MATC Educational Foundations Track Student Dedicated to “Saving” At-Risk Youth
Reblogged from MATC in Action
Staff at the Goldin Center work to instill a sense of self-esteem, self-awareness and teamwork in the students.
As a youngster, Jermaine Howard was considered a “bad kid,” piling up daily suspensions from class on the days he showed up for school. Growing up in a struggling family, living in a poverty-stricken, crime-ridden Milwaukee neighborhood, Howard said he was almost certainly on track to end up in jail. He said he was “saved” by the support and interaction he received at a COA after-school program.
Now the preteen coordinator at the Goldin Center, a COA Youth and Family Center on Milwaukee’s northwest side, he is on a mission to save other at-risk youth. The Children’s Outing Association (COA) was established in 1906 by a group of Jewish women to help impoverished children. Now known simply as COA, it has developed into an organization that serves thousands of children and families through holistic and integrated early child, youth and community development programs offered at its two community centers (Riverwest and Goldin), Camp Helen Brachman in central Wisconsin and partnering Milwaukee Public Schools.
In addition to his work at the Goldin Center, Howard is enrolled in MATC’s associate in arts educational foundations track, which is designed for students interested in preparing to enter K-12 teacher licensing programs at four-year colleges and universities.
“We try to motivate the kids. We take their input, identify what the kids are good at and build on that.”
– Jermaine Howard
Shares Personal Story as Warning to Others
As he was growing up, Howard’s family faced serious challenges. His father used drugs, his older brother spent time in jail, his younger brother is autistic and his mother was “totally overwhelmed,” he said. Howard wants to share his background as a cautionary tale to help others. “I think of my story as a testament. I was on a bad path. I want to prevent others from going down that path.”
He started attending after-school programming at the Riverwest COA site because he wanted to play basketball with the older students. He lied about his age so he could play ball. He also lied about attending school. When he couldn’t produce a report card, he wasn’t allowed to go on the COA field trip. “I can’t even remember where the trip was going, but I wanted to go badly,” he said. “That was part of turning me around and motivating me. I wanted to participate in fun activities like that. So I went back to school.”
Because COA gave him a second chance, he wants to do the same for others. He was a student participant in the COA programs from ages 12 to 18. After that, he became a volunteer, mentoring young people. He served as a facilitator until February 2014, when he was promoted to the position of preteen coordinator at the Goldin Center.
Howard is enrolled in MATC’s associate in arts degree educational foundations track, with a goal of becoming a teacher.
Paradise in War Zone
The center is in one of Milwaukee’s roughest neighborhoods, Howard said. “We’re in the 53206 ZIP code. That neighborhood has 98 percent unemployment, a very high crime rate, a great number of teen pregnancies and residents face many other issues. The Goldin Center is a little piece of paradise in a war zone.”
The Goldin Center provides after-school and Saturday programming for children from kindergarten through high school age. It also offers a place for non-working parents to gather. Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin has a clinic on site that is staffed daily by a doctor. The center offers young people a snack and a hot meal for dinner. “If I can keep these kids safe and make sure they have a hot meal every day, I’m doing well,” Howard said.
As preteen coordinator, Howard oversees programming from kindergarten through eighth grade. Along with a staff of six group leaders and two service learners from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, he is responsible for approximately 115 children, the majority of whom attend Auer Avenue School about 500 feet from the Goldin Center. About 70 preteen children come to the center each day. “We try to motivate the kids,” he said. “We take their input, identify what the kids are good at, and build on that. Kids today don’t have a sense of trust. We have to be their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters. We only see most of the parents when there’s something wrong.”
As preteen coordinator, Jermaine Howard works with approximately 115 kindergarten through eighth grade students at the Goldin Center, a COA Youth and Family Center on Milwaukee’s north side.
Building Self-Esteem and Rapport with Youth
Building young people’s self-esteem and self-awareness is a major goal at the center. “We work on developing character and team building and we give the students a chance to develop community service projects,” he said. “We build a rapport with the kids. If they don’t feel comfortable with you, they will shut down on you. You have to make a connection before you make a correction. It’s a joy to work with these kids and see them grow. You can’t save everybody, but you can try.”
Howard said he has experienced some disappointments with young people who get in trouble with the law. But some who have ended up in jail come back to see him and tell him they have turned their lives around. “I believe in second chances, in meeting people where they are,” he said.
Several years ago, a COA coordinator encouraged Howard to enroll in MATC to augment his skills in working with the children and so he could one day become a teacher. Howard started MATC in fall 2011, the same semester his son Jermaine, Jr., was born. Getting used to working, going to school, and becoming a new father almost overwhelmed him that semester, but strong encouragement from MATC instructors and wanting to be a good role model for his son inspired him to keep on track. “My son is an important part of my success,” he said. “He keeps me motivated.”
Howard is pleased with his decision to attend MATC. “I like the small classes. The instructors are top of the line,” he said. “Successfully finishing your associate degree in the educational foundations track pretty much guarantees that credits will all transfer to a four-year college. I love MATC. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”
For more information on the associate in arts degree, educational foundations track, visit: http://www.matc.edu/las/degrees/associate-in-arts-educational-foundations-track.cfm