Wayland students pair up with PHS freshman for mentoring project

PLAINVIEW – On one side of the Wayne Evans Gymnasium, a group of girls giggle as the volleyball sails over the net and lands in the middle of the floor at their feet. Boys on the other side of the net struggle to serve the ball while laughing about their coordination.

On the gym’s east side, a line of students approaches a side basketball goal, dribbling madly and laughing as they rush to outshoot each other in a friendly game of “knockout.” From the outside looking in, the scene looks normal in the Laney Student Activities Center as students enjoy afternoon recreation together. But for those on the inside, what’s going on is much deeper than just gym time.

Half of the students are from Wayland Baptist University, a diverse group of ages, races and major fields of study who make up a service group called Apostolos. The other half are freshmen at Plainview High School, participants in a mentoring partnership project that is already seeing benefits even in its early stages.

“To me, there are as many benefits to the mentors as the mentees,” said Lisa Kersh, principal at PHS and a big proponent of the program. “I was so impressed with the bonding that took place that first week. We do what we can, but there aren’t enough of us to go around to meet all the needs.”

The partnership kicked off officially a week ago and students met their WBU counterparts, then this week the Wayland students joined their mentees for lunch at PHS one day. The Thursday fellowship outing at the Laney Center was the first official group encounter, to be the first of many as the mentoring partnerships continue through the school year. The program is already making positive impressions.

“It has been fun already to get to know Jordan (Nelson, his mentor), and he’s a funny guy,” said Mark Rodriguez of PHS, adding that he’s looking forward to more time in the program. “I thought this would be fun to meet new people and get help with homework that I don’t get. I thought it would be good to have someone to look up at my age.”

Mentor Armando Martinez, himself a graduate of Plainview High, is excited about the long-term nature of the program. A senior exercise and sport science major, Martinez said he’s done similar group mentoring projects at Thunderbird Elementary and other places, but the one-on-one aspect of this program interested him. So when Dr. Rick Shaw, his Bible teacher and the Apostolos sponsor, encouraged him to participate, he jumped at the chance.

“I’m interested in getting involved in sports with kids, and anything I can do to help them out is a good thing,” he said. “I think it’s so necessary to get to know the kids one-on-one and be able to help them out if possible.”

Pam McMahan, assistant principal for the Freshman Learning Center at PHS, said she is thrilled that the program is in place and sees so many benefits for her students.

“That freshman year is so challenging for kids since they’ve been so isolated for the past few years,” she said. “People who haven’t been in a high school setting for years just don’t know what it’s like anymore. But these (Wayland) kids are close enough in age to them that they can relate more.”

The project started out with extensive research last spring by the fledgling WBU group, who wanted to make an impact in the community by meeting a real need. Shaw said each member conducted a face-to-face survey with a community leader – from law enforcement officials to clergy to folks from Plainview I.S.D. and MHMR among others – and got a similar response about the critical need in Plainview.

“Every one of them pointed to our high school kids, and who is better to help reach those kids than our Wayland students?” he said.

And that is the primary goal for the program, said WBU junior Jennifer Phillips, an Apostolos member who is one of three main leaders. Besides offering tutoring help for homework and friendship, the mentoring partnerships have a deeper meaning to the Wayland students.

“The whole purpose of this is to help teens,” she said. “It seems like there is almost a cry from (this generation) for support and encouragement. We want these kids to see that they are special and unique and they can go further than high school and reach their full potential.”