INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Standing at the front of a full classroom of fifth-graders, former Colts defensive back Marlin Jackson engaged the students, asking them to give examples of how they exhibit responsibility.
"He had a decision to make and he made the right decision and he went forward because he made the right decision,” Jackson said, reacting to one boy’s commitment of limiting TV time during and instead devotes that time to homework and studying, resulting in better grades.
The Super Bowl champion’s mission is to make those conversations routine in classrooms across the community, as he did on Monday morning at Indianapolis Public School 93.
"It is so important for us to create mechanisms for our youth that will allow them to be able to cope with the day-to-day experiences of their lives,” Jackson said.
And that means creating his “Building Dreams” program, which teachers implement in their classrooms on a daily basis over a five-week period, and Jackson comes in frequently to supplement coursework with conversation.
"That took a lot of you to change that behavior, right? What have you found has happened since then?” Jackson asks as the group of wide-eyed elementary students discusses how they’ve exhibited discipline, the focus of this week’s “Building Dreams” study.
The program focuses on lessons like discipline, goal setting and handling peer pressure and creates an important dialogue for students.
"They come from different home lives, they act differently at school but when we are sharing things we find out that everybody has the same issues," Dawn Jukes, a fifth-grade teacher at IPS 93. "And when we don't do it, the children ask for it."
Building that empathy among peers encourages students to open up about personal struggles and then apply those lessons.
"Here in this classroom right here, a child that's in foster care and going through a week of the lessons on responsibility,” Jackson said. “Him having an epiphany of, 'Oh, that's what my mother was missing, it wasn't me, it was the fact that she wasn't responsible when it came to taking care of me.’”
The father of three was inspired to create this “Building Dreams” program and go into Indy's underserved areas by drawing on his own experiences and challenges growing up in Sharon, PA.
"Having a mother that, when it's addiction it takes over the mind,” Jackson said. “Her drugs and her alcohol were more important than her children. It put me behind but I was able to catch up, catch up in life, and I'm trying to make sure that they don't fall behind so they can mature at a faster rate than I did when I was their age."