By Carley Stickney
For more than seven years, the Media in Crime course offered at Jacksonville University (JU) has partnered with Communities in Schools (CIS), an organization that works directly inside classrooms to empower students to succeed.
CIS has a 93 percent success rate in leading their students to graduation or GED program, and 88 percent of their students report that they met or made significant progress toward their academic goals.
Media in Crime, taught every fall semester by Professor Shelley Grant, emphasizes the impact of media on the perception of crime and the U.S. criminal justice system. The course focuses on juvenile offenders and at-risk youth. The course also includes a service learning project involving JU students as mentors at Terry Parker High School and Arlington Middle.
“Everyone’s walk is a little different. I believe this partnership is important for seeing past those differences.”
Students meet with their mentees once a week. “We were able to match close to 30 students with mentors this past fall semester,” Grant said. “I am very proud of my students and their dedication to this class and their mentees, and Communities in Schools is an amazing partner in this effort.”
Francesca Akano, a Sociology major at JU, graduated this past fall. She had the opportunity to host a donation drive on campus to collect hygiene items for the students being served. Francesca also created a self-care and empowerment educational program for several Arlington Middle School girls participating in the program. The curriculum dealt with personal hygiene, bullying, and self-love, among other topics.
“When one of our girls told me that she no longer sees herself as ugly and that she has started ignoring what people say about her skin color, that was a highlight for me,” Francesca said. “Seeing the personal growth in each of the girls has been amazing.”
Through the program, Francesca has established herself as a role model and hopes she made an impact in their lives. “I think it is necessary for children to have positive, younger role models who they can look up to,” she said. “Sometimes they need to talk to someone who is not their parent, guardian, or teacher.”
The experience shaped Francesca’s idea of what she wants to do in the future. “The program has allowed me to grow as an individual. I knew that I had a short amount of time to influence these lives,” she said. “I know for sure that I want to work with young people again and make a positive impact wherever I can.”
Paul Portillo Murillo, a junior sociology major, was also given the opportunity to work with students at Terry Parker High School. Paul is a first-generation college student. He was enrolled in the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program growing up and knows exactly where his mentees are coming from in life. Using his experiences, he helped an ESOL student apply to several universities and complete the Free Application of Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process.
“I was his main resource. Like me, his family was from Venezuela and no one else in his family had previously attended college,” he said. The college search, application, and financial aid journey is often confusing, even for native English speakers, and Paul was more than ready to step into the gap for his mentee.
His experience with the CIS partnership is changing more than one future, including his own. Paul now hopes to work within Hispanic communities, positively impacting the rate of Hispanic students who seek to enter higher education. He will continue with CIS this semester as an intern and trying out life as an ESOL teacher.
“Everyone’s walk is a little different,” he said. “I believe this partnership is important for seeing past those differences and learning to start from right where we are.”