As with so many things, the pandemic abruptly ended a special mentoring program involving students at Bethel College, but they won’t soon forget.
Seven young African-American men volunteered at Chisholm Middle School in Newton during the 2019-2020 school year (two are repeats from the previous year).
They found out about the program thanks to the school’s social worker, Ralita Cheeks, who had the opportunity to “give the best 30-second speech of my life” when the Bethel football team showed up. at school on the annual fall service day two years ago.
Middle school students enter the program (started by a predecessor of Cheeks) voluntarily, with waivers signed by parents or guardians.
“[The college students] check the notes with them and just talk about what’s going on in life, ”Cheeks says. “Sometimes it’ll come better from a youngster than from me.”
Joseph Winfield, a graduate of Edmond, Oklahoma, was in his second year of mentoring.
“We provide an open space for them to give us a glimpse of what they are missing in their education, which helps us shape our program to do what they need,” he says.
“At first we weren’t doing schoolwork – we were talking about life. But then we find out that they have a hard time with their schoolwork, so we go [help] with that. When they feel successful with it it helps [in other areas].
“We are implementing a good grades / success program, [using] a strengths-based perspective. We don’t focus on the negative things they are doing. We tackle them, but then find ways for them to improve and also find out what they’re good at and how to motivate them.
“You have to give him the opportunity to shine. This meant seeing a decrease from 3 to 1 at no F. “
“We have set goals for them and they will change them in a week,” said Terrell Marshall, senior graduate from Tulsa. “I saw their willingness to open up to us. They will tell us more than the professor.
Derrick Hudson, a junior from DeSoto, Texas, says, “I’ve seen the confidence [grow] in some children. When we welcome a newborn they are a little hesitant to speak, and then after a few weeks they are the ones who speak the most – it’s hard to silence them.
It’s not just the kids who have changed during this mentoring program.
Winfield attributes the experience in part to consolidating his major social work.
“I signed up for the program because the other guys told me it would be a fun thing to do,” he said, “and he [took] me majoring in business at social work.
“Work with these children [has] helped me see what I want to do in the future – everything social work, but especially with children.
He continues: “I have the impression that we have all seen ourselves in the children we accompany. They got in trouble for the same things we did at that age. It helps the connection even more.
“We tell them our stories, so that they understand that we are not here with a facade. This is real life.
“Not only do you see the kids growing up, you see your friends growing up,” adds Amondre Street, a junior from Dallas. “I see my friends behaving in ways that I don’t see every day. They are future fathers, future teachers.
He admits he “didn’t know if I wanted to take the program. I didn’t like working with children – it exhausted me. [But] it changed my life and that of the children. Working with this group was great.
Marshall says, “I’m a business expert, but what I want to do in the long run is help people on a deeper level. “
He says it deeply affected him “to see that real life problems have no age limits, and [see] some of the things these kids go through, how they’re affected at a young age, how their home life affects everything else.
“It’s great to see the changes.
According to David Wullf-Cochrane, an Edmond graduate, “There are things that I went through growing up that some of these kids are going through.
“Why not use my role model to influence them with morals and ethics, to prepare them for life, to face trials and tribulations – to help them acquire the skills to improve themselves?” “
“Seeing how much these kids have changed since we’ve been with them makes me want to stay and be a part of their lives,” says Winfield.
“I would have liked to have a mentor [like this] when I was growing up, to show whatever your struggle you can be successful.
“We have the ability to get the best out of everyone we interact with. We can meet this kid and all the teachers are like, “He’s so bad, he’s so hard to reach.” We’re going to spend 40 minutes with them, and they open up.
“They understand where we come from. It’s crazy, the ability we have to [affect] Somebody.”
Street adds: “It’s not just the school environment, it’s also their home environment. I admire them, for the things they [overcome]. “
Hudson notes that the mentoring program gives college students “the ability to realize that some of the things they’ve done, we’ve done them too, and that” Maybe I can change and become something. “
“It gives them confidence that” I could be like these guys. I could also be a mentor.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence,” says Wullf-Cochrane, “I think God put us in this position to use what we have to help the next generation be better. To let them know they can be anything.
“They hear so much: ‘You will be nothing.’ We want to be that driving force [that lets] they know: “We are behind you. We will help you in any way we can. ‘”
“We want our students to be successful,” says Cheeks. “The sage leaves something behind, a seed planted. It is important that someone sows this seed, and then others water it. Bethel students volunteer their time and plant the seeds.
Bethel is a four-year liberal arts college founded in 1887 and the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Known for its academic excellence, Bethel is the top-ranked private college in Kansas, at No. 12, in Washington Monthly, Top 200 licensing colleges; ranks 23rd American News and World Report, Best Regional Colleges in the Midwest; is Zippia.com’s top-ranked small college in Kansas with the highest-paying graduates; ranks 57th among 829 US colleges and universities listed by lendEDU as “Best for Financial Aid”; has the # 10 RN-to-BSN program in Kansas according to RNtoBSN.com; and won its second consecutive NAIA Champions of Character Five Star Gold Award, based on student service and academic achievement, all for 2019-2020. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu Melanie Zuercher