If you ask students at Manning Elementary School they know Fridays are a special day for recess, “It’s so cool when they (the Manning Mentors) come!” Alex Cousins, a 5th Grader at JT Manning shares his reflections on the new Manning Mentors program that involves parents coming into the school to lead activities, build relationships, and help teach interpersonal skills on Fridays. “I love playing football and basketball together. It is easier to see penalties or not get hurt because they help explain the rules to us. Mr. Gomez is such a good helper and I like hanging out with him on Fridays.” From the energy of the kids as they run out to the field and basketball court on Fridays, it is clear they look forward to this time with the fathers.
Fathers of students in the district lead these efforts and work closely with Lindsay Pietrzak to support the school community. Henry Gomez, Larry London, and Matt Franklin shared more about the vision of the Manning Mentors and how they got involved, and why they are leading these efforts forward. Henry Gomez has two kids at Manning and helps lead Manning Mentors. Recently, he shared the organic way this idea came to life, “actually Ms. Pietrzak started sharing some needs she was seeing one day just in the car line from what she was seeing at recess. She shared, I need more dads in the building, to be role models, and offer positive feedback.” All the dads laugh when Henry added, “be careful to make eye contact with Lindsay in the car line.” Henry started sharing with other fathers he knew and inviting them to come in Fridays and just help kids play sports and to build relationships with students, “I want to Mentor and help and acts of kindness are right up my alley.” Henry Gomez started with just that need and then some intentional invitations and consistent nudges and the program continues to grow.
An important part of the vision from the start is real community building and inviting people that may not “fit in” to the traditional ways of engaging as a parent, such as through class parties or PTO. Larry London is also a local father with two sons in the district and shared his motivation for being involved, “It is important for my kids and others to see people/ leaders that look like me as leaders, it allows those that don’t see that often to see something that may not be seen in the media. My son is there but it is bigger than just my son- it is about building that community and allowing parents to have a coaching type relationship that goes further to be a community builder.” Larry London also wants to create those celebrity moments for the kids, “those moments they feel great and high five us and then share their lives and plans with us and see us out in the community too matter.” Larry also sees the lack of structure at recess as an opportunity to focus on relationships, “the structure of it being unstructured is a benefit” and adds this is “an accessible way for parent engagement because fathers can join the efforts at differing levels.” The differing opportunities are to join on Fridays for one hour during recess or wanting to lead the efforts and help the program to grow- the leaders hope to include more intentional small group mentoring and helping teach younger students mentoring skills to practice and mentor others in the school community in the future.
Matt Franklin who has 3 daughters in the district, shared how he got involved, “My wife Heather and I focused on “how can we get more involved and invested in our community?” And it is important that it is not just moms, but dads and father figures in the schools as well.” Matt also shared the importance of that third-party validation and supporting the hard and good work the educators are doing every day in school. The Manning Mentors seek to support the teachers with more adults helping the students with problem-solving skills. Jackson Krone is a 3rd grader at Manning and is noticing the support, “I love when the Manning Mentors come on Fridays because they help us play games in the correct way and help us stop fights; like about who won or if someone caught the ball or not so I like it because they teach us to make it more fair.”
Students are definitely enjoying the time with the Manning Mentors. Alaya Ventra, a 5th Grader this year shared, “when they come they make me feel happy because we get to play more games and they help us play fair so everyone gets a chance.”
As students share about their time with the Manning Mentors it is personal, they share specific stories of the fathers. Alaya also speaks to the importance of adults in the students' lives, focusing beyond just their child to build with students in the school community, “I really like Brandon’s dad coming because he knows the game so well and he is so active with us- even in four square he was the king and learned so quickly. When he asked how many squares are here we all said 4 but he said: “no and showed us the bigger square of the whole game makes 5 and we all laughed.” She smiles ear to ear recalling this example of other parents building community during her recess time. Alex Cousins shared, “something funny was one time Mr. Gomez passed the ball to me and I fell back, and then he helped me up and checked on me, and then we did another play.” The students are learning by example how to lead with kindness and inclusivity. Diego Hurtado, a 5th Grader shared, “I like how they teach us to play the sports and set up the games- as Mr. Gomez does it in a snap and that way is better so we actually can play more games.” 3rd Grader Charlotte Siebold shared, “My dad came last week and I liked it so much because they helped everyone be able to play new games like Steal the Bacon and football- they made it so fun.” So many students mentioned this inclusivity of “everyone” being able to play and feel included.
There are bumps and challenges the Manning Mentors are seeing like helping students regulate themselves and re-enter school after recess, so they responded by adding in some cool-down time. They adjust as they go with close communication with the leadership of Manning but they hope to see the program grow to invite more men to meaningful relationships with all the students at the school including mentoring students so they can mentor others. “We started by building rapport and will allow an organic transition to get those involved in supportive things our school and students need.” Henry Gomez looks to what is ahead.
Larry London sees the long-term benefit of building community with the students, “a foundation and trust are built outside that we can come inside to talk and this will eventually allow us to create pivot points and see opportunities. We are the dads collectively and then bond individually with specific students to help mentor them even more.” Matt Franklin even envisions, “showing up matters and can change the trajectory of lives and we are thinking- what could this look like at the Jr High or across the district? It's about relationships and connectivity. It is about more than fun- it is about building a legacy.” Larry London points to the benefits over time, “creating environments with consistency is what we need to build relationships.” Matt Franklin summed up the vision of the Manning Mentors, “It’s important to make the community smaller.” These leaders hope to support education and allow students to feel known and seen.
Want to Get Involved?
We welcome all of our dads, uncles, grandfathers, and male community mentors to join us for one Friday and get connected. Send an email to Henry Gomez at email@example.com.