Afterschool Spotlight: The LOVE Club

by Robert Abare

For 12 years, Dr. Michael Shaw earned praise for his work as an educator and mentor in his hometown of New Orleans—even earning the honor of Teacher of the Year. After Hurricane Katrina’s devastating arrival in 2005, however, he made the difficult decision to make a new start in St. Louis. But while some things change, other stay the same—his commitment to helping disadvantaged youth remained strong.

“I realized that young people need help everywhere,” said Dr. Shaw. “They all face the same challenges, and they all need the confidence to believe in themselves.”

Dr. Shaw, who is currently Dean of Students at Jennings Junior High School in St. Louis, brought with him from New Orleans the concept for an afterschool program to show kids the world of possibilities one can achieve through education, hard work, and self-confidence. The Lifting Our Valuable Esteem (LOVE) Club currently operates within the Jennings School District’s “Stars and Heroes” Afterschool Program, which is funded by a grant from 21st Century Community Learning Centers. The Stars and Heroes also offers a number of other opportunities after school, from golf to robotics.

The LOVE club focuses on encouraging kids to think beyond their current circumstances and reach for new possibilities by introducing them to professional adults from various walks of life. Visitors to the LOVE club have included attorneys, doctors, policemen, business leaders and restaurant owners, all of whom engaged in lively Q&A sessions with the participants.

“The speakers share with the kids what they do, what it takes to do what they do, and what students should focus on in school in order to get a job like theirs one day,” Dr. Shaw explained.

Dr. Shaw added that the students participating in the LOVE club gain a number of benefits. “Students are more focused, they learn conflict resolution skills that help keep them out of trouble, and they often realize they need to focus on math and science in order to achieve the career they want,” he said. “All of these things translate to producing excellent candidates for jobs.”

Thirteen year old Sharina Fowler says her participation in the LOVE club has changed her outlook on life. “The LOVE club has built my confidence and given me a boost in school: that’s my favorite part about it.” she said. “Now I believe that I can do what I set my mind to—that I have a choice in who I can be.”

Sharina said The LOVE Club changed her career aspirations. “The LOVE Club helped me realize that I want to be a lawyer,” she said. “I want to be a lawyer so I can fight for people on the right side of things.”

Students like Sharina share a large portion of the responsibility for the LOVE Club, as they are in charge of planning meetings and seeking new speakers to visit. In its seven years operating at the Jennings School District, the program has involved over 1000 kids.

Dr. Shaw added that the LOVE club has helped change the culture of the school community. “I have seen a direct correlation between the rise in participation in the LOVE Club and the decrease of incidents at Jennings that require disciplinary action,” he said. “This program gives kids a feeling of self-worth, which is invaluable to their success in life.”

© 2013 Afterschool Alliance