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Taking Life Skills Out as Elementary School Ends

How "12STRONG" is making the halls of one Cape Coral elementary school a little more welcome each day.
Posted at 9:38 PM, May 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-05 23:14:14-04

CAPE CORAL, Fla. — It's a quiet room, on the upper floor of Hector Cafferata Elementary School in Cape Coral.

This school holds about 750 elementary students, ending with fifth grade. The life lessons that a small group of fifth-grade boys learns each week could be what they take well beyond leaving the halls for the last time next month.

The room is calm, focused, on-time as none of the ten students in the class on this Monday morning missed the bell. It's also respectful and even vulnerable, something we might not expect from boys this age.

"I felt like there was a need because, often at this level, there's no father figure in the home," said Dr. Marcus Jenkins, who founded this group, "12STRONG", to help mold twelve boys into the best version of themselves. "These kids need someone that's going to let them know that they care for them."

Dr. Jenkins stands at the front of the classroom, along with Jordan Gibbs, and they go through soft questions with the boys, reminding them of the progress they've made throughout the school year and that they still have some more challenges to conquer.

In talking with the students, however, it becomes clear that this isn't a one-way conversation from adults to students. These young men also have to rely on each other. It's a serious class but one where the occasional, high-pitched giggles seep out, or the impromptu handshake across an aisle to offer support.

"Like my friend, Cesar, he helps me a lot if I'm said," said Jayden Pierce, a 12STRONG member. "He'll make me happy."

The classroom can be calm but that's where the idea is to lay the foundation for where these young men reach back to these new life lessons for when life gets bumpy.

"We're a family with this bond," said Loudens Micard, another 12STRONG member. "Learning how to be a leader. Having people to talk to about how I'm feeling and just like there's learning or more knowledge I can get from this group to impact my life."

For about fifteen minutes, the two men led the members on how to properly express themselves, especially if enduring a trying time. Students raise their hands, offering a profound question. No one is laughed at or judged. Perhaps a similar journey of understanding for each of the members makes this a, truly, safe space.

Then time to break for the mission field as the students gather with Dr. Jenkins and Gibbs.

"We have a secret handshake that we have that all of them know about," said Dr. Jenkins. "It's called 'ubuntu' and 'ubuntu' is an African language for 'all for one for all' and they know it comes from a family of folks that really care about them."

That mission field is directly downstairs.

An elementary school cafeteria can be a concerto of chaos.

It's active as the students walk in to join about 150 others. But never loud or out of control. The ten members on this Monday for 12STRONG walk the aisles, just saying hello or offering a line of encouragement to younger students who are eating the Monday special (mini burgers and curly fries) or brought their own from home.

Dr. Jenkins also offers kind words and nudges, a time or two, if one of the 12STRONG crew isn't moving around to serve.

As the excitement of another lunch period ends, these ten fifth-graders push out the trash carts to keep the Hector Cafferata Elementary School cafeteria at tidy as possible between groups.

That mission to serve and to keep a place as good as one finds it.

"We're going to still keep track of these kids and make sure that they're doing their part," said Dr. Jenkins.