It’s time for some Real Talk. “It takes a village to raise a child, and it takes a community to raise a school.” During her many years of working in the school system, Helen Drake is adamant that students need face-to-face contact with supporters in the community. “Some of these students don’t have parents. We need community members to step up and say, ‘I care.’ That’s what I want the students to see.”
Helen Drake, Student Support Specialist for Huntsville City Schools, started the HCS Community School-Based Mentor program, called Real Talk, in January 2018. The program provides a structured way for students to connect with people in the community – during lunch. Facilitated by the principals, teachers, and counselors “Power Hour” helps students engage with different youth organizations, churches, businesses, or clubs during their lunch break.
“The first step: let the students know that they have a community that believes in them, and supports them in academics,” says Drake.
Raising Up Our Students
Drake describes one conversation with a student that helped develop the pilot program, which ran from January 2018 – May 2018.
“You were probably chosen to be part of the pilot program because you have a kind heart and like to help others,” I looked at the young man and said, “Do you like to lead and help others solve problems?”
A look of pride came over his face and he said, “Yes, I do.”
I told him, “You were chosen for that leadership ability and because you influence others. That’s why we need your help to get this program started.”
The program provides students with meaningful time with a mentor that wants to help students thrive in school. Huntsville High School, Grissom High School, Lee High, New Century High, Mae Jemison High, and Columbia High each had 20 students that participated in the program. Students are encouraged to learn how to serve and support their classmates and others, as they gain academic and leadership skills.
Why Real Talk Works
What makes the program unique is the resources available to mentors.
Mentors are provided with some of the same professional development training that is offered to school staff. “By training our mentors, we make the support base stronger,” Drake says. Kenny Anderson, City of Huntsville Multicultural Affairs Officer, has partnered with Drake to facilitate mentor training as well as post mentor training online. The added convenience makes it possible for people to receive training when it works best for their schedule.
Real Talk Needs People with a Heart for Children
Families, community groups, businesses, and churches are all welcome to join the program, become a speaker, or donate to the program. Whether a speaker, mentor or a donor, often the community members learn something from the students.
To learn more about how to become a Real Talk mentor, a speaker, or donate, contact:
Student Support Specialist
Email Helen or call 256-428-6888 ext. 4
You can also sign up to mentor online.
This article first appeared on the Huntsville City Blog.
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