On December 20, a group of 22 Aurora Central student athletes will celebrate a first-ever milestone: they’ll be graduating from our newest program, Elevate. They’ll have finished a semester of after-school ACT prep, Saturday-morning athletic cross-training, and myriad “life-skills” presentations on everything from acing a job interview to identifying different leadership styles. And we at Heart Power will be celebrating the successful launch of that program and its future.

The idea was simple: teach the same core principles of CHAMP Camps… in the classroom. We thought, “What if we were able to work with a group of dedicated student athletes throughout a semester? A whole school year? What could we help those kids accomplish?” Together, through Elevate, we offer high-value mentorship opportunities, leadership and life skills development, health and fitness training, and test preparation to ensure students the strongest platform possible from which to spring into their futures.

Great things require great teams, so we got to work right away to identify our partners to make Elevate a reality.

First, we had to identify the ideal partner school, and Aurora Central High School was exactly that. The school boasts a diverse student body: more than 65 percent of the student population identifies as Latino; 16 percent as black; 8 percent as Asian; and 6 percent as white.  Seventy-one percent of students are eligible for free and reduced lunch – a common indicator of poverty in schools. Inclusiveness is at the heart of everything we do, which is why our program is free to students. When asked to write in an application essay why he wanted to participate in the Elevate program, one student in the 11th grade wrote:

“I need this program is what I’m saying. I don’t have any other options in Life but to make it somewhere. Cause if I don’t I will just be that guy who had talent academically and athletically and didn’t use it. Cause I have nobody who will bother to help except the Individuals in the Elevate Program. I want to make it to a good college and have the best scores on the ACT. And I know that you guys will help me.”

Second, we needed to identify a partner to offer the ACT-prep component. So we teamed up with the Princeton Review. They provided the course materials, syllabus, teachers, and even diagnostic tests to track students’ successes throughout the semester. Students’ engagement exceeded anyone’s expectations, including Megan’s (the primary instructor):

“When I first started teaching with the Elevate program, I had no idea what I was in for. I thought it was going to be ‘just another class,’ which isn’t a bad thing — I love all of my classes. But the Elevate kids quickly became my favorite. Their level of engagement is just, well, next level. They’re hungry. They want it. And I’ve watched them transform throughout the duration of the course. Kids who used to sit silently without their books are now sitting in the front and presenting to other students. When I found out about some of their difficult home lives, my heart broke for them, but I was doubly impressed. I never would have known. Their classroom behavior would never let on that they have anything other than happy, normal at-home situations. It’s incredibly inspiring, as both a teacher and just as a human being.”

Finally, we partnered with Rod Rodger’s Xplosive to provide the elite-level athletic conditioning element of Elevate.

The results are in: Elevate is here to stay. Not only did students’ ACT scores continue to increase via diagnostic exams, but their athletic coordination and agility served them well in their respective sports. Our graduating juniors look forward to being mentors to the underclassmen entering Elevate in the spring semester, and several graduating seniors have requested to be able to continue participating in Elevate. We can’t wait to see how students continue to “step up” through Elevate.