Mentoring program connects school safety officers and students

The School District of Philadelphia  |  Posted on

The Office of Strategic Partnerships (OSP) and the Office of School Safety (OSS) have expanded their L.E.A.D. (Leaders Encouraging Achievement & Development) mentoring program, an effort designed to help support the needs of young Black males through positive engagement with Black adult males.

Launched at E. Washington Rhodes Middle School and Hamilton Disston Elementary School, the pilot program partners District School Safety Officers with students at each school. Beginning this month, the program will expand, adding nine volunteer mentors to serve students at Benjamin B. Comegys and Rudolph Blankenburg elementary schools. The L.E.A.D. program will also include its first pilot with female students, providing a mentoring opportunity for female officers to work with students.

The initiative was created to strengthen intergenerational relationships among Black men and boys, equip Black boys with the life skills necessary for success and inspire and empower Black boys to both believe in themselves and maximize their full potential.

“You can never go wrong with having an adult mentor in a space with young men. There’s more than enough evidence to show that having a positive adult influence in the lives of our youth can have a critical impact,” said Kevin Bethel, chief of school safety for the School District of Philadelphia. “Many of our officers were already doing this in some capacity, but now it’s part of a formalized program that can reach more students. Our officers who are engaged now are really enjoying it and truly believe in their work that they are doing.”

OSP developed L.E.A.D. in spring 2020 as a way to meet the need for mentoring in schools, which was identified in the district’s 2018-19 School Supports Census, and found that 62 schools expressed a critical need for mentoring with many specifically requesting mentors for their Black students.

“We are happy to partner with OSS to provide training for school safety officers who volunteer as mentors to our students. We listen to our principals when they tell us what’s needed in our schools, and we created L.E.A.D. with that need in mind,” said Vicki Ellis, executive director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships. “Black male mentors are continually requested in many schools across our district, and we’re happy to expand to new schools and continue this important work.”

OSP was established in 2013 as a way to support schools by leveraging partnerships and to improve the way the district and schools engage with external organizations that offer programming and services at no cost to the district or schools.

L.E.A.D. mentors are recruited by OSS, which will be leading the initiative moving forward with the support of OSP. Mentors will conduct hour-long sessions each week with a small group of middle school aged students and engage the students on a variety of topics using nationally recognized best practice standards based on research, experience and evidence of positive outcomes. There are roughly 15 officers and 40 students currently participating in the program.

As of this year, all of the district’s 325 school safety officers received mandatory mentor training as part of the Office of School Safety’s work to reenvision its role within school buildings. The L.E.A.D. program moves beyond that mentor training to provide additional material for very intentional, high-impact mentoring.

The program plans to continue developing formal mentoring partnerships to implement at additional schools.