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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

ACADEMIC Pep Rallies

There were a steady stream of events orchestrated and rituals developed in reshaping the culture of the school. A list of local dignitaries was compiled to serve as prospects for academic pep rallies. Yes, academic pep rallies. Those ceremonies conducted at the end of each marking period to renew our vows to Aim HIGH. Bands played, cheerleaders cheered, erstwhile rap artists performed raps related to the 4A’s, and speakers urged the kids onward.  
     These volunteers signed on and pledged support in various ways. We hosted Elisha Demerson, a graduate of Mann and the first African-American to be elected a county judge in the history of Texas. There was a former Olympic quality downhill skier who was paralyzed in a ski accident and fought her way back to the victory circle – this time in the international competitions held for the handicapped. One of our own teachers, a young woman who fled from Uganda and the treacherous regime of Idi Amin, shared how she had overcome misfortune and met with success. The editor of the local newspaper offered worthwhile advice. John Marmaduke, the progress, civic minded CEO of Western Merchandisers/Hastings Books not only shared his personal philosophy on success but also supplied hundreds of dollars of gift certificates as valuable incentives and rewards. Texas Panhandle oil tycoon, T. Boone Pickens, was another tremendous source of support. He took notice of our billboard mission advertisements and the stories of success in the media and provided thousands of dollars to improve the school’s appearance. Mr. Pickens sent his company’s horticulturist over with a proposal to landscape the grounds of the school. In addition, dozens of employees from Pickens’ Mesa Limited Partnership combined with hundreds of our learners one Saturday morning to actually perform the task of digging and planting all of the plants, shrubs Each of the speakers, without prodding, focused their personal presentations on how they had Aimed HIGH in their life. 
     We were fortunate to be adopted by a number of businesses. The more success we encountered and the more publicity we attracted, the more partners we experienced. However, holding our hand out was not going to solve long term problems. In fact, dependency upon outside sources would only reinforce enabling behaviors that would not empower us for the future. Therefore, we took the unprecedented step and adopted another school! That’s right. We adopted the elementary school down the block. Our Student Council supplied met with the administration of the elementary school and submitted a proposal for a mutually beneficial relationship. They provided the school with $500.00 to fund a recognition and reward system fashioned after the 4A program. In this manner, they reached out to our “vendor” or “supplier” in an effort to indoctrinate the kids who would eventually come to Mann. 
     One of our Adopters was the fast-food seafood chain, Long John Silvers. They had a store near the school and offered certificates as incentives and extended their facility as a casual meeting place, complete with free refreshments, for the Student Council. Again, to avoid the perception of needy kids looking for a handout, we insisted that Long John Silverslike all of our partners in the adopt a school program, receive services from us as well. It would be a two way street. 
     It turned out that the store had a need for placemats. Specifically, placemats of a utilitarian design that would serve a purpose beyond the obvious. They wanted something that could occupy their patrons so the wait for their food was not noticeable. Our Art department organized a contest for attractive and functional designs. Kids created representations depicting a seafood motif, together with crossword puzzles, word finds, and mazes that were directly related to the Aim HIGH and 4A programs at Mann. 
     I was surprised one day to receive a phone call from a regional marketing representative from Long John Silver’s who happened to be visiting the local store and expressed an interest in buying one of the designs. I referred him to the young man who was responsible for the work and they negotiated a settlement that included a job.

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