This was the third year for CAV Elite, our CIRCLE Academy Vermilion’s (CAV) basketball program that competes in the Illinois Interagency Athletic Association (IIAA).
CAV Elite introduced being part of a sports team to many of our students and most of them didn’t know what to expect. Due to their social anxiety and challenges, some didn’t want to participate at first because of fear of embarrassment or their struggle in working well with others. Over time, however, that has changed and CAV Elite has proven to be very beneficial for our students.
"The IIAA has been really great for our kids because it’s not about winning or losing, it’s about giving students an opportunity and making them feel special for having the courage to try," CAV’s Miss Emily said. "So there is a lot of learning social skills that goes along with it."
As this year’s IIAA basketball season was drawing to an end, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, CAV staff decided they would continue CAV Elite until the end of the school year. Although that meant extra work for them, it was just too beneficial not to keep it going. But teachers wondered...how could they give all students, not just those interested in sports, an opportunity for such growth as well? They decided to ask the kids themselves.
"At a Student Council meeting,
I asked our students to come up with something that would encourage their classmates to work on their social skills and do better with their attendance, behavior and academics at school," Miss Emily said. "Together, we came up with a sister program to CAV Elite called the Courage Club, based off of the Circle of Courage."
The Circle of Courage is a resiliency model that provides therapeutic framework for Cunningham’s services. The Circle teaches that children need four inter-related experiences: Belonging (attachment), Mastery (achievement), Independence (autonomy) and Generosity (altruism). The Circle of Courage has no sharp edges. It serves as a soft, nurturing framework to guide young people away from isolation and despair, into a loving and caring community.
The Student Council ran with it. They went into the classrooms and presented to their peers asking for input on incentives. They decided on a chorus concert, a talent show, an UNO tournament, a class chess tournament and a scholastic/trivia bowl. Every two weeks they would hold one of these Courage Club events. Students who were doing things right also earned courage bucks which could be used for Courage Days, allowing them extra perks like wearing a hat to school or participating in a fun math challenge.
Like with CAV Elite, students had to sign a contract to participate in the Courage Club. The contract addresses their behavior, grades and other things that will help prepare them to re-enter public school.
"The Courage Club was created to keep our students motivated and get them through the rest of the school year and into summer," Miss Emily said. "Our students all have different learning disabilities and different motivations. We just wanted a way to give motivation and encouragement to everyone, no matter their interests. Since our kids had the opportunity to provide input, they took ownership and were really excited about it."
While school is not in session during the COVID-19 pandemic, many aspects of the Courage Club continue. CAV staff is providing food and educational packets for their students, while still expecting good behavior and academic progress from them.
"We are providing new material and some review work to help keep them from regressing and still moving forward," CAV Principal Mark McCusker said. "They know if they have any questions we’re here for them. Now, more than ever, we all need to show courage."