By TYLER PHILLIPS
All the fifth grade teachers at Glenn Marshall Elementary gathered in a circle and shared jokes, stories and tips with each other. But one topic made them genuinely happy.
For the past year and a half, Eastern football players have been going to Glenn Marshall Elementary School. Selected players step into the school each week, meet up with a young man and talk to them about how to become better students, life, sports and anything else that may be of interest that day.
“They get tired of us,” fifth grade teacher Kendall Stapp said. “But when those guys come in, they listen.”
“Those guys” are several different Eastern football players that sacrifice time out of their week to come into the school and help young boys that need a little extra boost Eastern tight end Jon Floyd, who graduated from Madison Central in Richmond and his mother is a teacher at Glenn Marshall, is one of the players.
Floyd mentors two fifth graders Monday mornings, but has been a mentor to elementary students since he was a junior in high school.
“I’ve had about six kids since I started, one of those is in eighth grade right now,” Floyd said. “It’s an opportunity for us to get in the community and help kids.”
Xavier Strothman, one of the fifth graders that Floyd mentors, says that, the time he spends with Floyd is the best part of his week.
“I really look forward to Mondays,” Strothman said. “I think about it on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.”
Strothman said when the two get together, they throw a football and spend quality time together.
“Jon is respectful,” Strothman said. “That’s one thing that I’ve learned from him when we get together.”
Other mentors for this semester are Justin Adekoya, Josh Minor, Tyrelle Johnson, Zach Burgy-Vanhoose, Brandon Stanley, Jeff Glover, Marquise Piton, Isaiah Mathews and Jalen Rose.
“I got a few of us to start doing it,” Floyd said. “I’ve spoken up when we break for practice about it. He [head coach Dean Hood] talked to me when we just started the program about what I did in the past. But it’s great that we have all these guys out here doing it.”
Principal Abby White said that the program started because Eastern head football coach Dean Hood approached her at a district leadership meeting and was interested in setting up a mentor program with his players. White said she then contacted Hood and the program was kicked off in January of 2013.
White said she wanted to install a program where some of her younger boys could experience and learn from a positive male role model.
White identified one student who had issues at home where abuse and neglect were present, and she knew it was time to act.
“What they experience at home, they carry over to school,” White said. “And we see that. It’s a continuous cycle. That whole family dynamics where it breaks down and it affects them at school. We knew we had to do something.”
White said she typed up a letter to the family, and they signed it, granting permission for the mentors to spend time with the young boy. White said there were no conflicts with any parents for the multiple young boys that needed some help.
“Our hope was that these mentors would come in serving as male role models, spend some time with them and check up on the student from time to time,” White said. “Ask them how their homework was going, checking in with them and just spending quality time with them.”
At the beginning of the semester, Glenn Marshall made the mentors go through confidentiality training. At the meeting last year, White described a conversation that illustrates why she loves the mentor program as much as she does.
“There was one guy in particular that came up to me afterwards and said ‘Mrs. White, I grew up with just my mom. Is there anyway you can pair me with a kid that is like that?’” White said. “For a young man to say that to me and to realize how important that is. Him acknowledging how he grew up and how that impacted him, negatively in some ways, and for him to see that and ask how he could help someone in a similar situation spoke volumes to me.”
If the mentors don’t graduate that year, they stick with the same students as the year prior. Floyd has had the same two students in both of his years as a mentor.
White said one thing she wants is for the program to expand and include young girls.
“If the women’s basketball team, tennis team, or golf team approached me about duplicating, I would be all over it,” White said. “We have young girls that are seeking attention and need some positive role models. Even though the teachers are like that, there is a limited amount of us and only so much we can do from 7:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. every day.”
The group of fifth grade teachers all nodded in agreement, putting a program in place for the young girls would be ideal.
“A lot of things they just don’t know how to handle,” fifth grade teacher Amy Fichetola said.
But for the boys, White and the teachers have all seen vast improvements.
“They are more respectful,” Fichetola said.
Shaunna Everly, Glenn Marshall’s Title I Assistant, said that the boys come to her and tell her all the things that they have in common with the football players and it gives them a boost to help them overcome hardships. White says she knows how much the football mentors mean to the students and that what they are doing will stick with them forever.
“By participating in this, the guys have a positive influence in somebody’ life, they can help change these kids,” White said. “They are helping them see that they can be successful.”