Conway Students Changing Lives
"Ja'Maal used to be little just like you..."
That's what Assistant Principal Rebecca Decker told these students at Marguerite Vann as they watched him in awe. Ja'Maal was visiting the kids at Vann Elementary as a part of "Mentors Empowered," a community partnership program where high school students, hand-picked by school leaders and teachers, go into our elementary schools to work one-on-one with at-risk students.
"Ja'Maal was one of my second graders when I taught at Ellen Smith (Elementary School)," said Decker. "He struggled so hard in school, but he had such a great personality, and a HUGE smile! He was someone I worried about for years after he came through my class. To see him succeeding in High School and working with Mentors Empowered brought me so many emotions- I felt so happy and relieved! I found a picture of him from when he was in my class and showed it to all the kids that day. It was such a rewarding moment to see things come full circle and tell some of my current students who are struggling that they, too, can make it- and they might even end up like Ja'Maal!"
Ja'Maal in 2nd Grade
"I don't think anyone is ready for the impact this has on the teachers, who, day after day, hit walls trying to reach the kids in their classrooms. Teachers who cry after school because they so desperately want to help and wonder if what they are doing even matters. When they see these students, they are reminded that it DOES MATTER, and that every day they show these children love, they are changing their lives for the better." -Jeremy Fox, Founder, Mentors Empowered
"One person can make a difference..."
"... and everyone should try." -John F. Kennedy
"Mentor Omar Pelayo was our first bilingual mentor to visit our kids. This was especially important at Ellen Smith Elementary School, where they have a large number of ELL (English Language Learning) students. There, we were introduced to a young man who had just moved here from Guatamala. He did not speak any English and as any of us could imagine, he was having a very hard time in school. Omar took this young man aside and began to help him with his math work. Although I do not speak Spanish, I watched and listened as Omar, ever-so lovingly and patiently, walked the boy through the steps. Their interaction was solemn and quiet (which is pretty common among Hispanic men as I understand it) but it was so beautiful to watch. Afterwards, Omar shared with me that he did not speak English in Kindergarten and was taught English in the first grade, by a loving educator who happened to be bilingual. "I know what it's like to be in school and not speak the language," he said. "I could feel for this boy."
A few minutes later, reflecting on the experience, Omar looked at me and began describing how he felt such a strong connection to this young man. He only got part way through the statement when his voice began to break. I gave him a moment and asked, "Omar, if I were to tell you that I have no plans to schedule you at any school other than Ellen Smith, just so you could spend more time with this boy, how would that make you feel?" He said, without hesitation, "Sir, nothing would make me happier."
When we went back to the young man's class, Omar gave him a sticker in front of the whole class, as a reward for his effort. As we walked away, I asked Omar, "Did he appreciate the sticker?" Omar said, "Sir, when I looked into his eyes, I saw how much he appreciated it and he appreciated it very much."
"One sticker and one conversation, worth more than any of us can imagine."
(Testimony shared with permission from "Mentors Empowered" Program Supervisor)
The Mentors Empowered program is currently on hold due to COVID-19; more information can be found on their website: mentorsempowered.com.