Holly Hills' 'Brotherhood,' 'Sisterhood' Builds Leadership Skills

Emilio Ramos has seen distinct changes in his son during the past school year.

Elias Ramos will wrap up his academic career at Holly Hills Elementary School this month, and when he heads to middle school in the fall, he'll bring with him important lessons gleaned from the Brotherhood, an after-school club at the school that's stressed academics, involvement and investment.

"I think my son's matured a lot in the Brotherhood program. He's made really good friends. His confidence has built up," Emilio Ramos said, pointing to the benefits of the club launched a few years ago by fifth-grade teacher Robert Kennedy. "They built empathy in my son, who usually only had it towards animals," he added with a laugh, "The leadership skills, the sportsmanship and collaboration that was taught throughout the year was really great."

Kennedy has worked hard all year to stress those values to students, and he's done it in a variety of ways. From kickball games to a visit to the University of Colorado Boulder campus, Brotherhood members have found plenty of ways to build up excitement about coming to school.

On a deeper level, they've forged an important support network and built up a degree of confidence that they can carry to middle school and beyond. According to Kennedy, these were the core goals of the Brotherhood when it launched a few years ago.

"We were looking for a place for students to get excited about school again," Kennedy said. "We kind of wanted to help them develop a purpose for their education, to get them to look forward to high school, to a college career … We wanted to create a place for them to have fun, for them to feel like they belong."

So far, Kennedy has made impressive progress in meeting that goal. What's more, the spirit has spread to other students in the school. This year, fourth-grade teacher Sarah Harvey launched the Sisterhood, an after-school organization for girls with a similar mission. Both organizations benefited from Educator Initiative Grants from the Cherry Creek School Foundation, which focuses primarily on impacting all CCSD students, investing in innovation and building long-term relationships in the community.

This year, Kennedy and Harvey wanted to offer students a perspective that would persist beyond the fifth grade. The Brotherhood's visit to Boulder to take in the sights of the CU Boulder campus was about more than a Colorado Buffs football game or a simple field trip to another student. Kennedy wanted his students to get the feel of a real college campus, to see that academic persistence could pay off in real ways.

"When we took our college visit, for a lot of our students, it was the first time they'd ever been on a college campus," Kennedy said. "They got to experience student life. We got to eat on campus, tour the engineering building, the business building, see the dorms and got to a football game."

The visit had a deep impact on Byron Garcia Gonzalez, one of the Brotherhood members who gathered with teachers, parents and Sisterhood students for an informal graduation ceremony at the school on May 16. As he spoke of the valuable lessons he'd learned from his year in the club – insights that included treating women with respect and focusing on academics – his thoughts kept returning to the Boulder college campus.

"I want to be great in middle school and get straight A's. One of my biggest goals are to make it to CU Boulder and be in clubs and sports between all of those years," Garcia Gonzalez said. "I want to see if I can be one of the top students in the school I go to so I can make it to Boulder … That's all I can really think about. I always think about Boulder when we talk about college."