A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Frankfort Independent uses mentors, including former UK basketball player, to help close gaps

By Jacob Perkins
Kentucky Teacher

Every student needs someone who leaves a lasting impression in their life. They need someone to talk to them about school, extracurricular actives and, more importantly, life.

Unfortunately, not every student has someone they can go to and have those discussions. Frankfort Independent is working to provide that someone.

Frankfort Independent Schools (FIS) has enlisted the help of faculty and staff from Kentucky State University (KSU) to assist students in finding their passion areas while providing them with a sense of belonging.

Former University of Kentucky basketball player and current Director of Campus Wellness at Kentucky State University Twany Beckham (right) speaks with his mentee Braelyn Taylor. Taylor says that that Beckham is showing him that there are people outside of his family that want the best for him.
Photo by Jacob Perkins.

FIS operates what they call a “3:1 approach” where they focus on social/emotional supports, academic/behavioral supports and access to opportunity – which includes mentoring. Superintendent Houston Barber said one of the things the district has been focused on is providing students access to opportunities or to people that can provide opportunities for them.

FIS conducted an equity assessment in the fall of 2018 that evaluated how they did as a school system in focusing on equitable opportunities for their students.

“One of the things that we uncovered,” Barber said.” is that for us to really continue to grow and advance our work we have to close the gaps in a lot of areas.”

Barber noted that one of those gaps the district discovered is that a lot of the young African American males lacked support both in and out of the classroom.

“To help provide more support for our young men, we wanted to grow a mentoring opportunity,” he said. “What better than to partner with a neighbor in our backyard in Kentucky State University?”

In 2016 KSU received a $400,000 grant from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust. The primary focus of the grant is to engage middle school African American male students into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.

“If they choose to go into another career path, that’s fine,” said Roger Cleveland, director of CREED (Center for Research on the Eradication of Educational Disparities) at KSU. “But if they’re not exposed to STEM, they don’t know that it exists. It’s hard to be what you can’t see. So we’re going to expose them to STEM careers. If they choose that route that is great. If not, we’re going to support them in whatever they want to do.”

Cleveland said a key piece of the grant was to build connections between the faculty and staff of KSU and the students of Frankfort Independent. While the connections between KSU faculty and FIS students is an integral aspect, Barber said the program would still need to exist within school hours.

“Each mentor has committed 30 minutes a week, which is powerful because of that consistency and that involvement. It’s school-based mentoring,” Barber said. “This isn’t before or after school, it is during the school day and it is focused directly on that 3:1 approach.

“Our vision is that these sessions provide the opportunity for the mentor and mentee to chat about what is going on in their lives, how can the mentor impact the student, how can they help them with their academics, how can they help them with their opportunities outside of their passion areas. We’re trying to help the mentee see what their passion areas are. So the goal is to help the students feel like they’re appreciated, valued and provide a sense of belonging.”

One of the staff members brought in for the program is former University of Kentucky basketball player and the current Director of Campus Wellness at KSU Twany Beckham.

Beckham, who also travels around the state to speak with schools  about the importance of overcoming adversity, felt it was important for him to get involved with this program to provide a person that will consistently be there for the students.

“I gravitate to helping young men and women overcome adversity,” he said. “It’s my duty and I’m proud to be able to serve in this program.”

Beckham’s mentee Braelyn Taylor said he wants to be a professional football player when he grows up and Beckham is showing him that there are people outside of his family that want the best for him.

“(The program) puts it into my head that I want to do better than I already am doing,” Taylor said. “I just want to get better at everything that I do.”

According to Barber, the short-term goal is to establish a foundation so that the students in the program feel that they’re supported and a part of something special. The long-term goal is to provide mentoring opportunities for every student in the district.

As for Cleveland, who is also one of the mentors in the program, he said that he has been a mentor to students everywhere he has lived and he does this because of the people that helped him when he was younger.

“I always said that I will pay it forward,” he said. “I like to see students become successful and knowing that I had a little part to do with that.”

Barber hopes the nature of this mentor program, and mentor programs in general, grow beyond Frankfort Independent.

“This is definitely becoming part of our DNA and we want this to extend out to other school districts across the state.” he said.

Kentucky Teacher, is a publication of the Kentucky Department of Education.

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