Pupils learn life skills through program

Special Photo 
Members of Locust Grove Elementary School's Young Men and Young Ladies of Distinction Program were honored at the school recently for their contributions in community service during the school year.

Special Photo Members of Locust Grove Elementary School's Young Men and Young Ladies of Distinction Program were honored at the school recently for their contributions in community service during the school year.

By Johnny Jackson


Geordan Jackson said he is glad to know what he knows now from his time in the Young Men of Distinction Program at Locust Grove Elementary School in Locust Grove.

The 10-year-old has learned how to tie a necktie, the importance of properly maintaining an automobile, and how to serve his community through volunteerism. The youngster said his newfound knowledge will come in handy as he pursues a career as a police officer.

"I thought it was going to be a lot of hard work," affirmed Jackson. "I usually don't do special things at the school. They [Young Men of Distinction] teach me how to be a better man, and how to serve people. I've learned that if I do the right thing, I can see good stuff."

Jackson, a rising fifth-grader at Locust Grove, joined several of his fellow classmates recently, and dressed up in a dark suit and bright tie for the year-end celebration of the Young Men of Distinction.

The group of male fourth- and fifth-graders is directed by the school's assistant principal, Walter Shields, and Title I Teacher, Te-Ann Simon. The school's parent-involvement representative, Kim Lunn, and school counselor, Leslie Flath, lead the program's Young Ladies of Distinction, a group of female students who also celebrated with their male counterparts.

The groups encompass 36 members altogether, according to Simon. She said students who take part in the program are either in the fourth grade, or fifth grade, and are limited to one year.

The program came to exist in 2009, with the Young Men of Distinction group, according to Simon. In 2010, school officials added the Young Ladies of Distinction group.

"The mission of the group is to develop our mentees into confident young teens who lead by servicing their community," said Simon. "We focus on academics, attitude, achievement, and community service. We are passionate about helping our mentees understand that education is essential to becoming a productive citizen."

Members of the Young Men of Distinction meet each week on Thursdays for about an hour during the school day. The boys alternate weeks between physical fitness and academic courses. The girls of Young Ladies of Distinction meet once a month.

Simon said the short-term goals of the group are tri-fold.

"We would like for them to understand that you must have the right attitude in school and life to be successful," Simon said. "We work on equipping them with self-discipline strategies, and we expect them to apply those strategies when engaging in activities with their peers. We also expose them to community service projects on a monthly basis, hoping that they will learn to lead by serving others.

"Our long-term goals for the students are that they become leaders in their school and are self-confident, productive citizens in society," she continued. "We expect them to become self-motivated learners who strive in the areas of academics, athletics and community service."

Leslie Cunningham, the parent of 10-year-old Darius Owens, said she was pleased with the program and its culminating event this month.

"I thought it was a very good mentoring program," said Cunningham, who was impressed with the program's focus on teaching students helpful life skills.

Cunningham's son is a fourth-grader at Locust Grove. She said her son has a father and step-father, who are both actively involved in his rearing. She said Darius was recommended as someone who could benefit from participating in the program led by a male educator -- Assistant Principal Shields.

"It's good that the program recognizes that all kids, to a certain degree, need mentoring," said Cunningham. "Darius doesn't see a lot of men in education, and I wanted [him] to see the value in giving back, and to see that education is still an important part in our society."

The program teaches students like Darius how some things are done, like demonstrating to them how to tie a tie, or how to change the oil in a car. She noted students in the program were also able to participate in community service projects -- visiting nursing homes and helping with a seasonal soup kitchen. Students also were treated to enrichment field trips to places like the Georgia Aquarium.

"I think it had a positive impact on kids in general," she said. "He [Shields] still expects for them to be good role models for their fellow students."