For two Wednesday afternoons a month the second floor of the Bartow Public Library has a full house for five hours.
It’s students from the Professional Opportunity Program for Students learning a little something more than they ever could at school. The Bartow/Lake Wales district of POPS, in mostly hands-on experience, prepares students for the future with collaboration, parents, schools and community business leaders. POPS’ mission is to provide personal and professional development for teens who face social, economic or environmental barriers that may impact the quality of their lives.
In the program at the library, the students use a workbook called Leading with Character and people involved with POPS say they are getting so much more than they do in regular school and are grateful to be in the program.
“I learned so much more,” said Nick Krawiec. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I learned there are so many opportunities.”
He said in high school he “just went to school.” He said he didn’t feel like he was learning anything, but when he joined POPS he got more focused.
“When I’m in this environment I want to learn and they (classmates) want to learn,” he said.
Loosanda Delva, also a student, reflected that.
“You interact with the students,” she said, where that doesn’t happen in school.
With more one-on-one activity going on, students get their questions answered and seem to be able to more clearly see what their actions now can help them accomplish later in life.
Cynticia Conoly, who is in her third year in POPS, said while the program has taught her what it takes to be successful, a big advantage is there is “more opportunity to get more questions answered here.”
While students weren’t as pleased with the classroom setting at the library, they understood the importance of it, but they emphasized there are other activities they take part in that go a long way. Over spring break, they toured some college campuses and rode in a bus to Jacksonville, Tallahassee and other places to see the schools.
They not only learned about the schools, but they also got a vision of how their lives will change when they have to take care of themselves and do well in class, because it is more their job than it was in high school when administrators, teachers and parents could be relied on to an extent.
“It was pretty good,” said Bryan Salinas. “It was interesting because they can tell you how good school is for you. They explain it to you.”
Nichole James said she knows she wants to be nurse and the trip helped her in that direction.
“FAMU had a nice nursing program,” she said.
But more than that, she said POPS is teaching her something more she needs in becoming a nurse and that is the ability to communicate.
“You have to have good communication skills,” she said.
Toward that end, the class work helps them and while they maintained this is not the most interesting item in the POPS they understood its importance. Reading from the book Role Models, in which different people in history have their stories told, the students this week read a piece on former Major League baseball star Cal Ripken Jr. Ripken is best known for playing 2,632 consecutive games, not missing a game for 13 years. In reading the biography, students alternated reading out loud and followed that by taking a test on what they read, testing whether they understand the person’s attitude and what it took to make him or her successful in life.
Also in the class students were taught the proper way to conduct oneself in a job interview, how to fill out forms, balancing bank accounts, practicing sympathy, building character and leadership, just to name a few items.
“This is teaching me to build character and how to become a leader,” Delva said.
Keith Rhoden said POPS has helped him figure out what he wants to do and how to get there. He said he plans to go to college and major in business. He said he wants to become an entrepreneur.
“It has made me a more responsible person,” Keith Rhoden said.