Bonham mentoring program hit with students, adults

Since it began a couple of months ago, the sixth-grade mentoring program at Bonham Middle School has helped many students blossom and do better in school.

An outgrowth of the Education Partnership of the Permian Basin, the initiative involves 75 students and 25 mentor volunteers from across Odessa. The students are learning everything from looking someone in the eye and introducing themselves with a handshake to time management and conversing with adults.

Amy Anderson, Ector County Independent School District director of AVID, said the college preparation program is not currently used in sixth grade, but the students are learning the strategies through these meetings. A recent session was the fifth of eight for the year.

“I think it’s been really powerful,” Anderson said.

Each student and coach writes a response or reflection on each session and Anderson responds to them.

“It is a lot of work, so it’s 100 responses but it’s really powerful for me to read those because the kids are saying, I love these sessions; I learned so much. I love what Ms. Perryman taught me today I loved what Mr. Harper talked to me (about) today. … These community members are becoming … members of their personal network and they realize they matter to more people,” Anderson said.  

Daniel Harper is a local attorney.

Middle school is an awkward time for everyone, Anderson said. This is a chance for the students to interact with adults and have adults see and listen to them.

“… They’re excited to show up and just show their life to their coaches,” Anderson said. “In the process, we’re building leadership skills within them so they’re learning a lot and not realizing because they’re just having fun doing it.”

Next year, Anderson said AVID will be used in sixth grade, but they also are going to keep the coaching sessions going.

Volunteers & Partners Community Liaison Debbie Lieb told the coaches they have been nominated as partners of the year for the district. The winner of that award and ones for other volunteers will be announced in late April.

The students in the program appear to enjoy it.

Twelve-year-old Damien Martin said he has learned a “really good introduction system” and time management.

“I think I’ve gotten kind of better in school,” Martin said, meaning academically and socially.  

Lorraine Perryman, one of the mentors, said she has seen improvement in Martin and had just met Anfernee Chavez.

“He (Martin) was a great kid to start with and one of the greatest things about Damien is he loves to read. He has a series of books that he loves and so that was a good way to identify and engage with an adult that we both love to read so we could talk about the books that we liked. I have really seen him blossom and be able to express himself better and make eye contact and speak up and talk about what was already in him, but he wasn’t really talking about before,” Perryman said.

“And I’ve just gotten to meet Anfernee (Chavez), but I already know what his favorite type of book is and how great his introduction skills are. He is an excellent young man,” she added.

Subin Phan, 13, said he thinks the mentors are great and he’s gotten nicer since the coaching sessions began.

Phan was among several students talking to Odessa Police Department Cpl. James Santana. He said they switch students at every meeting, but that day, the students got to pick who they wanted to meet with. 

“I just love being a positive light, especially to kids, to younger people. I know a lot of people don’t have a good view of the police these days, but I know it’s a good outreach and they can see the positive side of us and of everyone else trying to help them, too,” Santana said.

“It’s all about them and helping them understand how to be a good leader and a good role model to everyone else around them,” he added.

Faithe Lewis, 13, said the program has been beneficial to the students.

“I think it’s helpful and it’s really helping a lot of people get to where they need to be academically and it’s helping them learn more slowly by how they’re explaining things …,” Lewis said.

Interim Superintendent Jim Nelson was formerly executive director of the AVID Center in San Diego. He said it was great to see so many people from the police department, City of Odessa, hospital and others giving of their time.

He said the students often ask when the next session is going to be.

“Loving AVID like I do, obviously I’m very, very biased. I think this is a great process for these young people. There’s a lot of room to grow and that’s what this is all about so that the next year they’ll do even better and so on and so forth,” Nelson said.

“I suspect the adults are getting even more out of it than the kids are,” he added.  

Bonham Principal James Ramage said the coaching sessions have been wonderful for the students.

“They’ve learned that most of them are homegrown Odessa people. They went to these same schools. A lot of them went to Bonham, or other junior highs. They went to Odessa High and Permian. They’re now successful people here in Odessa and wanting to pass … forward onto our kids … the message of setting up your goals and doing well in school and making something of yourself as you become an adult,” Ramage said.