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Northside becomes a Spring Break learning ground

howardstudents 600Within two classrooms at Northside High School, a classic game of "Family Feud" was unfolding.

"Name a reason why a person might turn down a job."

Two high-schoolers hesitate before a teenage boy yells the first response that comes to mind.

"Transportation!"

asb2"Transportation is the number 1 answer. Do you want to pass or play?"

"We're going to play!"

DSC 0061Transportation wasn't a factor for over 40 Howard University students who road-tripped to Memphis for Spring Break. Rather than spend the week on sandy beaches with friends and warm weather, the students decided to dedicate their time to high school students at Northside.

DSC 0113Alternative Spring Break (ASB) is a popular, college program where students spend the week after midterms empowering communities around the world. The 20-year-old program at Howard University travels to five different sites throughout the country. Native Memphian and Howard junior, Ayanna McFarland, is the site coordinator for Memphis.

"When I was a freshman I actually went to Atlanta and I was inspired to do the work that was done there, here," Mcfarland says.

ASB targets African-American students living and attending schools in impoverished areas. The goal is to provide resources within the communities for students to tackle poverty, assist with college, career and financial planning, and to demystify stigmas of sexual education.

"We are trying to combat generational poverty by exposing students with a diverse range of problems to this information," says McFarland.

The group is divided into two groups: the health and education group. The health group –known as "Sexperts" – is trained by Planned Parenthood to be peer educators from a range of topics, with a specific focus on HIV/AIDS.

"Many times, sexual education that is taught in schools is taught with a lot of myths and what we are doing is demystifying those myths," McFarland says.

On Thursday, the group visited the juvenile detention center.

"We'll be teaching them about sexual health, but we want to use this as an opportunity to tell them that just because they've gotten in trouble as youth, they can still make a difference in their lives," McFarland says. "This is not the end of the world. They can also be college students and they can also reach for their dreams."

The purpose of the education group is to enlighten students to information such as college applications and filling out the financial aid application forms. Topics such as setting goals and being realistic about college choices seem to hit home for many of the participants.

For a number of the Howard students, their backgrounds reflect humble beginnings. Denae Sampson from Long Island, N.Y. shared how hard her parents to assist with paying for her college education. While she had several college choices, she selected Howard because the school exemplifies black excellence while providing a platform for students to propel and excel in different fields.

"You can go to a (predominately white institution), you'll get a good education, and you can probably graduate with honors, but you're not going to graduate as prepared and with the support that our professors put into us," Sampson says.

Sampson was inspired to join ASB in the 8th grade. She drew inspiration from BET program that featured Morehouse and Spelman students spending their spring break in Africa. After applying during her freshman year, she chose Memphis over the more popular sites such as Miami, Detroit and Chicago.
"Nobody wanted to come to Memphis," Sampson says. "There is a girl who lives on my floor (at Howard) who is from Memphis and she said, 'There are some hard places and there are some kids people really don't care about.'"

The experience in Memphis has proved rewarding. Sampson said one day, as her group was focusing on goals, a teenage boy revealed that he had never set goals for himself.

"When I asked him why he had never set goals, he said, 'Nobody ever believed in me.' I thought that was so sad because I never had to live my life like that," Sampson says.

"After that, I knew why I was here and I want to come back every year."

Joe'Von Henderson, a 9th grader at Northside, says he enjoyed the interaction with the Howard students and has been doing a lot of thinking in regards to his goals. He wants to successfully finish his 9th grade year and start looking into colleges such as The LeMoyne-Owen, the University of Missouri and Howard University.

"I want to be a wide receiver in the NFL," says Henderson. "But if I don't make it, I'm thinking about being a chef or a firefighter. I am also really good in math. I'll think about engineering too."

(Follow Kirstin Cheers: @K_Cheers901)

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