- Gurnee District 56
- Blog: Great Things...
Blog: Great Things...
Making Education Nurturing and Tomorrow’s Opportunities Real
Posted by Colleen Pacatte on 3/23/2018 7:00:00 AM
Guest Blogger - Mrs. Sheryl Gray, Assistant Principal at Prairie Trail School
Whether or not we want to admit it, we all look for a representation or reflection of ourselves in most situations. Everyone wants to see someone that looks like him or herself. If you walk into a room full of people, and there is only one or two who look like you, at some point, you will make your way over to those people. We all do it. Everyone is looking for someone who they can identify with, a role model, someone to look up to, someone who understands them.
It is the same for our students, although you might not hear them say it. I believe it is important for schools to try to provide role models for all of their students, which should include people who look like all of the students. In order to work towards this goal, I started a new program called MENTOR (Making Education Nurturing and Tomorrow’s Opportunities Real).
I know that it is important that we first make connections with each individual student in our schools – help them to feel recognized, understood and valued. I try to figure out ways to make this possible. Someone shared with me the work of Principal Kafele, a Black male educator who is sharing his message, “https://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/truth-for-teachers-podcast/principal-kafele/” for how to help young black boys and men excel.
I decided that I could do something similar. I told myself that I know several successful Black men who are happy with their lives and with what they are doing. So I reached out to them, asking them if they were willing to give of their time to talk to the fourth and fifth grade Black young boys at Prairie Trail School.
The main goal for this year was to find Black men from a variety of backgrounds and career paths to spend roughly 20 – 30 minutes with a group of around 25 Black boys from our 4th grade and another 20-30 minutes with a group of nearly 25 Black boys from our 5th grade. Initially, I envisioned that they might talk about their life, and how the choices they made have lead them down their path, contributed to their successes, and helped shape who they are today. I also hoped that they would take questions from the students about their lives, about their experiences in school, or about additional topics they might be interested to learn more about. MENTOR has already become so much more than I could have imagined.
We had our first meeting with men from the community on Friday, November 17th at PT with 27 men present, and it was POWERFUL. The room was full of energy and there was so much excitement from the men as well as the PT staff.
That first planning meeting gave birth to several key strategies and brought the men back on Wednesday, December 13th as an opportunity for the men and staff to meet to discuss the program and engage in a conversation with our staff. It was another powerful meeting: a room full of mostly White females teachers and several successful Black male community members discussing what we could do together to help young Black male students. Both staff and community members walked away with tears and smiles about what was taking place.
I just wanted to find a couple men who would come and talk to PT students a couple times a month for the rest of the year. MENTOR has expanded to more than that. MENTOR started January 9th and now every other Tuesday, we have different men coming in to talk to our Black 4th and 5th grade boys and one Saturday a month, the Rho Tau chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. meet with the 5th grade students. MENTOR has had workshops on cooking and grooming already and will be doing college tours and learning about interviewing before the end of the school year.
Throughout this whole process – inviting mentors to talk, getting letters out, talking to staff, parents and students – my emotions have been all over the place. From being nervous and scared, to happy and overjoyed with so many willing to share, to anxious, not sure how it was going to turn out, it has been a real rollercoaster. I am excited about what has happened so far this year, and am already thinking ahead about how we can continue this program, not only at Prairie Trail, but at Viking Middle School as the boys continue through District 56.