Young leaders model for pre-teens

Teens and tots join up for after-school mentoring
By T Martin

Normal: The quiet humming and mumbling as Potter-Thomas Elementary School students settle into their after-school mentoring program with teens from West Kensington Boys and Girls Club.

Abnormal: The hyperactive chants and constant bobbing of heads in the direction of the back of the room.

Both scenarios are taking place in Room 103 every weekday from 3 to 6 PM at the North Philadelphia school located at 6th and Indiana Streets. They are the Teen Mentoring Program with the Boys and Girls Club, a source of young leaders in the making.

From Monday to Friday, North Philly teens meet at 5th and Indiana to sign in and take turns mentoring elementary school students at Potter-Thomas. At the time of this magazine’s publication, at least one other school, Cramp Elementary, will also host this program in its building.

Students attending Potter-Thomas enjoy the month-old program. Even students new to the program during NorFilly’s visits were excited about the projects. Veteran participants enjoy coloring, playing games and going to the gym – after doing their homework when program leaders bring them from the cafeteria at about 4 PM.

The mentors reach far back into their minds for the time they did the kind of work Potter-Thomas students present to them for the homework help portion of the program. For instance, the Club’s Vice-President Lali Suarez, a two-year participant of the Club, sang the “ABC” song to help one little girl organize a list of words in alphabetical order. One of the Club’s counselors, who oversee the teens, lent some of her fingers to one youngster with a math problem. Whatever they do to help students with their homework, the children seem to like it and are already reaping the benefits.

“The kids respond well, but need to learn more in class,” said Club President Moises Suarez, adding that sometimes the mentors have to re-teach basic things.

“One of the second graders didn’t know the ABC’s, but when he left the program that day he knew them!”

Moises told NF that the children’s energy levels were unusually high, though. He called it a “hype” day when NF visited for photos of the students and mentors at work, partly due to having a particularly large and distracting camera floating around the room. No matter how excited the students become, however, mentors do not encounter disrespect from their young protégées.

“There aren’t any real problems with respect,” Lali told NF. However, it doesn’t take much to remind the students of the program’s first two rules of conduct, on which they are drilled: listen carefully and follow directions.

“Sometimes the kids won’t listen the first time, but they’ll listen if you speak to them calmly,” Lali said.

Both Moises and Lali extolled the program as one in which everyone has fun, students have a positive place to stay after school, and mentors can act as role models to get the children on the right track.

Club counselors Carlos, Godwin and Maria work closely with the teens at West Kensington to ensure that the mentors have a rewarding experience as well. Not only do they oversee the work of the teens, but they also work directly with students of Potter-Thomas School. For instance, they maintain discipline besides organizing games or activities for the students.

“They help play games, take kids to the gym, play basketball and exercise,” explained Moises.

“We do arts & crafts for fun, but we also keep them fit!”

Even parents coming in to pick up their children from room 103 at about 5:15 or 5:30 agree that the program has merit.

“I’m glad they have this program here for my son,” one mother told NF. “It’s something positive for him to do until I get out of work.”

Expanding the mentoring program to Cramp Elementary School is only one part of the program’s progress this year. Boys and Girls Club also announced some Saturday activities at Potter-Thomas School. Open to the public, neighborhood children can enjoy basketball and drama in two 3-hour shifts: 9 AM – 12 PM and 12 – 3 PM.

Community activist and leader John Gonzalez, Executive Director of the West Kensington Boys and Girls Club, promised NorFilly™ Magazine a great community service article in the club’s mentoring program at Potter-Thomas Elementary School. What we gained, however, is a first-hand, inside look at our youths’ newest role models in the making – a first-rate experience with today’s most influential young leaders in North Philadelphia!

And remember: There’s more where they came from!