Officials honor students, mentors at Champions of Evart Gala

EVART — Jonah Smith admits he never really tried as hard as he could when it came to grades at school.

However, Smith became motivated to work harder and apply himself when Evart High School Principal Jessica Kolenda urged district officials at the beginning of the second semester to support the creation of Champions of Evart, an incentivized mentorship program.

If students, with the help of mentors, meet their academic and personal goals for the semester, the students receive $200.

On June 27, Smith and 24 fellow Evart High School students were the first to receive their checks for meeting their goals at the inaugural Champions of Evart Gala.

“I’m a champion,” he announced raising his hands above his head, as he had offered to speak to the more than 100 people in attendance. “I was probably a 1.6 GPA student when this started. I thought they were crazy when they gave me a goal of 3.6 GPA.”

Smith quipped, “I nailed it. If I can do it, then anyone can do it. It’s $200. It’s good stuff.”

Based off a similar program focused on mentorship and financial incentives at Wayne Memorial High School downstate, Kolenda said the Champions of Evart program is supported solely by community donations.

“The students select a mentor and they set out academic goals to improve their grades,” she said. “For students with a higher GPA, they select a measurable personal growth goal. The goals can’t be too easy.”

Along with student testimonials of the program Tuesday night, Evart Elementary School Principal Sarah Bailey, who served as one of more than three dozen mentors, said the Champions in attendance Tuesday all had something thing in common: grace and grit.

“There’s stories all around here tonight about grit and grace,” she said. “Those are both important characteristics, but so is motivation.”

Having the support of an adult other than their parents who wants to see them be successful provides the student with motivation, Bailey said.

“Grit and grace are not the only reason, but the incentive to be successful, that’s what we have here with the Champions program,” she said.