presenters can continue to grow so that if something were ever to come up and someone was unable to attend we would be able to get someone else in there.”

Hollimon said students are often overheard discussing the day’s lessons during the week of the CHOICES program and that she genuinely feels like they enjoy it.

“I think we all get a little excited during this time of the year,” Hollimon said. “This is such a great program and I hope to see it continue and grow each year.

“It is great to see the community and the schools join forces like this in order to help our students grow.”

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