“It takes a village to raise a child.”

The African proverb means it takes an entire community of different people interacting with children to give them the best experience to grow in a safe environment.  

A former high school basketball coach, Seth Maust, 40, has a vision to create just such a safe environment for middle and high school students to learn. His passion is obvious as he speaks. He talks about positive mentoring and guiding adolescents to become the best people they can be. He talks about having a certain mindset to achieve goals and overcome obstacles. He believes anyone with the drive to succeed can and will. Perhaps they only need tools to learn to channel their goals.

“After six years of being a basketball coach, I saw many children slipping through the cracks,” Maust said, “and I wanted to impact more students, to help as many as possible.”

What Is Five Star Life?

What began as a meeting with Jim Shaffer, co-founder of Five Star Life, has grown into what Maust hopes will soon be a nationwide program. Founded in 2005, Five Star Life is going on its 13th year. The non-profit program was created to help children learn skills needed to create better lives for themselves.

The program, which began in Indiana and moved into Michigan, may expand to Middle Tennessee soon. Discussions are underway to bring the curriculum to 10 schools.  Maust travels to school districts around the country to explain the importance of the program to school principals and school board members.

“Whether it is rural, inner city, or alternative schools, we want to include all schools,” Maust said.

Several different school districts in the United States have already adopted the extensive video curriculum, which includes 33 of the “Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets” and teaches 18 life skills through core values, Maust said. Those core values are respect, responsibility, integrity, sacrifice and courage. There are also academically-focused lessons that encourage students to set goals and attain the grades they want. While free to students, schools pay a small fee to adopt the program.

In addition to the video curriculum and after-school programs, Five Star Life offers leadership days and summer camps. The camps are scholarship based and the leadership days cost $30 a day. “We have a 300-acre training facility just north of Elkhart, Ind., where we train students, we train entire school faculties,” Maust said. “We are on a mission to change the face of education.”

The programs give students a chance to practice what they have learned throughout the year in an experiential way that extends beyond the school building, Maust said. Students are presented with opportunities to put their leadership skills to the test through leadership experiences. Each experience is considered a classroom and is tied to the curriculum so students learn through experience, with very intentional steps.

“Before Five Star Life started, graduation rates in some schools were in the 60th percentile,” Maust said. “It was announced this past winter that the graduation rate has risen to 93 percent … We are changing the mindsets of students. When they see the results after putting in the effort, they become addicted to pursuing results.”

The aim isn’t to be a typical after-school program but to cause a change in lifestyles. In fact, the program has already changed the lives of several children.

Changing the Face of Education

Students often arrive at school unprepared, and they need direction. Maust believes the face of education needs changing, and that society needs to approach students differently. Often, students aren’t even thinking about learning because they have so many other things going on, he said. “Education is a mindset, and we need to educate students at the core of their being before we can start educating them in math and science,” Maust said.

Five Star Life focuses on social and emotional mindsets. The program enlists an army of qualified volunteers to work with students on a consistent basis. Last year, Five Star Life signed up about 600 volunteers but is always looking for more. “Volunteers go through a thorough screening process, along with reference checks,” Maust said.

The program hones in on students in sixth through eighth grades.

“We address the critical age group before they drop out (of high school). If you wait until they are sophomores, it is very difficult to turn around,” Maust said. “We found that 80 percent of the time, most initial drug abuse happens between the ages of 10 to 14, and occurs between the hours of 3-6 p.m.”

An additional statistic is 85 percent of all juvenile crime takes place between 2-7 p.m.

But students who have gone through the Five Star Life curriculum defeat the odds.

“By far my favorite thing is seeing the lights go on and seeing the transformed lives,” Maust said.

Of the numerous success stories, a few stand out to Maust. One student’s father was in and out of prison while his mother was doing the best she knew how to, given the circumstances. The student wasn’t putting in effort. He didn’t think he was capable because of his family situation, and he was making D’s and F’s in his classes. After going through the Five Star curriculum, he got A’s and B’s on his report card. He landed on the school honor roll. Such stories convince Maust that Five Star Life is making a positive impact.

What of the students who push against the program? Is everyone 100 percent on board and willing to make a difference?

Maust said sometimes he must intervene, as he did with a student who was constantly getting into fights. The young man was a step away from the system taking hold of him. During one of the Five Star Life lessons, he got into yet another fight. Maust asked him point blank if he wanted to stay in the program and advised “to choose wisely. Fighting is not the way we treat each other.” The student decided to stop fighting. After that, he began implementing the tools and changing his mindset. He graduated and pursued a degree in criminal justice with a focus on juvenile technology.

How To Get Involved

Parents may sign up their children for the program at www.fivestarlife.org or apply to be a volunteer. A separate section on the website is for others who want to assist with the curriculum or apply to volunteer. Donations also made on the website. Maust runs different fundraisers throughout the year including a radiothon and the Five Star Golf Open. In addition to touring schools and writing a majority of the curriculum, Maust also has a podcast channel titled “Five Star Life Radio” that’s on YouTube.

Maust has made it his life’s work to ensure he is helping to create the village that will, in fact, change the face of education for all.

This exclusive feature is available in The Connect’s Holiday 2018 issue. You may purchase the full issue here, or download the digital version here.