Meetings are not to do homework or be tutored, it’s time to share ideas.
Jeffrey Jannack rises to shake hands and introduce himself. His handshake is firm, confident, but not overpowering. Not a “high-five or fist bump,” an old-fashioned handshake.
Jeffrey is a sixth-grade student at Belle Terre Elementary and one of the three members of one of the Wednesdaymentoring groups that meets in the school media center.
Edward Smith and Shane Thomson also extend their hands in greeting. Edward introduces himself as “El J” shedding the formal “Edward” he was named at birth. Adult mentor Joe Matthews corrects him a couple of times, but this is not a battle that needs to be won, today Edward will be “El J.”
School children like these are participating in mentorship programs during the school day through the African American Mentor Program.
The key is consistency, building trust and a relationship,” mentor Robert Gary said. “It’s not being a tutor or parent.”
The AAMP is generally done on referrals or parent requests. Last year a “drop-in” mentorship program was started during Wednesday lunch periods at Indian Trails Middle School. Students can choose to have their lunch in the meeting room across from the cafeteria with the mentors.
Many, like “El J” have found they enjoy a different lunch atmosphere once a week.
“I find it fun, more than sitting in the cafeteria,” El J said.
Do you remember the Mustang Men?
The Mustang Men was started by Dr. Jim Guines at Indian Trails Middle School. Men in the community were invited to be guest readers once a week for the boys.
“We can’t save them all; we don’t save them all - but we are saving a lot.”
BELLE TERRE PRINCIPAL, Dr. Terence Culver
Dr. Terence Culver, principal at Belle Terre Elementary, not only remembers the program, he was one of the founders of the current African American Mentoring Program that evolved from the Mustang Men.
“I said, ‘we needed a mentoring program,’ which is how it got started,” Culver said. “I worked with Dr. Guines who had spoken to others in the community, and we recruited more mentors, and it took on its own new world.”
Initially the mentorship program was only going to be offered at ITMS, but as students transferred to other schools, their mentors followed them, and the program spread. Now there are mentor programs throughout the district, including elementary schools.
More than media room meetings
While the boys and their mentors talk about a variety of subjects, time is also made for other activities – like learning how to tie a neck tie. No clip-on ties for this group.
“We are teaching them how to tie a tie in time for a special luncheon at Olive Garden,” Gary said. “They have to wear a shirt with collar, a tie, and long pants. We are taking about 19 boys.”
Participants will be expected to practice the etiquette they have learned at the Wednesday, Feb. 10 luncheon.
Culver said he plans to work the Olive Garden trip into his schedule, and he will be picking up the tab.
“We will try to raise money and pull money from the principal’s account,” he said. “The Bobcat 5K – some of those funds will go toward just these types of things. Things that don’t get funding.”
It may look like a game, but they’re still learning
After the luncheon trip is under their belts, meetings will focus on how to play chess, with the help of mentor Mike Robinson. The lessons will start with the basics.
“Last year Bob (Gary) set up a tournament,” Robinson said. “The idea is to get them to focus and think ahead. The big thing is to try and think, ‘why did this person do that?’ It helps them to develop an understanding that people do things for a reason. It’s a life learning thing we like to do.”
Twelve years of success
Culver still keeps in touch with some of the students he has mentored in the past 12 years, through email and texts.
He recalled students like Chris Santana, who is now in college and training for the U.S. Olympics weightlifting team, and Steven Mosley, who plays football in California.
“We can’t save them all; we don’t save them all - but we are saving a lot,” Culver said. “Our goal is to save them all.”