Partners in Education: Mentors create a program that can be shared
Adults Tim Bailey, left and Edward Merida talk with Chaffin Junior High students regularly in the school library, spending an hour together.
At Chaffin, the guys hang out, talk and keep interactions low-key
As a longtime Partner in Education through his business, Candy Craze, Tim Bailey also has been recognized as an innovator – interested and even proactive in finding ways to encourage students at Chaffin Junior High. As the CEO of a candy company, it would be easy to simply hand out delicious rewards and prizes. Candy Craze, a partner business, has done some of that. But Bailey, as an individual, is self-motivated to do more – and better – for the students he strives to help.
He is deeply involved as a mentor in what Chaffin calls the Edge program, which is designed as a group activity held with all the mentors and students in the same place, at a scheduled time, for about an hour.
Beyond serving as a mentor, he collaborates with educators to evaluate and develop this method into one that can be replicated. Former assistant principal Dr. Sarah Biggs, who wrote her dissertation on designing and implementing Chaffin’s mentoring program, teamed with Bailey. The Edge program is now available as a blueprint for other schools. Mentors can be trained in practices that have been proven effective.
It starts with showing other adults they can be a mentor at all, he said, breaking down the mentoring concept into its basic challenges.
“To be a mentor – I was intimidated,” he admitted. “I have four children and I was still intimated at the thought.” He wondered how mentors could be helpful to kids in a completely different way than parenting.
“When we do this as a group, we adults reinforce each other,”?he explained. “Each of us may talk with only one or two students for about 40 minutes and then we come together as a group. Even while I’m doing that one-on-one, next to us are others doing the same thing. It is reassuring.”
What, exactly, to talk about also was a bit of a mystery to him until he carefully analyzed the role of a mentor – what it was and wasn’t.
“Because I’m not in a position of authority in any way, shape or form over these mentees – I’m not their parent or a teacher, I’m in a unique position – I can do them no harm. I can only do good. I?can’t ground them or punish them, for example,”?he said. The students also have to adjust to the idea that a grownup has come just to talk with them.
“They initially think you’re an authority,”?he observed. But soon, they accept a neutral, encouraging adult, he said.
Group mentors get to know all of the students. This spreads the responsibility and gives the kids even more access to support, he said.
“If a mentor can’t be there because he’s out of town on business, I can easily ask another kid to join us – because they know me,” he explained. Group mentoring also means a mentor doesn’t always have the pressure of being the man with a great message that day.
“Usually, one of us will step up and share a topic with everybody, such as the value of good manners,” he explained. Another time, a manager shared that at his company, performance meant a lot but attitude was everything.
“If you have OK performance but a good attitude, you probably won’t be fired. If you have good performance but a bad attitude, you’re out of there,” Bailey recalled the mentor saying. That’s a life lesson based in real experience. It’s something young men find convincing, Bailey said.
A mentor, rather than a parent or teacher, can recognize qualities that can’t be measured by academic grades. When an young man with a difficult home life was making low marks, Bailey recalled, only as a mentor was he free to say to the boy that his eighth-grade report cards were not necessarily going to ruin his future.
Bailey encouraged the student to bring up his grades and reminded him that ninth-grade performance “counts.” But, he also perceived the young man was showing good judgment and making positive choices in his challenging life outside of school – resisting bad influences.
“As a mentor, I could tell him that his grades don’t define him,”?Bailey said. “I?could tell him I was impressed with how he’s behaving as person, in difficult circumstances – I could tell him his character is outstanding.”
That kind of insight and support is the core of mentoring. A mentor can help a student set their own life goals and encourage the student’s effort toward them, constructively suggesting ways to get there. It is a very different role than an authority who requires a student to do a task.
Bailey is a natural recruiter. He has mentored students outside Chaffin such as his current colleague, Edward Merida, who asked Bailey to be his informal mentor when Merida was a high school student. Now a sophomore in college, Merida volunteers at Chaffin because of the value he says he received as a mentee and as a mentor.
Volunteering as a mentor, quantifying how to train other adults and constantly staying open to learning is personally very rewarding, according to Bailey, who is unfailingly humble about his service. He tells others he receives much more than he gives.
This article appears in the May 2015 issue of Entertainment Fort Smith Magazine.