Students at Pierce Middle School are rushing to join a new organization inspired by college fraternities and sororities and aimed at building a multi-year family of students that stretches to high school and beyond. More than 40 Archers comprise the charter class of the Alpha Phi Mu, a leadership club sponsored by science teacher Adisleydi Alonso.
Regular after-school activities have replaced watching TV, playing on phones and other activities. Instead, students are learning life skills, building self-esteem and creating community at the west Hillsborough County school.
“This gives me a lot of responsibility,” seventh-grader Gabriela said at a recent meeting. “You’re expected to be here at a time, you’re expected to sign in.”
Participating also builds trust, she and others said.
At that recent meeting, trios of members gathered on the patio. Some students were blindfolded along with their “bigs,” typically older members. Meanwhile, the “littles,” or typically younger members, found themselves charged with the duty of navigating her blindfolded teammates to the next activity.
“It was almost like I had their lives in their hands,” said Gabriela, a little. “What if they twisted an ankle, what if they fell, what if they ran into something?”
The next activity was another one in establishing trust, as students lined up and found themselves in front of a large plastic bin filled with water. The goal: Empty it one scoop at a time, with the scoop passed over each team member’s head until the back of the line.
It was wet. Wild. But ultimately purposeful.
“The activity to me was fun and a bit messy, but the good thing is it brings you closer to your bigs, your middles and your littles,” said Diego, a seventh grader.
The organization maintains a robust schedule. This month, students welcomed family members, friends, beloved teachers and more to a Thanksgiving dinner that drew more than 200 people. The guests, summoned with hand-written invitations, were served by the students who invited them.
“You guys are serving them,” Alonso told club members, “in appreciation for all they do for you.”
Diego’s mother, Giselle Gutierrez, was impressed by how the club members waited on their guests and even greeted them with flowers. The club has made a huge impact on her son.
“It has pushed him to reach more of the potential he has, and to know what he is able to do,” she said. “He has to make sure he is setting a good example for other kids.”
Alonso is a second-year teacher and, like many educators, dedicates a significant portion of her free time to building the club. At Thanksgiving, every student left with customized photos of them with their bigs and littles. The former Miss Cuba International (2014) is working with retailers to help the students stage a spring fashion show to benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation.
But it’s all worth it, said the Leto High School graduate who briefly attended Pierce. Kids who used to routinely earn Cs, Ds and Fs are now “freaking out” even with Cs. She checks grades regularly as part of the club’s expectations, and told students recently that they need to help each other out.
“Just because you have an F doesn’t mean you’re out,” she urged. “We’re a family. Talk to your big. Talk to your little.”View Full Album