Medals for mettle: Students’ achievements are honored

By Sean Barron


Alexairys Rosario beamed with pride as she looked at the gold medallion draped around her neck.

She didn’t finish first in a marathon, a swimming competition or other athletic competition on the track or field, but did achieve a winning performance academically in the classroom.

“It’s amazing. I never thought I would accomplish this,” the Rayen Early College sixth-grader and violin player said. “I feel proud of myself.”

Suffice it to say that she and 399 other Youngstown City Schools students in grades three to 12 throughout the district shared such feelings, because they took home medallions after Sunday afternoon’s sixth annual Youngstown Academic Achievement Olympiad at the Covelli Centre downtown.

In a manner similar to the Olympics, the youngsters received gold, silver and bronze medallions for having maintained A, B and C averages, respectively, during the 2015-16 school year.

Sponsoring the 45-minute ceremony was the F.A.M.I.L.Y. Empowerment Student Achievement Institute.

The primary purpose of the institute, founded in 2006 in San Diego, is to assist the district in moving toward academic excellence, the highest of the five rankings on the state report card, noted Carol McWilson, co-founder.

McWilson said she hopes the achievers also will inspire other students to strive for academic excellence and for families to support their children’s educational endeavors.

McWilson also debunked what she said is some people’s belief that many district students are uninterested in trying to attain high educational achievements and that many parents are apathetic. She countered that claim by noting that hundreds came on the weekend to the Olympiad, even though the event had no food, entertainment or other offerings.

“We want to change the narrative in the community, and we are supposed to be focused like a laser on the academic achievement of these children. All other discussions are irrelevant,” said her husband, Jimma McWilson, chairman of the Youngstown NAACP chapter’s Educational Justice Committee. “Family empowerment equals student achievement.”

Youngsters are born with the innate capacity to achieve and learn; it’s up to those who work with students to bring it out of them, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity, Jimma McWilson continued.

George Freeman Jr., the local NAACP chapter’s president, told his audience of students and their families he felt that some people “at the top” didn’t have the students’ best interests at heart. Consequently, the civil-rights organization stepped in to “push to get the best things possible for the students,” he added.

Education is a key tool for building thriving communities, said Kathleen Austrino, a retired librarian and former president of Altrusa International of Youngstown Inc., which is a group of professional women dedicated to community service and volunteerism.

For her part, Alexairys, the sixth-grader who listed language arts as her favorite subject, is dedicated to to earning straight A’s this school year. She had some practical advice for students who are struggling.

“It’s never too late to fix your mistakes or improve your grades,” she said.

Additional remarks came from Tyrone Olverson, the district’s new chief academic officer; Linda Hoey, director of the YCS’ Parent Pathways program; and Pamela Collins, the F.A.M.I.L.Y. Empowerment Student Achievement Institute’s co-president.