Janet Combs

Why should we care about eighth-graders, in particular? They have a reputation for being noisy, emotional and unpredictable.

Many years ago, a couple of friends and I proposed an after-school activity for middle-school students to our Principal in Howard County, Maryland. We called it the “Spirit Team:” we would provide an opportunity for students who were not involved the few officially sanctioned after-school programs—student government, yearbook, or organized athletics—a meaningful way to contribute to the community while promoting school spirit.

The Spirit Team hosted school events that required you donate a canned item for a food bank as admission; we organized students to provide coffee and donuts during Teacher Appreciation Week; we held an annual supplies drive for the local animal shelter. We met in a classroom after school once a month for two hours; my co-chaperones and I always felt like we had spent that time herding random livestock onto roller coasters at Six Flags. What could these students possibly have eaten for lunch: a five-hour energy drink with a side of five-hour energy drink? It was simply exhausting, channeling their tremendous vivacity into something productive.

I’m not sure the Mount View Middle School Spirit Team had any lasting effect; no data has been collected on its long-term success. But I am fairly confident that in the moment, it taught young men and women to work together respectfully toward a common goal; to give of themselves; to effect a small change in their world. The Spirit Team was a concrete experience in front-lines public service. Plus, you got to flirt with that cute guy or girl from second period.

Imagine my happiness, my personal exhilaration, to discover that my experience with the Spirit Team in 2007 would lead me, unwittingly but not unwillingly, on a path to volunteerism with P2PSC—Pathways to Possibilities 2020 in South Carolina!

I returned last Wednesday evening from the first day of P2PSC at the convention center in Myrtle Beach overwhelmed by the thousands of middle-school students in attendance linking their talents to their future careers—so overwhelmed that I had to take a two-hour nap.

P2P provides thousands of middle-schools students from eight counties in South Carolina with engaging, hands-on activities in specific career paths—so they can see how to follow their current passions to a future paycheck. I was involved in the Government and Public Administration area—which you might not think was that exciting. But you are 98.9% wrong! Because we in Government and Public Administration offer careers in law enforcement, finance, stormwater, geographic information systems, landfill management, construction, and more! We even had a portable planetarium in the library science area, which was phenomenal and made me think that I seriously ought to be spending more time at my local library.

For some of the students in attendance, this might have been the first time an adult asked, “What do you enjoy doing? Do you like building things? Head over to the engineering pathway. Do you like helping people? Try the hospitality area—or the health and human services sector. Do you like talking to aggravated citizens on the phone? Meet Janet!”

Seriously, there is more to my position in Government and Public Administration than assuaging irate citizens. I typically speak with delightful citizens; I honestly love my job.

And part of what I love about it is that it gave me an opportunity to invest in South Carolina’s future workforce—these vulnerable students in the eighth grade—who will soon make the crucial decision whether to stay in school or drop out. Who may, for the first time, hear that voice of encouragement telling them they matter. Because they do. After all, they will one day be running this state and this nation.

So, mark your calendars and join me, next February 3 and 4, 2021, at P2PSC 2021 at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center. Wear sensible shoes, and take two Advil.

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Contact her at www.janetfrickecombs.wordpress.com.