The young men are part of a new program at the school called Leaders By Example. The program is open to all boys in the sixth, seventh and eighth grades, and will serve as a service organization for the school and community.
The program was started by assistant principal Chris Stephenson, who said over the past few years, approximately 85 percent of the office referrals he has seen have been male students. Mostly, he said, they weren’t bad kids, just kids who were making bad decisions and needed to learn to make better choices and take pride in themselves and their community.
All male students in those grades are eligible to participate, and, so far, there have been about 97 who signed up. There is no grade requirement for participation and students can only be removed because of discipline issues or failure to comply with the rules of the program.
This was especially important to Stephenson, because he wanted to teach all the students to make better decisions. The stated purpose of the program is to “build and promote leadership qualities with our young men at Sumiton through service, accountability and sound decision-making activities.” The second purpose is to decrease office referrals through those better decision-making skills.
“So far, it has worked,” Stephenson said. He added that there had been zero office referrals for the students in the program so far this year.
The young men are split into teams of four and assigned to a teacher in one of the lower grades. Each boy sacrifices a day of gym class each week to assist that teacher in the classroom. The students are also required to complete and document random acts of kindness at school and in the community. They will also complete a community service project for Christmas and will take a field trip in the spring.
To show their pride and commitment to the program and school, the students will wear slacks, a white dress shirt and tie on the first and third Tuesday of each month.
Principal Paige Skalnik said she could feel a difference in the entire school Tuesday.
“This promotes a service mentality,” Skalnik said. “They are doing really well with it.”
Stephenson also said they are currently looking for donations of money or clothes, because they don’t want any student to be unable to participate because they can’t afford the dress clothes. The ultimate goal is to be able to purchase a matching outfit and tie for every participant so there is no difference in the “haves and have nots.”