‘Positive Lifestyles Career Program’ challenges youth to excel

LIMA — The fifth-graders at North Middle School leaned forward as they saw something familiar on the screen, the “experience points” on a popular video game showing a character’s strengths and weaknesses.

That’s when Holton Watson, the assistant director of multicultural development at Ohio Northern University, challenged them to think about their own experience points. What attributes should they improve?

“Every career, occupation, job, they all have skills. You need to be putting your experience points into things that will help you reach your goal, whatever success looks like for you,” said Watson, a former ONU football player and now coach in Ada. “But notice that all these things I put up here, they all start with one basic XP: What is that? Education.”

Holton and a dozen other Black speakers visited North Middle School on Thursday for the annual Positive Lifestyles Career Program. For the past 34 years, sucessful Black men and women came into Lima’s classrooms to inspire the children, offering them a different image than they might pick up through popular media.

“We have positive people who contribute to community,” said Emmanuel Curtis, the coordinator of Closing the Achievement Gap at North. “Black, white or indifferent, but this group specifically brings awareness that everybody Black is not the stereotype and biases that we may see, hear or feel.”

Speakers included people working in law enforcement, education, community services and local business owners, showing the gamut of possibilities for young people in Lima.

Many of the speakers emphasized the importance of making positive decisions every day.

“You decide when you walk in the room in the morning if you’re going to have a good day or you will have a bad day. Nobody decides that for you,” said Lachelle James, a probation officer and disproportionate minority contact officer for Allen County Juvenile Court.

James got the students in Brad Clum’s classroom on their feet as they listened carefully to a story, passing a coin to the left or the right whenever they heard the words “left” and “right.” As the story about Mr. and Mrs. Right progressed, those words became more common and more quickly used.

Dyesha Darby, the Ohio statewide manager for Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, also got the children thinking about having a fixed mindset or a growth mindset, allowing yourself to envision and improve your surroundings.

“An example of a fixed mindset is when you say, ‘I’m not good at it. I give up. This is too hard. I just can’t do this anymore. I am not smart. My friend could do it, but I can’t,’ Darby said. “That’s a fixed mindset, because you’re setting yourself up for failure.

“Once you go in a growth mindset, you know you can be better if you try hard. I can always get better, even after mistakes happen, since mistakes can help you grow.”

The annual program also helps members of the community get a better connection with the young people learning inside the schools, Curtis said.

“We’re also bridging the gap between communities and schools,” Curtis said. “We have a lot of people in the community who can help play a part in contributing to student success.”

Reach David Trinko at 567-242-0467 or on Twitter @Lima_Trinko.

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