Written by Giulia Giuffre
Megaphone Staff Writer
Operation Achievement (OA) is an after-school mentorship and enrichment program that assists selected sixth through eight grade students in the Georgetown Independent School District (GISD). Southwestern University and GISD jointly run the program.
Operation Achievement is a mentor partnership between the GISD and Southwestern University. Southwestern students volunteer time to mentor middle-school children.
Children from Tippit, Benold and Forbes Middle School come to the Cullen Building of Southwestern once a week to take part in OA. During a session of OA, the children are paired with a committed Southwestern student. OA pairs middle-school students with college students in order to facilitate both academic and personal success through goal formation and accomplishment.
The Southwestern student is a mentor for the middle school student by assisting the child with homework and studying during tutor time and by joining the students and the other mentors and students in the daily enrichment activity. The Southwestern mentor is also an older student the middle school student can look up to and confide in.
“These children respond well to Southwestern students,” Joni Ragle, director of Operation Achievement, said. “The Southwestern students have the ability to make a difference in life of these children. They provide a positive roll model and academic support and build the students’ self esteem and self confidence in a positive way.”
Operation Achievement also hosts family enrichment events in addition to the weekly mentor meetings. Parents and families are welcomed and encouraged to attend these events with their students. Family enrichments are a time for the mentors, students and the parents to get to know each other better.
Last semester, OA hosted a Family Basketball Day during the Southwestern Pirates womens’ basketball game against the Trinity Tigers. Also last semester, OA held a Fall Carnival in the Lord Caskey Center. The carnival included face painting, cupcake and cookie making and a cupcake walk.
Near the end of the first semester, there is a Holiday Party and a book fair. The students can trade points they earned during the semester for books at the book fair. At the end of every year, OA hosts the End of the Year Picnic at the volleyball field.
The next scheduled enrichment event for OA is All-Campus Day. During All-Campus Day, the middle-school students will spend a day at Southwestern.
“Even through these students are on campus for the OA program every week, they never get to see Southwestern outside of Cullen or other buildings and areas for enrichment, such as the Academic Mall and the Alma Thomas Theater,” Ragle said. “All-Campus Day is the only time the students can attend a course and experience the campus as Southwestern students experience the campus everyday.”
After arriving, the middle-school students and their school coordinators will meet in The Cove and each middle-school student will be paired with a Southwestern mentor.
The day will begin with the students attending a class with their mentors. The middle-school students will learn what happens in an average class at Southwestern University.
“We are very thankful for the Southwestern professors that have kindly agreed to open their classrooms and welcome these students,” Ragle said.
After their class, students will accompany their mentor and other attendants of All-Campus Day to the Southwestern Commons for lunch. During lunch, Southwestern student Jennifer Howell will sing for the students. Providing the students with entertainment during lunch is a recent addition to the All-Campus Day tradition. Past Southwestern student run entertainment includes the Southwestern jazz band and other musicians.
“Lunch is always a memorable moment,” Ragle said. “All of the college and middle-school students are laughing and sharing their experiences from the class they attended. It is also interesting because Southwestern students get to share their day and life at Southwestern with the middle-school students.”
After lunch, students and mentors will take a tour of the campus. The students will be able to look around some of the mentors dorms and rooms.
Before the day ends, all of the students, mentors, coordinators and organizers will meet in front of the Robertson Center to take part in SIRA team building games. For the SIRA team building games, the participants are divided into groups and visit different stations with different games. These games help build friendships and instill team work.
“All-Campus Day gives these middle school students the opportunity to experience part of a typical college day,” Ragle said.
All attendants of All-Campus Day will be wearing matching Operation Achievement T-shirts designed by the middle-school students.
“It is great to see how excited the children are about being on a college campus,” Katy Siciliano, a Southwestern senior, said. “As college students I think we have an unfortunate tendency to be bored by everything, and the excitement and interest shown by the middle school students is very refreshing.”
Operation Achievement began 19 years ago with Jim Hunt, provost and dean of faculty, and the education department. As the program grew, there became a need for a director for the organization. Ragle took over as director of Operation Achievement in 2005.
“By spending a day at Southwestern, the middle-school students get to see that there are many choices in college and that they have the opportunity to join that learning community after they graduate high school,” Ragle said. “I hope the students realize that they can attend a college or university of their choice and gain the motivation to want to go to a college or university after high school.”
Many students in Operation Achievement enter Upward Bound when they are in high school. Students in Operation Achievement and Upward Bound enter colleges and universities around the state and country, including Southwestern University.
“It is really exciting to meet students that were in OA and Upward Bound and see where they are today,” Ragle said.
Southwestern students interested in mentoring with OA can contact Ragle or visit the website “www.southwestern.edu/academic/oa” for an application. Southwestern students can mentor a student on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. Each OA session is two hours, from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.
“I joined OA because I remembered what a terrible, horrible time middle school was for me and I hoped to make that time a bit less horrible for a few current middle school students,” Siciliano said.