Four churches have volunteered to help Kalamazoo Public Schools expand the successful mentoring program it created last year to help boost the engagement and achievement of students.
New Life Fellowship Church of God in Christ and the Tabernacle Church of God in Christ volunteers will work with students at Spring Valley Center for Exploration. Trenches Community Church is expanding its volunteer efforts to include mentoring at Northeastern Elementary School, and Stones Church will launch its mentoring efforts at Woodward School for Technology and Research.
Pastor Jesse T. Herron of New Life said that two years ago he helped start a mentoring program at Spring Valley, and he was happy to have the opportunity to enlist some of his church members in this new effort.
“Many of our young men do not have role models at home,” Herron said. “Without role models, they might not be able to see the career they desire, and if they do not know about it they’ll never pursue it. Without vision, people perish. You have to give them options for different careers, and put different people in front of individuals. If they can see it, they can be it.”
The district-wide mentoring program began last year, with KPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice urging male staff members to meet with groups of five male students once a week. Over the school year 141 male staff members met with 629 students during 2,822 weekly sessions.
Although the program last year was open to any male student, the district’s efforts focused on African American males, whose achievements and graduation rates lag other groups in the district.
“There are a lot of needs across ethnic groups but the greatest need is among our African American male students,” said KPS Superintendent Dr. Michael F. Rice. “This is a program to address those who have the greatest needs at this time. To whom much is needed, much needs to be given. It’s a riff off of Luke from the Bible.”
The district’s overall graduation rate in 2015 was 71 percent. The rate for African American females is at 77 percent, but the graduation rate for African American males is only 52 percent. Graduation rates have improved significantly in the district over the last few years.
“The trend we have in Kalamazoo is not unique,”said Johnny Edwards, KPS director of secondary education. “You’ll find similar trends across the country and, by extension, across the state. Graduation rates for African-American males are substantially lower than their peers or for any other cohort, and definitely for African American females and both caucasian males and females.”
While the focus was on academics and setting career goals, the mentoring sessions were mostly about building relationships that help the boys feel a connection to their schools and their communities, Edwards said.
Pastor Herron said that sometimes mentees come in a little suspect of the adults. “They wonder are you real. Do you really care? You have to work through those kinds of issues,” he said. “They do want to try you because, they want to know if you really care and really want to listen. It takes time. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
“It is an organic process as students feel more connected to their schools and begin to identify another person in the building, with whom they have a relationship and on whom they can lean for advice and help,” Edwards said. “Just having another person who can be some version of an advocate for them in school makes a huge difference.”
Rice and Deputy Superintendent for Business Gary Start mentored young men at Phoenix High School last year. Edwards mentored students at Milwood Magnet. All male administrators and 119 other male staff members answered the mentoring call.
Rice has begun to expand the mentoring to community organizations and has presented to the Northside Ministerial Alliance and the Metropolitan Kalamazoo Branch of the NAACP on the issue.
The district hopes the support of the churches is just the beginning of community involvement in the mentoring program. In addition to new community mentors, program will grow this year to include female staff mentors for female students.
“We want the mentoring to focus on the students’ goals, career aspirations, and the like We want to try to help them see that any career goal or job students want to have in the future all begins with education and ultimately a high school diploma,” Edwards said. “We want to connect their career goals and dreams to doing your best in school today.”
If your community organization is interested in joining the male mentoring program, please contact Secondary Education at (269) 337-0168.