Mentoring for at-risk youth and their parents is part of nonprofit’s program

ricky-grover.jpgPart III in a special Signal Tribune series
By Nick Diamantides
Staff Writer

By the time some boys get into their middle school years, they are already walking on a path that leads to a wasted life and criminal behavior. Intervention by caring adults can give the boys the impetus to make wise choices and put their innate talents and abilities to good use. The problem is most adults don’t want to give their time to helping the youngsters, and those adults who do want to help don’t know how to go about doing that.
Academic Uprise, the Signal-Hill based nonprofit group, has been providing free one-on-one tutoring to local high school students for about six years, but recently the organization initiated a mentoring program aimed at intervening in the lives of at-risk middle school boys. “It’s a way of telling the kids, ‘look, someone cares about you and is willing to help you make a good life and a good future for yourself,’” said Elder Eddie Pierson, the organization’s founder and CEO.
The organization and the Long Beach Unified School District recently entered into an agreement allowing Academic Uprise to offer mentoring to at-risk boys in five middle schools: Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lindberg, and Washington. “We have launched a campaign to get some 500 mentors to participate in the program,” Pierson said. He explained that Academic Uprise is looking for professionals, parents, college students, retirees and other responsible adults who want to make a difference in the life of a struggling young person.
“These kids may not have a father in the home, or they might have other family problems and they just need some guidance,” Pierson said. “We want people who have stability and substance in their lives who are willing to spend a little time with a young person.”
Mentor coordinator Ricky Grover agreed. “It’s key for any child to have a good adult role model who can expose them to positive things and put them on the right track,” he said. Grover explained that children tend to emulate the personality traits and behaviors of the adults they admire. It is important, he added, that kids have interaction with people of integrity who have well-established careers or some level of success in life.
According to Grover, having regular contact with an adult who cares about them and who is somewhat successful will encourage the youngsters to put their own innate talents and abilities to good use and pursue educational and career goals that will enable them to live well-balanced lives. “They will grow up to become productive citizens and have a brighter future if they learn how to take hold of the positive things in life,” he said.
LBUSD has had a mentoring program in place for some time, but the program will expand significantly with the help of Academic Uprise. In early October, the organization began publicizing its goal of recruiting 500 new mentors. “About 25 have applied so far,” Grover said, adding that he hopes many more will step up to the challenge of proactively intervening in a young person’s life.
Pierson added that mentors must commit to spending one or two hours twice a month with the middle school student assigned to them. They also have to agree to a background check and go through training before they actually start spending time with the student.
Although the Academic Uprise mentoring program could change in the future, it is currently available only to male students, primarily black males. “The school district has a concern that many of its black male students are falling through the cracks, Pierson said. “They want to pull them up academically and socially.”
Meanwhile, Academic Uprise offers parenting-skills training to adults who want to do a better job of rearing their children. “Parents are the foundation that stabilizes children and the glue that holds them together in the process of life,” Pierson said. “Parents are also the key to good classroom management for the teachers.”
He explained that students do better academically when their parents show an interest and are actively involved in their education. “In addition, if children know that their parents and teachers are collaborating, they are less likely to exhibit disruptive behavior in the classroom,” he said, noting that Academic Uprise teaches parents how to be actively engaged in their children’s lives and educational process.
Summing up Academic Uprise’s philosophy, Pierson quoted Mary Mcleod Bethume, who said: We have a powerful potential in our youth and we must have the courage to change old ideas and practices so that we might direct that power toward good ends. “I agree with that,” he said.
Academic Uprise is located at 2501 Cherry Avenue. For more information, phone (562) 988-5811.

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