STUDENTS | June 4, 2021
Security officer Ms. Beverly Harris-Poe saw an unfilled need at Dewey School of Excellence when she joined the school several years ago. Female students did not have enough opportunities to be mentored or a space to grow their self-esteem and talk about issues that were important to them with their peers.
So, she teamed up with two special education classroom assistants, Ms. Alexzandrea Enge and Ms. Sophia Hilson, to create the Dewey Diamonds after-school program. Students meet every two weeks to discuss how their school year is going and bond with their fellow students and the three program leaders.
Ms. Poe, Ms. Enge and Ms. Hilson are all CPS graduates themselves, and they drew on their experiences in elementary school when shaping their goals for the program.
“With our guidance, we’ve seen these young ladies grow from there being a lot of unnecessary drama to them really maturing over the years,” said Ms. Hilson. “We talk to them about academics and about real-life situations, making sure not to sugarcoat anything. A lot of them have taken heed to what we’ve been saying.”
Four of the current eighth-grade students in the program are Melinda, Janiya, Zarriya, and Malaya, and they’ve all been part of Dewey Diamonds for the past three years.
Malaya describes the program as “empowering.” She focuses on that word because she’s learned how to use her voice and not to be afraid to make new friendships. Reflecting on how “nice and sweet” the other members are, she encourages other Dewey students joining the program to be themselves and not care too much about what other people think of them.
One of Janiya’s favorite parts of the program was the various philanthropic events she and her peers helped with over the years, including a teddy bear drive for kids who were hospitalized. While she describes herself as someone who doesn’t naturally speak up a lot, she thinks the program was extremely helpful in coming out of her shell.
Learning to surround herself with people who are always there for you is a skill that Melinda will take from the program into high school and beyond. She says her Dewey Diamonds experience was an amazing mix of fun times, new relationships, mentorship, and growth. The top way she feels she has grown has been her ability to speak up more.
Zarriya believes that Dewey Diamonds is all about love. She notes that there was always positive energy every time they met. Her two main takeaways from the program are feeling more comfortable expressing her feelings with others and no longer being afraid to ask for help in the classroom.
According to Ms. Harris-Poe, students who participated in the program have consistently graduated at the top of their class. And, beyond that, the relationships they build benefit them even after their time as Dewey students is over.
“We still have Diamonds who have graduated over the past couple of years who have stayed in contact with us to ask us questions or for advice in specific situations,” said Ms. Harris-Poe. “The bond doesn’t stop when they graduate. Their parents even still reach out to us for help.”
The success of the program has inspired its three leaders to think about ways they can expand their model to other CPS schools so girls across the city can benefit from increased mentorship opportunities. Obviously, it wouldn’t make sense to call it ‘Dewey Diamonds’ at every school, but Ms. Enge has a creative idea for a name that could be used anywhere.
“My thought was that we could call the program the ‘Do-It Diamonds,’” said Ms. Enge. “That connects with our goal of letting the girls know that there’s never a point where your life stops and you can’t accomplish anything anymore. If you want to go into a new career, do it. You should just continue to grow and don’t let anyone deter you from that.”
Graduation season is finally here! If you’d like an eighth-grade student or group of students at your school to be featured on the CPS website, share their story using our Class of 2021 Submission Form.