For most students who give up school, they do so because they do not recognize how finishing school is so important to their life's plan.
Whitni Cooper, Communities In Schools (CIS) of Tacoma site coordinator at Baker Middle School, works tirelessly to ensure that her students recognize this critical connection, well before even entering high school. Through a partnership with Pacific Lutheran University (PLU), the Tacoma Rainiers and Communities in Schools of Tacoma, Cooper leads her students through the Believe In Goals (BIG) program.
In the BIG program, students learn the role of goals, but more importantly learn how to set goals and how to measure their progress. In the short time that Cooper has been able to implement the program, she has seen remarkable changes. Students have even created their own personal visionary boards which hang in the hallway near the office at Baker.
"It's very inspirational to see the hopes, dreams and aspirations that these kids want to create in their life," said Teresa Maxwell, CIS executive director.
"Students now have high hopes and dreams," Cooper said. "And they know how they are going to achieve them."
The students at Baker hold her in very high regard and naturally take to her instruction style. Cooper's office is a safe haven for the students to come and express their feelings or any problems they may have, leading many to refer to her as "mom."
Cooper takes the role of "school mom" seriously, which is evident by how compassionate she is about her role as CIS site coordinator.
"I give them love and attention by being another caring adult in their life," Cooper said. "My kids are willing to learn and change, and in the process, I mold tomorrow's most valuable resource!" This acts as motivation for her commitment to the students and CIS.
If you speak to any of the students you'll quickly see Cooper's commitment and her programs are paying off.
"We are learning that it is not always bad to not reach a goal; sometimes you can learn from where you may have come short," said sixth grader Michael Vazquez. "Ms. Whitni does a really good job, she doesn't just tell us what she wants us to do or what your goal should be, she helps us understand how we can find that out by asking ourselves what we like to do, and how or what we can do with that."
Michael's classmate, Quontiyia Love, agrees with the effectiveness of Cooper's approach.
"What I really like about Mrs. Whitni is that she doesn't just tell us what to do and leave, she is there with us and helping us to really understand why it is important. She is not like most adults that I am around—she actually seems to care," Quontivia said. "I like that she treats us like adults and it helps us to learn to be responsible."
Both Michael and Quontiyia have benefitted from Cooper's style and the implementation of the B.I.G program. Both now know the importance of goal planning. Michael has already set his sights on becoming an architect or author, while Quontiyia wants to foster her passion for art either as a trumpeter or as a fashion designer. Where Michael and Quontiyia may wind up in the future is still uncertain, but with the help of CIS Tacoma and Site Coordinator Whitni Cooper, both are certain to graduate and achieve in life.
"We just recently received a grant from Boeing to continue this BIG partnership project, and the grant will fund a celebration on Friday, May 11, at the Tacoma Rainiers," Maxwell said. "The students will get a tour of the new stadium and hear an inspirational talk from one of the players while they are enjoying lunch."