Making The MARC – McKenzie’s Academic Resource Center in Portside

Writer: Autumn Williams

FullSizeRender(1)McKenzie’s Academic Resource Center in Portside has been helping children ages 0-18 since 2011. Their foundation slogan CARE about others, GIVE to those in need and GROW into your full potential has pushed students to reach for the stars and set goals for themselves that are above the rest of their peers.

The MARC was created by the McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation to empower students who may be struggling academically. The McKenzie Noelle Wilson Foundation was founded by McKenzie’s parents, Blake and Stephanie Wilson, in honor of McKenzie who died at the age of 15 due to a rare and sudden illness.

The foundation was created to help young people realize their full potential and in turn the first MARC was created in September of 2011. A short year later the second MARC location opened in Countryside helping those kids reach their full potential.

Portside is predominantly a hispanic community and a lot of the families don’t speak English or have trouble understanding English. The MARC makes it easier on those kids who are having to learn English and all of the required academics such as math, science, and history. The MARC prints every brochure, paper, and form in both English and Spanish in order to best serve the families who use the MARCs resources.

At the MARC there is a weekly schedule that the students follow to meet with mentors and tutors or use the facilities that the MARC offers. Everyday from 2:30-3:30p.m. high schoolers may come and work on homework or use the computers for projects. On Mondays from 4:00-6:00p.m. fourth and fifth grade students come to work on whatever they are having trouble with. On Tuesdays from 4:00-6:00p.m. kindergarten and first grade come. On Wednesday mornings from 9:00-11:00 parents can bring their toddlers to a time slot called toddler time. On Wednesday afternoons high school may come from 2:30-6:30 and middle school comes from 4:30-6:30p.m. On Thursday’s second and third grade comes from 4:00-6:00p.m. On Fridays the time slot of 2:30-5:00p.m. is open to Special Groups such as if another organization wants to use the space to teach the kids or if a math teacher is available to help that day.

To keep the students involved in the program at MARC, the mentors use positive rewards for the kids. The elementary school children are divided up into Color Groups: red, green, yellow and blue. Each group has their own set of colored coins for their color group, such as the blue group has blue coins, and these coins are called Kenzie Coins.

According to Adrian Gibbs, Foundation Director, “They [the kids] can receive a coin if they do their assignment, if they’re being polite, and we have character traits and values and when they are showing those they get rewarded with a coin.”

If the kids earn five Kenzie Coins per day they get to take a trip to the treasure box. At the end of the month the color group with the most coins in their color group’s jar overall will earn a celebration. The red group, kindergarten through fifth grade, who had the most coins last month earned a pizza party for October 9.

However, if the children misbehave and get 3 “marcs” (which are disciplinary strikes) then they lose their Kenzie Coins. If they receive 4 “marcs” the students are put in time out for the remainder of the rotations and a message is sent to their parents. If they receive 5 “marcs” the student’s parent is contacted and they are dismissed for the day.

For the high school and middle school students the MARC uses a concept called “Cash for Grades” where good grades earn money. The students have two opportunities to earn a reward, progress report time and report card time.

The students with A’s and B’s on their progress reports earn a party at the MARC or something along those lines. “We reward them based on their core classes.” Gibbs explained. “An A gets a 15 dollar reward, a B gets a 10 dollar reward and any improving grade is a raffle ticket.” The “Cash for Grades” is actually in the form of gift cards and students have to meet some specific requirements.

The students can have not had a disciplinary referral or no suspensions at school, they have to have six hours of community service per quarter, and they have to have 50% participation in the program at the MARC.

The MARC’s purpose is to raise the high school graduation rate in the Portside community and so far they’ve had a positive effect on the students in the community. “We want to empower the kids here. Some of the kids here are in circumstances that maybe other teenagers aren’t and so we want them to have the same opportunities that anybody else has.” says Gibbs.

The MARC is a fantastic place to bring children to better their education or to volunteer at. The MARC can always use volunteers to help the students with their rotations through reading, math, the computer lab, and reading out loud. To volunteer go to and click the button that says click here to volunteer. Follow the necessary steps to sign up and choose the days to volunteer best fit for you.

McKenzie’s Academic Resource Center is giving children the tools they need to be successful in school and in life. This center teaches the children to CARE, GIVE and GROW which is the theme of the McKenzie Wilson Foundation. Through the foundation the MARC influences their students in a positive way and will continue to help students for years to come.


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