A program helping young boys grown into responsible citizens earned a special honor from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI).
The Wise Guys program, headed by Justin Zoellick and Annie Van Straten, was one of six programs from around the state to win the award, which was presented by the DPI on Friday, Jan. 31, in Madison.
A group of 19 boys who are part of the Wise(r) Guys traveled to Madison for the awards presentation. They stayed at the Concourse Hotel and enjoyed a special presentation and photo session with State Superintendent Tony Evers. The award was presented in the Capitol rotunda, and the boys toured the governor’s office later in the day.
“I was very honored that we were chosen to receive this award,” said Zoellick. “It shows that our work does matter and that it’s making a difference in these boys’ lives. This event also helped them learn more about manners and etiquette; there were many life lessons in this event alone. It was a priceless experience for the boys.”
Van Straten echoed Zoellick’s sentiments.
“We don’t do this to be recognized, we do it to help kids,” she said. “This award is really just the icing on the cake. It represents the hard work of many teachers and volunteers.
“Going to the Capitol was a great experience for the boys,” she continued. “Many of them had never seen such ornate marble and gold leaf that is presented in the rotunda. It was a really neat experience.”
Van Straten said the program’s results are showcased in the classroom.
“It’s so rewarding to see the boys grow. They are forming great bonds and friendships and they are stepping up in class to help others and bring kids together,” she said. “Outside school, they help with Ruby’s Pantry and other community events. They have learned that it’s fun to help people and spend time together as volunteers.”
Zoellick said he hopes the momentum continues for the Wise Guys program, with results displayed in the boys’ character both inside and outside school.
“The boys’ behavior in public is important. We are always working to prepare them for life and teach them how to give back to the community,” said Zoellick. “It’s good for them to see that there’s more to life than just what is in their own little bubble.”
“I am really glad I get to be a part of this program,” added Van Straten. “It’s some of the most rewarding work I’ve done as a teacher.”
Zoellick said support from teachers, administrators and community members has made the program possible. “It can’t be done without everyone’s support,” he commented. “Anyone who has service ideas for the group, or would like to donate time as a volunteer can contact me or check out the Wise Guys Facebook page for more information.”
Zoellick can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.