December 21, 2014

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Lorain Schools program demonstrates power of mentoring

 

Frank Whitfield of 100 Men gestures as he talks at New Beginnings Academy in Lorain about communication and how the way you communicate with other people can have an effect on the outcome. Looking on is Anthony Cummings, 14, a student at the school. BRUCE BISHOP/CHRONICLE

LORAIN — The power of communication was taught in a New Beginnings Academy classroom Tuesday.

Frank Whitfield, a member of 100 Men of Lorain County, told seven middle-school students that besides formal language, body language, eye contact, clothing, a firm handshake and slang are forms of communication. They can create respect, trust or problems.

“Sometimes there’s a miscommunication, a misunderstanding, just based on what someone’s actions are,” Whitfield said. “Always be conscious of these different forms of communication.”

The lesson was part of a new mentoring program at the school which houses students who have come from other schools because of misbehavior or truancy. They attend in lieu of expulsion or are returning from expulsion from their original school.

New Beginnings, in the former Lowell Elementary School at 3200 Clinton Ave., has about 125 students in grades 5-12.

The Building Everyday Leadership in All Teens program is based on a curriculum taught at a Colorado alternative school, according to Jay Nimene, a Lorain Schools social worker who oversees the program. The curriculum has 21 sessions which run about 45 minutes per session. Topics include turning conflict into cooperation, doing the right thing, what makes a good leader and thinking creatively.

Whitfield, who ran the session and another class with fifth-graders, kept the mood light and made the classes conversational rather than lecture-oriented. The latter session included rap poetry from 100 Men member Quinn Aldrich and break dancing and back flips from students to illustrate how they express themselves.

While the mood was light, Whitfield and Aldrich sought to teach a serious lesson about how actions have consequences.

Whitfield, 26, said he realized as a boy he could talk his way out of and into trouble.

“I really learned the power of words,” he said. “I learned that this is a blessing and a curse and I need to know how to manage my words.”

Vassie Scott, of 100 Men, talks about the importance of communicating. Listening are Nathan Contreras, 13, and Angel Rivera, 14.

Whitfield asked students to interpret the biblical proverb, “a soft answer turns away wrath.” And in an atmosphere where losing face is to be avoided at all costs, to understand how self-control can de-escalate tension and be a strength rather than a weakness.

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look strong, but there’s a time for it,” Whitfield said. “Wisdom, that’s another form of strength.”

100 Men has been volunteering in Lorain Schools since 2009. This is their first year at New Beginnings. Lessons are taught once a month.

The nonprofit group formed in 2009 in response to the violent deaths of two young men, according to the 100 Men website. Their mission is to improve the quality of life of young people, particularly blacks and other minorities. The group is open to men of all races.

Mentoring girls

While Aldrich and Whitfield were teaching boys, E. Jean Wrice was working with two 11-year-old girls. Wrice is president of the Lorain NAACP, which mentors New Beginnings girls once per month.

Wrice uses the AMAZE program developed by the Girl Scouts. The name is an allusion to life being a maze that must be maneuvered through. Program topics included bullying, conflict, etiquette and friendship.

Wrice sought to instill a good work ethic and values in the girls.

“Never being satisfied with being average,” Wrice said about academics. “You’ll have a better opportunity when you get out into the working world.”

One of the girls was talkative while the other was quiet and withdrawn. The talkative girl said she was living with her aunt and uncle after her father left and her mother could no longer take care of her. She said she’d had a boyfriend since the first grade.

“Why do you think you need a boyfriend?” asked Wrice, who urged her to concentrate on academics.

“To keep me happy because you’ll die alone without one,” the girl answered. “You’ll die of loneliness.”

Like the girl, many New Beginnings students have had difficult childhoods that may have caused them to be angry or withdrawn. In addition to instilling values, mentors seek to show that there are adults who care besides teachers. Wrice said patience and being a good listener are skills needed by mentors, particularly when children are acting out.

“You listen to them, but you never yell at them or go there with them because that’s what they want. They want you down to their level,” she said. “You sit and you listen. Then when they ask you, you tell them the correct way.”

New Beginnings Principal Steven Meggitt said students are sometimes more willing to listen to lessons taught by adults other than teachers. The programs are part of efforts to boost below-average attendance at the school and return students who improve academically and behaviorally to their schools if they want to go. Meggitt said mentors make good role models.

“The students can see success stories and have something to look forward to. A goal,” he said. “Any outside involvement we have is fantastic.”

Whitfield said he hopes more people will become mentors. Whitfield said some may want to get involved, but are unsure how.

“We’re not necessarily looking for people with doctorates or things like that,” he said. “We’re looking for people who care.”

Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or egoodenow@chroniclet.com.

WANT TO HELP?

Anyone interested in mentoring in Lorain Schools can contact Jay Nimene, a school social worker, at (440) 277-7263, ext. 2630, or jnimene@lorain.k12.oh.us.