June 4, 2021
Security guard Ms Beverly Harris-Poe saw an unmet need at the Dewey School of Excellence when she joined the school several years ago. The students did not have enough opportunities for supervision or space to develop their self-esteem and discuss issues that were important to them with their peers. For example, she partnered with two special education class assistants, Ms. Alexzandrea Enge and Ms. Sophia Hilson, to create the Dewey Diamonds after-school program. Students meet every two weeks to discuss how their school year is going and to bond with their classmates and the three program leaders. Ms Poe, Ms Enge and Ms Hilson are themselves SPC graduates and they drew on their experiences in elementary school to set their goals for the program. “Through our guidance, we have seen these young women grow up from when a lot of unnecessary drama has matured them over the years,” Ms. Hilson said. “We talk to them about academics and real life situations, making sure not to water down anything. A lot of them have heeded what we’ve said.” Four of the program’s current eighth grade students are Melinda, Janiya, Zarriya and Malaya, and they have all been with Dewey Diamonds for three years. Malaya describes the program as “empowering”. She focuses on this word because she has learned to use her voice and not be afraid to make new friendships. Reflecting on how “nice and nice” other members are, she encourages other Dewey students who join the program to be themselves and not to care too much about what other people think of them. One of Janiya’s favorite parts of the program was the various philanthropic events she and her peers have contributed to over the years, including a teddy bear drive for hospitalized children. Although she describes herself as someone who doesn’t speak much naturally, she thinks the program has been extremely helpful in breaking out of her shell. Learning to surround yourself with people who are always there for you is a skill Melinda will learn through the program through high school and beyond. She says her Dewey Diamonds experience has been an incredible mix of fun times, new relationships, mentorship and growth. The main way she feels like she’s grown up is her ability to express herself more. Zarriya thinks Dewey Diamonds is all about love. She notes that there was always a positive energy whenever they met. Her two main takeaways from the program are to feel more comfortable expressing your feelings with others and to no longer be afraid to ask for help in class. According to Harris-Poe, students who participated in the program consistently graduated at the top of their class. And, beyond that, the relationships they build benefit them even after their term as Dewey students ends. “We still have Diamonds graduates over the past two years who have kept in touch with us with questions or for advice in specific situations,” Ms. Harris-Poe said. “The connection doesn’t end when they graduate. Their parents even ask us for help.” The success of the program prompted its three leaders to consider how to extend their model to other CPS schools so that girls across town can benefit from increased mentoring opportunities. Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense to call it “Dewey Diamonds” in every school, but Ms. Enge has a creative idea for a name that could be used anywhere. “I thought we could call the program the ‘Do-It Diamonds’,” Ms. Enge said. “It ties in with our goal of letting girls know that there is never a time when your life ends and you can’t accomplish anything. If you want to start a new career, do it. let no one turn you away. ” Graduation season has finally arrived! If you would like a grade eight student or group of students from your school featured on the CPS website, share their story using our Class of 2021 Submission Form.