Auriel Canales Rojas has been waking up with some aches and pains in recent weeks, but he isn’t worried about it.
The 7th-grader at Northwest Middle School is part of the Iron Rangers, a weightlifting club that aims to help students gain confidence, develop relationships and foster self-discipline.
The club meets after school on Wednesday afternoons, and Canales said KCS social worker Brian Tunstall – the group leader – has reminded them that the soreness means they’re building muscle.
“It makes me build strength and makes me feel confident every day,” Canales said.
A version of the Iron Rangers has met at Northwest intermittently for several years, but more recently the initiative has expanded.
An Iron Falcons club launched at Fulton High this year, and an Iron Navigators club is in its second year at Richard Yoakley School. New clubs are expected to launch at Holston Middle, South-Doyle Middle and Carter Middle next year.
In addition to the weekly meetings, participants get a t-shirt and a certificate of completion.
During a recent meeting at Northwest, Tunstall asked participants about their goals, which included losing weight, being able to focus and improving their grades.
The social worker encouraged the boys with a car metaphor, saying that working out can be a vehicle that helps you reach your goals. In an interview, he said the opportunity to connect with kids is “what makes my heart happy”:
“Middle school is a hard age for young men. They’re trying to find their identity and where they fit in. Weightlifting is a big confidence and self-esteem booster.”
For students at Gresham Middle School, a teacher’s effort to highlight inspiring Black History Month stories has also become a chance to sharpen their digital media skills.
In January, Gresham ELA teacher Jade Jernigan was looking for ways to infuse some “joy and passion” into a unit of readings on liberty and equality.
After brainstorming with fellow teacher Alice McManus, Jernigan began interviewing professionals from a variety of fields about overcoming adversity.
The project took off, and students began pitching in to help with nearly every aspect of the production: editing videos, writing questions, creating promotional thumbnails and even conducting interviews.
“This is the first time I think in my career where I have actively reached out to students for help instead of my colleagues,” she said. “And my kiddos have just risen to the occasion.”
Gresham student Carlos Mata has been a key contributor, and said the best part is seeing the finished product: “It may take a while to get something, but as soon as you get to it, it’s like a reward.”
Jernigan said the project gives students something to look forward to at the end of class, and has served as a bridge between classroom texts and real-life stories. As an example, she said a lesson about the impact of literacy on the life of Frederick Douglass echoed the lessons recounted by MMA fighter Rampage Jackson, who talked about the challenges he faced by not understanding the details of his legal contracts.
Asia Smith got the chance to interview syndicated radio host Barbie T, but said that when she sees famous people, “I don’t exactly go into fangirl phase.” “I keep it cool, basically,” she added with a laugh.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, Jernigan and her students will be posting motivational success stories throughout March, and are planning to interview author Nikki Grimes.
And while celebrities may be intriguing, the students agreed that one of the most impactful interviews was with 6th-grade social studies teacher Vincent Dave, who talked about his efforts to promote Black history, and the adversity he overcame to become a teacher.
“I think it’s just uplifting, hearing how they’ve been able to go through many things and just come out successful,” said 8th-grader Maggie Wilson.
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