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Surprising results

Wendy Rose Gould | Apr 19, 2018

Lindberg Elementary School students and Kiwanis members play board games together.

When Lindberg Elementary School fifth-graders attended their Missouri school on a routine January day, they had no idea what was in store. To their glee, a fleet of Missouri Western State University basketball players, cheerleaders and the Griffon mascot unexpectedly showed up to hang out with the students and join them for pizza. The surprise event took place as part of the Saint Joseph Kiwanis Club’s Kiwanis Attendance Challenge, also known as KATCH.

Shortly after the beginning of the school year, the Kiwanians approached Lindbergh Elementary teacher Kaleb Johnson to brainstorm ways they could work together to foster greater classroom engagement, improve grades and boost attendance.

“There’s a district initiative to improve attendance numbers,” explains Johnson. “Lindbergh’s attendance levels are even lower than some of the other area schools, so it’s especially important for us. We know that attendance affects grades, and we wanted to work on improving both.”

Together, they came up with the idea to hold two “surprise days” per month. These can be as straightforward as Kiwanis members and students playing games or as complex as inviting the university’s athletic squad to hang out. Whatever the surprise, students interact with role models in a way that’s fun and engaging. They’re also more inspired to attend school to ensure they don’t miss out on any excitement.

Since the program’s launch, the majority of students have met the 90 percent attendance goal, and grades are up. The students eagerly await the Kiwanians’ next visit and get excited when members arrive.

To ensure the program’s longevity, the Kiwanis club has worked KATCH into its budget, and members also use the club’s “Happy Dollars” to help.

“Happy Dollars is money given voluntarily by members in honor of an event, family member or just to rib a fellow Kiwanian,” explains club President Cathie Wayman. “We use this money to fund various requests from the community.”

The Kiwanians know, however, that the human component is every bit as crucial as the funding.

“It’s important to be present and to be role models for some of these students who don’t necessarily have those positive role models,” says Kiwanian Colleen Kowich.

Adds Wayman, “We feel the KATCH program gives all the children an achievable goal to strive to attend classes and with that improve their grades. We think we found the sweet spot for all involved.”

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