NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Fourth-grader Marlee Sabria Wade was all smiles as she looked at the blue lapel pin she had just received. The wording on the pin read, “Students with Academic Greatness.”
All semester-long the 9-year-old from Robert Churchwell Museum Magnet Elementary School in Nashville came to class every day and on time, participated and scored very high on all her class work, she had no unexcused absences, and no office referrals for bad behavior. Marlee displayed the behaviors necessary to succeed in school.
That seems like a badge of excellence, but for Marlee, standing barely 3 feet tall, it is an understatement.
“When I was younger I always knew I had academic greatness but I just didn’t know what it was,” said Marlee, with a grin and a show of confidence that explains how proud she is of her own ability. “I want to be a doctor or a fashion designer and I know I will make it because I do well in all of my work and I am never late.”
She definitely will. Her “no-nonsense” grandmother, Margaret Thomas, a retired seamstress, is a major influence, and already has Marlee watching as she (Thomas) stiches different styles — in case fashion design becomes the choice.
Being on time, working hard and already having career choices have certainly earned stripes of excellence for Marlee, her younger sister, Ilee Wade, a kindergartener, and about 50 other students from their school, thanks to a Tennessee State University initiative that keeps the students on track and their parents engaged.
About a year ago, the University, through the College of Education, entered a partnership with Robert Churchwell Museum Magnet Elementary School through the S.W.A.G. (Students with Academic Greatness) initiative to acknowledge and recognize families and students who strive to achieve behavior and academic benchmarks identified by their home school.
Every nine weeks the Dean of the College, Dr. Kimberly King-Jupiter, and the S.W.A.G. Team travel to Churchwell Elementary School to award certificates to students for maintaining the program’s goals. Students who received two certificates during the fall semester were recognized with a pin and a certificate at the inaugural S.W.A.G. Award ceremony in the Ferrell-Westbrook Complex at TSU on Thursday, Jan. 29.
Essential to the academic greatness of any students are engaged parents. So, the Team recognizes parents for what they do to encourage academic greatness.
“The goal of ‘S.W.A.G.ging’ these students from K-4th grade is to stress the importance of not just going to school but to do their best academically,” said King-Jupiter. “So often, kids only receive acknowledgement for sports and entertainment. Or, they receive notoriety for bad behavior. The goal of the S.W.A.G. Initiative is to reward students publicly for academic excellence while also exposing them to alternative career choices.”
And the message is getting across, S.W.A.G. officials say. They say parental and family engagement – a key indicator to students’ academic success – is overwhelming.
For instance, Marlee says she does not worry about getting to school on time. It just happens, as she puts it. Her mother, Treva Wade, a TSU graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Communications, knows the importance of being on time and she makes sure Marlee and her sister are out the door in time to be in class on time.
“My mom gets me and my sister up early and ready for school everyday, so we are never late, and she makes sure we do our homework,” said Marlee.
With no direct University or government funding, how is such a novel program staying afloat, dean King-Jupiter was asked.
“We see the S.W.A.G. Initiative as a low-cost way to build a pipeline, but we are looking for funding sources through grants and other means to sustain the program,” she said.
Until then, resources, including award and gift items, are donated by some of her fellow deans, vice presidents, professors and the core of staff members who help run the program. That’s in addition to members of the community who contributed to the purchase of Kindle tablets for each family. “We got by with a lot of help from our TSU family and friends.”
At the inaugural S.W.A.G. award ceremony that included a catered buffet dinner, University, state and local officials formed a procession to receive the students as they came up to be pinned and presented with their certificate of excellence. A parent, representing each of the more than 40 families at the ceremony received a gift bag stuffed with a Kindle tablet and other University paraphernalia.
Officials included TSU Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Mark Hardy; State Representative Harold Love Jr., Churchwell Elementary School Principal Trellaney Lane, and Robert Churchwell Jr., after whose late father the elementary school was named.
“Your child has been a model student in the partnership’s examination of parental involvement and academic achievement,” Hardy said to the parents, as he presided at the ceremony on behalf of TSU President Glenda Glover, who was away on business. “And to you the Robert Churchwell Museum Magnet Elementary School, and Dean King-Jupiter and our College of Education, we applaud you for promoting academic excellence. Your presence here tonight along with all of these officials is an indication of how much importance we attach to the S.W.A.G. program and what it is doing for these young people.”
While S.W.A.G.’s primary target is student academic excellence, parents received rousing ovations for encouraging their children.
“In SWAG we recognize and reward the model of parenting that is engaged. This is the only way we can be sure these students will succeed. We also want ‘S.W.A.G.gers’ to know that a focus on academic excellence will open doors to opportunities,” King-Jupiter noted.
Principal Lane added that the TSU/Robert Churchwell partnership offers an opportunity to recognized students who have academic greatness and parents who give it their all to make sure their children are achieving at their very best.
“Today we celebrate academic excellence and congratulate these students for their accomplishments,” she said. “We thank you parents. You are doing something special; please continue to be the great role models you are.”
The College of Education S.W.A.G. Team received high praise for their contribution. They include: Assistant Dean Alethea Hampton, Assistant Professor Thurman Webb, Assistant Professor Calli Holaway, John Barfield, of the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs; and graduate assistant Darreon D. Greer Sr.
The team also receives support from other members of the college including Associate Dean Heraldo Richards, and department chairs Trinetia Respress and John Tiller; and Ruth Gordon, Jo Mercer and Jennifer Sparks.
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With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 42 undergraduate, 24 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.