By Curt Yeomans and Johnny Jackson
Male students in Clayton and Henry counties can find a positive, male, role model from one of several groups in their schools.
One group calls itself DADS, while another goes under the moniker, M & Ms, and still another group calls itself, Gentlemen of Quality. Some are fraternity members trying to make a difference in the community.
These groups have the same goal, though, regardless of what they call themselves: Provide a positive role model to male students.
"They [male students] are very influenced by what they see," said Gary Lomba, the assistant principal at Lee Street Elementary School, and founder of it's Male Connection group. "They are making character decisions at this age."
There are five Clayton County elementary schools that have organizations in which teachers and administrators act as mentors to male students.
In many of these groups, there is a set of 10 values the male students strive to live by, including honesty, integrity, sportsmanship, respect, confidence, responsibility, perseverance, cooperation, courtesy, and judgment.
The leaders of these groups also try to get the participating students to learn life skills, such as how to tie a tie, iron a shirt, prepare a resume, and how to conduct themselves during a job interview.
The students also get one-on-one assistance in subjects such as math and reading.
"We just want to give these guys a male role model in education to look up to," said Marcus Jackson, the assistant principal at Hawthorne Elementary School, and founder of the school's Males and Mentors (M & Ms) group. "We try to let these guys see it's cool to be smart," he added.
Despite the emphasis on scholarship in these groups, it's the focus on learning manners that gets students interested in membership. "I've learned how to be a gentleman and help people in need," said Jimmy Sengstack, a fifth-grader at Hawthorne Elementary School.
"I like how we get to learn to have good manners, and be a good male," said Alexander Jordan, a fifth-grader at Lee Street Elementary School.
Another group, made up of Clayton County fathers, is trying to show middle and high school students a better way to live life, instead of misbehaving all the time. The group, called Diverse and Dedicated Support, or D.A.D.S., signed a memorandum of understanding with the Clayton County School System earlier this year to create chapters at several of the district's schools.
There are now D.A.D.S. chapters in nine Clayton County schools, said Anthony Williams, the group's president.
Williams created the group to get fathers in the schools during the school day. These men escort disruptive male students from their classes to the front office. They also try to talk to the students and convince them that misbehaving is not going to help them find opportunities as adults.
"It's helping to heal the community by getting men to become leaders," Williams said. "They are realizing their need to be in this fight."
Terry Robinson, a D.A.D.S. volunteer at both Lovejoy middle and high schools, said mentoring groups for male students are important in modern society because "the ratio is changing. We have a lot of single-parent families now, and a lot of those families are single mothers raising the children."
Robinson said he's seen male students exhibit less fear toward authority figures, such as police officers. He said he once saw a police officer tell a male student to stop what he was doing, and the pupil responded by telling the officer "you can't tell me what to do," and then pushed the law enforcer. Robinson believes the answer to these issues is a unified front from the community."It takes a community at-large to make an impact," he said. "You can't leave everything to the police."
In Henry County, one group hopes that volunteering in the schools will result in a generation of gentlemen. A decade from now, the many hours Willie Hopkins spent tutoring and mentoring after school will all be worthwhile.
Hopkins is the president of the Stockbridge-Jonesboro Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., a social fraternity known at one local school for its public service.
He volunteers with the Kappa League Program, a program where 20 members of the fraternity mentor students after school at Red Oak Elementary School in Stockbridge. The program is designed to follows students from where they are now, through high school.
At Red Oak, the program began with a kindergarten class in 2004 and will essentially end a decade from now, when Hopkins hopes all of Red Oak's students have graduated from high school.
"Our main goal," he said, "is to make sure that our kids are well-equipped, from elementary, to go on to middle school, and ultimately graduate high school and college to be productive members of society.
"It's all about giving back to the community," added Hopkins, whose six-year-old daughter, Chasity, is a first-grader at the school. "Our fundamental purpose for the fraternity is achievement. We help out with school activities and let them know that there are not too many places they can go in our society today without an education."
Members of the fraternity have been a welcomed addition to the Red Oak community, according Principal Mike Hightower. They routinely help proctor standardized tests for the school, work fall festivals, and occasionally host cook-outs for children.
"All we have to do is call them," Hightower said. "They're just wonderful men. And we think they just make great role models. It's truly an organization that believes in giving back to the community."