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Making a difference - BHS Starfish

Lea Geis (right), Bismarck High School Starfish coordinator and teacher, accepted an Operation Round Up grant from LeAna Hug, a board member of the co-op’s Charitable Trust. Geis says the grant will be used to purchase food for at-risk students, to help them focus and better excel in school.

The starfish story


One day, a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking up something and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?” The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.” “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t make a difference.” After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, “I made a difference for that one.”


Making a difference

Co-op members + Operation Round Up = support for BHS Starfish students

Like the boy throwing starfish into the tide, Bismarck High School is making a difference one student at a time. The members who participate in Capital Electric Cooperative’s Operation Round Up program are making a difference, too. Some of the money they have been donating each month when they round up their utility bills was given to the high school in the form of a grant for its Starfish program. Now, at-risk students who are struggling in school can eat, focus, feel safe — and ultimately increase the likelihood of their graduating from high school.

When Bismarck High School opened its doors to 9th-grade students a couple years ago, the administration and teachers were struck by how many freshmen were struggling to stay in school, for various reasons.

A committee was formed by concerned teachers and the administration to research why students were dropping out of high school locally, and across the state and nation. They found several commonalities including socioeconomic status, failure in 8th grade, and at-risk factors including involvement with the law and agency involvement. Their research indicated that 9th graders in particular would benefit from a program that would provide individualized support to at-risk students in order to foster a positive relationship with education and empower them with the skills to become successful high school graduates. The Starfish pilot program was born at Bismarck High School last year.

Starfish started as a partial-day program and has already evolved to a full-day program. Lea Geis, Starfish coordinator and teacher, says the program offers a place for the students to catch up when they fall behind in school work. It also offers a safe place where they can receive support and not feel judged.

Last year, the program served 45 students; many of whom came to her and said they were hungry. They’d ask for an apple or a granola bar, and Geis had no idea when they last ate. She found herself going to Sam’s Club and buying snacks in bulk. She knew it was a gesture she couldn’t sustain.

“It was disheartening to know such a basic need was not being met,” she says. “I felt like if the students had just a snack, maybe they could concentrate better in class.”

This year, the program is helping 15 students so far. Geis knows it will reach or surpass the number of students it served last year. In anticipating the growth, she applied for the Capital Electric’s Operation Round Up grant this summer, on behalf of Bismarck High School, with the intention of using the money to purchase snacks for the students.

“Our budget is minimal for school supplies and items necessary to keep the program running. It was hard to justify that money for food,” she says.

In August, she learned the Starfish program was being awarded an Operation Round Up grant. Now, students have access to granola bars and fruit without having to ask for a snack or feel like they have to explain why they are hungry.

Geis says she, on behalf of Bismarck High School, appreciates the grant and the opportunity to pass the funds on to at-risk kids in the form of food. When she attended the Operation Round Up check presentation in August, Geis was also able to network with other professionals in the community who work with at-risk students. She learned about other ways in which the students could be helped and additional resources that are available to Bismarck High School students. She was also inspired to start a food bank at the high school. She and other staff are currently planning how to implement the food bank in the rear of the student store.

“My vision for having food for kids has expanded in order to meet the needs of all the kids here who have hunger issues,” Geis concludes.


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