Fifth and sixth grade boys at Clintonville Middle School are getting a boost from the Wise Guys, a program designed to help them grow in to respectful, responsible citizens.
The program, now in its second year, is led by teachers Justin Zoellick and Annette Van Straten.
“We wanted to have a program for the boys,” said Zoellick, who pioneered the program in December of last year. “We already have the You Grow Girl! (YGG) Program in place for our girls, and we felt like we needed to organize something for the boys as well.
“The idea of the program is to teach life lessons and help boys improve their all-around behavior,” stated Zoellick, noting that the group is open to all fifth and sixth grade students on a voluntary basis, meeting after school once each week. “Last year, I was talking with my co-leader, Annette Van Straten, who is a music teacher. She volunteered to help teach the boys some cooking skills, and things have just grown from there. We’ve had a huge turnout of teachers who have helped us with the program.”
So far, the boys have learned about cooking, ice fishing, photography, science experiments, knot tying, varsity football, agriculture and curling.
This year, a group of 35 fifth and sixth grade Wise Guys have been welcomed into the program, joining 21 sixth and seventh grader Wise(r) Guys who returned to the program after participating last year. A total of 46 students helped debut the program last year.
“We didn’t want to do all the same things this year, so we’ve found some new events,” said Zoellick. “The Wise(r) Guys have been volunteering with Ruby’s Pantry events and various Park and Recreation projects, including cleaning up the fitness trail,” Zoellick said. “We’re working on other ways for them to give back throughout the year.”
“We try to bring in a special guest to teach a lesson each week,” explained Zoellick. “The community has been very supportive of this program. We’ve visited the Clintonville Area Ambulance Service and Walker Forge. It’s nice to be able to go places in the community, rather than having to just stay within the school building.
“Community members have done so much for these boys; so this year, the sixth graders and seventh graders who benefitted from last year’s programs are looking for opportunities to give back. We’re calling them Wise(r) Guys, since this is their second year in the program,” said Zoellick. “They supported the YGG 5K this year, and several teachers sponsored Wise Guys. They dressed in skirts and really had fun supporting YGG.”
Volunteers are Vital
“Everyone who has helped to make this program possible has donated their time,” he stated. “Community organizations and businesses have donated time and materials. We did hold one car wash fundraiser – our motto was ‘Your car will be cleaner than it was’ – and we raised over $400 in donations. The Trucking to Success after school program has helped sponsor our t-shirts. School Board Clerk Jim Dins took the boys trap shooting, making substantial donations in time, talent, finances and equipment in the process.”
Zoellick hopes to plan at least one big event for the boys this year, after last year’s group got to visit the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“We toured the campus and also got to visit Camp Randall,” said Zoellick. “Two Badger football players spoke to the boys about the importance of academics, and then we got to go out on the field and play a game of football. It’s a memory that the boys will carry with them for the rest of their lives. That was our big end-of-the-year event last year, and we hope to do something special again this year.”
Zoellick said positive feedback on the program has been constant.
“I hear teachers asking them all the time, ‘Are you making wise decisions?’” said Zoellick. “Lots of parents have shown their support and appreciation for the program. There is no cost for the program, and this has helped make it more appealing for all students. Last year, we went sledding with some of the teachers and Superintendent Tom O’Toole. One parent thanked us for doing this event, saying that they wanted to take their kids sledding but hadn’t had the time.”
Zoellick said the boys are showing signs of growth as a result of the Wise Guy program.
“We’re teaching the boys that they’re representing their family and their school, and they need to act wisely at all times,” commented Zoellick. “They’re excited to learn and grow with this program. They’re always excited to find out what we’re doing each week, and this is evidenced by their decision to show up week after week. The Wise(r) Guys that came back this year knew that it would be all about giving back, rather than receiving. They understood that and have been excited to serve the community.”
Zoellick said volunteers and donations have made the program possible.
Looking to the Future
Zoellick said his vision for the future is to continue the program and include as many boys as possible.
“It’s still a brain child, but I want to see the program help boys make good choices in life,” said Zoellick. “The road isn’t easy, but we want to help guide them. They need to learn to be appreciative of what they’re given, and also learn to give back.”
Zoellick said he is still looking for ideas on how the boys can give back to the community, and noted that the group appreciates any and all donations to support the program. He encouraged anyone with ideas or donations to contact him or Van Straten at 715-823-7215.