The program was organized by Dr. Angela Holocker, coordinator of student services for Kent County Public Schools and interim principal at Kent County Middle School.
The mentoring program here is a pilot for the state as part of a targeted effort to improve the school experience and educational outcomes of Black boys in Maryland.
Expanding on previous studies and efforts, the Maryland State Board of Education formed the Task Force on Achieving Equity and Excellence for Black Boys in 2020. It issued a resource guide for educators, “Transforming the Culture of Maryland’s Schools for Black Boys,” last year.
Dr. Vermelle D. Greene, who spent her career as an educator in Prince George’s County Public Schools, chaired the task force.
“Our Black boys are intelligent and capable. Like all other children, they want to learn and be successful. Yet this will not happen if as a state education system we — either through ignorance or neglect — fail to educate them in ways that affirm their learning differences, attend to their social-emotional needs, appreciate their culture, set high expectations and respect them as unique individuals,” Greene wrote in the resource guide.
Upon the task force’s report being issued, Dr. Holocker jumped at the opportunity to incorporate some of its recommendations into Kent County Public Schools. In doing so, the state provided the school system here with $76,000 to get started.
First came de-escalation training for teachers and staff.
In reviewing discipline figures, Dr. Holocker found that Kent County Public Schools did not follow the state and national trends showing Black boys being disproportionately suspended from schools. What the numbers here did show, though, was that Black boys were being sent to the principal or having parent conferences called at higher rates than other groups.
“We saw that teachers needed strategies,” Dr. Holocker said.
Those de-escalation training sessions were held last August.
In addition, Dr. Holocker got the greenlight to launch a mentoring program. Pairing Black men in the community with Black boys, the program aims to help students with their school work and their emotional growth and development.
It started at the high school and expanded to the middle school.
“We have mentors who are coming in the middle school and the high school, visiting the lunchroom, walking the halls and being a presence for our young men,” Dr. Holocker said.
The task force guide suggests partnering with existing mentoring programs, bringing those community leaders into the school system.
For Kent County, one of those programs is Rising Sons and one of those leaders is co-founder Harold Somerville. The father of two is a parole and probation officer and also a longtime youth sports coach.
Somerville and a team of mentors started coming into the high school several times a week in the fall to meet with students, talking to them, helping them with school work and maybe playing a game of basketball.
“We do a lot of one on one with them, mostly during lunch shifts.” Somerville said. “We come in and just sit with them and see how they’re doing, if they need help with anything.”
Antoine Reid Sr. has twin boys who are seniors at the high school, where he can often be found in the hallway talking to students as part of his mentoring visits.
Like Somerville, Reid also has a degree in criminal justice and has been active in the community and coached youth sports.
Both men know the power positive influence can have on a child’s life. And they know that some of the children do not have a strong male role model to guide them.
“We try to fill that void,” Reid said.
Tyray Johnson is another mentor. He has four children, three who have graduated from Kent County Public Schools and one still in middle school. His oldest is the performer known as Yvng Swag.
It was Johnson’s experiences as a parent on the outside of the school system looking in that led him to retire young from an engineering career and sign up first as a substitute teacher and then as an instructional assistant at Kent County Middle School.
Johnson is passionate about being a mentor.
“It’s about being able to make a difference, to make an impact on someone’s life and to leave a legacy,” Johnson said. “Because at the end of the day, the kids are our future. They’re going to be the future leaders of this country.”
Monday mornings have become a special time for the mentoring program at the middle school. Nearly 30 students from all three grades get together for breakfast at the school.
“We’re calling them Mindful Mornings,” Dr. Holocker said. “The students are really enjoying it. It sets those boys in a frame of mind to start the day so they’re ready to go.”
Mentoring activities also extend well beyond the walls of the middle and high schools.
In January, a group of mentors and students traveled to Wilmington, Del. to see Trojan basketball star Manny Camper play for the Grand Rapids Gold of the NBA’s G League. Students got to meet Camper and take photos with him.
“That was fun,” Johnson said. “Seeing Manny come up from here and now he’s playing in the G League — it was awesome.”
Plans are in the works for a trip to the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
While the mentoring program is focused on providing support for Black boys, the mentors themselves are happy talking to any students who come up to them.
“We’re always here to help,” Somerville said. “We want any kid to feel welcome and invited when they see us.”
The program is looking for mentors.
“You’ve got to have a love for kids and a passion for kids. And you’ve got to have patience, because you’re dealing with individuals with different personalities and different backgrounds,” Johnson said. “But it’s so rewarding to be able to see the impact that you can make on a person in a positive light.”
Those interested in signing up should contact Dr. Holocker at firstname.lastname@example.org.