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May 14, 2008 > San Lorenzo High School students move 'Ever Forward'

San Lorenzo High School students move 'Ever Forward'

By Justine Yan

Ashanti Branch, a math teacher at San Lorenzo High School, was shocked to learn about the high rate of Ds and Fs earned by disadvantaged students who just "may not have the circle of friends to help them achieve [their] goals."

Branch, a Fulbright Scholar who recently returned from an international educational exchange program that led him to teach in India for 6 months, had majored in civil engineering during college. After graduating, he found his true calling in teaching. He has proven through his efforts that he is "not one to see all of these kids failing."

In the spring of 2003, the concerned teacher, known by students as "Mr. B", asked eight students to join him regularly for lunch to talk about positive things. He paid out of his own pocket, wanting to strengthen this small group of individuals before gradually reaching out to more students in need of support. Soon, he asked the close-knit group of boys to become founders of the new Ever Forward Club.

"I don't know what it's going to mean, but I know it has the potential of doing something great," he recalls saying.

Now, the Ever Forward Club, along with its sister club, the Ever Forward Chicas for girls, forms the largest student organization within the school. Branch emphasizes that this club does not focus on "doing [regular] club stuff." The mission of Ever Forward is to help each individual achieve his or her personal best by building a support network to foster the positive attitude that is necessary for success.

Branch is convinced that the students who are falling through the cracks of a school system increasingly focused on test performance and other statistics don't all want to be failures. Instead of focusing on the numbers and the tests, Branch says, "we need to remember who we are teaching...[and] we need to have more positive experiences that will take them to lifelong learning."

"If they can find something that connects them to school, we're at a closer chance of connecting them to the material," he continued.

Since 2005, the annual 24-hour relay held on Memorial Day weekend at San Lorenzo High School has offered a safe and fun environment for students to participate in a meaningful bonding experience. Students gather in teams of 10, camp out on the football field surrounded by the high school track, play football, run some, walk some, and are treated to breakfast on the next morning. Most of all, Branch loves to see them mingle and make new friends.

"You know, I love it! When I go back through [the pictures], just watching the kids smile keeps me fired up," he said.

With a limited number of volunteers on the campsite and track, Branch busies himself rushing from one area to another, changing roles from "the coordinator, to the director, to the teams coordinator, to the registering captain."

The experience, for him, is altogether amazing - and exhausting. Still, he works tirelessly to get more of the community involved, in hopes of expanding the event.

Since the first year of the relay, in 2005, the number of participants has grown by over 100 percent each year. Already, about 220 students have registered. Branch and his club are look to gather a total of 300 participants for the 4th Annual 24 Hour Relay Challenge.

He hopes that the community will begin to see struggling youth in a positive light. "All the kids in the community aren't the ones that show up on the front page of the newspapers," he said.

Branch believes that today, more than ever, the community needs to play a greater role in "raising a child."

"We have our kids out raising themselves. And that's why many of them are so lost, because we don't have a community raising our children. That's for many reasons, I'm sure."

In an effort to assemble a larger, more diverse group of participants, Branch and his club members have created the "Relay Within a Relay", a 4-hour mini-version of the actual event. He hopes to attract potential students and volunteers who may opt out of the event due to the overnight stay.

Meanwhile, Branch is working towards making the Ever Forward club a nonprofit organization by the end of this summer. He is seeking more support from local businesses, organizations, and individuals, through either monetary donations, sponsorship, or volunteering. He says that volunteers and sponsors have been crucial for the past few years, due to the lack of enthusiasm he has seen from the school district and from other "the adults of the community" thus far
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Branch is nevertheless encouraged by the students' energy and their "fighting spirit," which has kept the organization and preparation going on at full force, despite their mentor's recent return from India in February.

"The state of education right now is so challenging," said Branch. "I've got to be here to make this thing happen, because [the students] need this. I need this to keep going."

Last September, students frequently approached Branch, eager to know whether the relay would be happening this year. He is confident that this shows the students have been thinking about the future.

"You better believe it," he would reply.

For details about the 24-hour relay, and to learn how you can participate or volunteer, visit the website at www.everforwardclub.com.

The event is open to all students! Community members may drop by to enjoy the DJ and band performances for a $2 entrance fee.


Ever Forward Relay
Saturday, May 24 to Sunday, May 25
San Lorenzo High School
50 E. Lewelling Blvd., San Lorenzo
(510) 317-3039
www.everforwardclub.com
abranch@slzusd.k12.ca.us.


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