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Shaping the Legends of Tomorrow

Student program hones personal responsibility, community engagement
Community volunteer Tony Ringgold addresses members of the Legends of Tomorrow Community Youth Group on Wednesday, Nov. 7, at the North Liberty Community Center, while Gage and Adi Honaker, Maiya Kauffmann and North Liberty Police Chief Diane Venenga (bottom right) look on. The new program brings together students of North Central Junior High to empower personal responsibility, positive decision-making and community engagement. (photo by Cale Stelken)

NORTH LIBERTY– A new initiative is empowering students of North Central Junior High School.
The Legends of Tomorrow Community Youth Group kicked off this year as a means for youth to seek opportunities for personal growth and to contribute to the community. “The main focus is good decision making,” cited Cecilia Roudabush, general music teacher at North Central and a coordinator of the program. “Smart choices for a positive future.”
Tony Ringgold initiated the program in 1998 while serving in the Navy, running it in Texas and more recently in Chicago, where he partnered with the court system to adjudicate students into it.
“It’s a leadership program, but it also deals with kids in the community that can be potentially at risk... of falling into issues of drug addiction, police, focusing on school,” Ringgold explained. “Generalizing, to make sure that they get the tools that they need to be successful.”
Roudabush, who also runs the Power Hour homework club, serves with Student and Family Advocate Jennifer McGowan through the school district to assist Ringgold in coordinating the program. During recruitment, Ringgold introduced himself to students during lunch hour and followed up with parents and guardians of self-nominated students, gathering a diverse group of 10 eighth-graders.
Participating students were empowered to take ownership of the group, naming it and choosing a logo for its inaugural run.
The first “Legends” met weekly at the North Liberty Community Center for the 10-week duration. “We decided to be on a neutral site so the kids didn’t feel like it was a school program,” Roudabush noted. This included a community meal followed by a fun game or sports activity and closed with a discussion group. Students assumed various team-building tasks, such as moving on a tarp from one location to another without speaking.
”By them being new to the program, it challenges them to not just use their ability to communicate, but the non-verbal ability to communicate as well,” Ringgold said.
Group discussion involved problem-solving skills, gateway drugs, the judicial system and how to understand responsibilities.
Out of the 10 recruited students, eight students completed the entire program, and according to Roudabush, throughout the 10-week duration, “students’ behavior within the group improved dramatically. They got a lot of inspiration from Tony, and their ability to work together.”

Taking the stage

The “Legends” initiative has seen crossover with Roudabush’s Flex Music class, which incorporates an emerging movement known as Blended and Personalized Learning.
“You’re looking more at what interests the students, and then finding a way for them to meet the state standards, but in a way they’re choosing,” she explained. For her students, this includes singing, playing instruments, improvising and composing, as well as reading, notating and evaluating music.
“What clearly emerged is there were some kids in the room who were performers, but they were not necessarily band orchestra and choir kids,” she noted.
The approach resulted in two members of the “Legends” performing at The Mill, in Iowa City, during open mic night. “They have a lot of self confidence, so they’ve emerged as two of the strong leaders in that group,” Roudabush said.
“We decided to go to The Mill because the kids who did perform ended up polishing up some work, and it’s nice to give them a place to perform,” she added. “And The Mill is where my band started.”
Roudabush said The Mill has expressed enthusiasm at the idea of a youth performance program to provide North Central students opportunities to play multiple times a year.

Future Legends

Upon finishing the “Legends” program Wednesday, Nov. 7, eight students were given sweatshirts with their group logo, and certificates of completion. North Liberty Mayor Terry Donahue and Police Chief Diane Venenga were also in attendance to congratulate the students.
“It’s young people like you who go through courses... and interaction with each other that strikes a positive attitude that is so lacking anymore,” Mayor Donahue told the youth. “So you guys do have to be the future leaders of tomorrow. Be civil, be polite, grow strong.”
North Central’s program is still evolving to meet Ringgold’s vision, which he described as two-prong to focus on the youth as well as their parents. The latter is still under development for the next trimester.
“We heal the kids, but you've got to provide the same tool for the parents so that they can continue that healing,” he insisted. “Because if you don’t, the kids’ success rate once they go out of the program is not as likely without the support of the parents.”
Ringgold expressed gratitude to the North Liberty Community Center for allowing Legends of Tomorrow to utilize its facility and continuing to use it into next year at no charge. “That’s an awesome contribution,” he remarked. “I want to also pay thanks to North Central Junior High School for believing in the dream and helping to support it so it goes to its fruition.” Lastly, he credited the support of St. Thomas More Church, in Coralville, where he initially presented his program.
Roudabush said the goal for the graduating students is to maintain their grades, conduct themselves well in school and be role models for others. “And the kids, funny enough, all have on their logo sweatshirts at school today,” she remarked following the first wave’s completion of the program.
For Ringgold, North Central’s Legends of Tomorrow was just the dawn of his hopes to spread the campaign throughout Eastern Iowa. Five students from the original group of “Legends” will continue into the next trimester as junior facilitators in support of the program at North Central. Roudabush said they already have a sizable list of interested students to follow up on for the next trimester’s Legends of Tomorrow, which begins Wednesday, Dec. 5.