BND, By Jamie Forsythe

— Ja’Ron Robinson was all smiles as he sat at a table with four sixth-graders at Franklin Elementary School. He was helping the students complete a three-page science worksheet in the hallway outside their classroom.

“You can just tell us the answers,” sixth-grader Kenyahn May joked.

“No, you have to look for it,” Ja’Ron said motioning toward the life science book.

Ja’Ron isn’t a teacher. He’s a senior at Belleville School District 201’s Alternative High School housed in a building on the Belleville East campus.

Ja’Ron is one of seven students from the Alternative High School who mentor students at Franklin for just over an hour every Friday.

The mentoring program started this school year to give alternative students headed down the right path an opportunity to help elementary children, according to Andrea Gannon, director of the Alternative High School.

The alternative students participating in the mentoring program are students who are self-motivated, caught up on credits and have no discipline issues, Gannon said.

“We are really picky,” she said in regards to selecting students who can be in the mentoring program.

“The kids really have to earn the privilege.”

Only seven of the 45 students at the Alternative High School currently participate in the program. All seven are students in Jolene Carver’s English class.

“It’s really a neat, positive program for everybody involved — the little ones and my kids as well,” Carver said.

Ja’Ron said he appreciates school administrators allowing alternative high students the opportunity to work with students at Franklin.

“Even the people from alternative schools need chances too,” he said.

A sentiment echoed by classmate Ta’Corie Purnell, who is also a senior.

“The Alternative School is not actually for bad students. There are students in there that had trouble with a couple of things,” Ta’Corie said. “I feel they are no different from a regular student in a regular school … You really can’t judge a book by its cover. They should be able to have the same things a regular student would have.”

Franklin Principal Jim Slater praised the alternative students who mentor students at Franklin. “It’s been a real joy to have them here,” he said. “They walked in and became part of our family here. They are positive role models.”

Slater said the high school students have “stepped up and shown maturity.”

Each alternative high school student is assigned to assist a classroom teacher at Franklin whether its with an academic lesson or chatting with the students during lunch.

There wasn’t enough room for all the third-graders who wanted to sit next to Ta’Corie during lunch.

“She does a good job helping,” Slater said of Ta’Corie.

While Ta’Corie was chatting up third-graders in the cafeteria, ninth-grader Joshua Rosebud was helping second-graders with a page in their math workbook.

It was Joshua’s first time mentoring students at Franklin. He seemed like an expert as he helped second-graders Avieon Kemp, Hunter Miles and Tyler Reynolds.

After they finished the page in their workbook, Joshua quizzed the trio on their addition with flashcards.

Ja’Ron provided encouragement to the sixth-graders he was working with on Friday, like when Thomas Bolden didn’t want to read a paragraph in the science book aloud.

“I don’t want to read and embarrass myself,” Thomas said.

“You can do it. You are going to read,” Ja’Ron insisted. “You have to read to understand what it’s talking about.”

He helped students pronounce the harder words like chromosome and evolution as they read.

Slater enjoys seeing Ja’Ron work with the sixth-graders. Slater was his principal when Ja’Ron was a student at Westhaven Elementary School.

ROLE MODELS

Carver said it’s been a “real thrill” to watch the alternative students take ownership over their roles as mentors.

“I think it gives them a sense of confidence that they are becoming mentors and role models,” she said.

Ja’Ron, 18, of Belleville said he can see a lot of himself in students like Thomas and enjoys serving as a role model.

“I really like it,” he said. “They are like my kids. I enjoy working with them. They can talk to me about anything they want to talk about.”

Ja’Ron wishes he could spend more time with the Franklin students. “I wish we had more days,” he said. “One day is not enough.”

Ta’Corie said she loves coming to Franklin and looks forward to it every week.

“Every day is a good day with them,” she said. “I love helping them with their school work and stuff. They always tell me stories.”

Ta’Corie especially enjoys helping the third-graders with their math work and encourages the students to always be nice to one another and do the best they can.

“I tell them you don’t always have to have every answer right, but you have to do the best you can,” she said.

Senior David Herber, 18, of Belleville said it’s fun mentoring the students at Franklin and “getting to help them with their work.”

On Friday, he was quizzing fifth-graders on their spelling words.

Gannon said the mentoring program may be expanded to include another school like Douglas Elementary in the future.

HELPING HAND

The Alternative School helped David get his grades up. Before, he said he had been failing every class and now he’s close to having enough credits to graduate.

After he finishes high school, David said he plans to get a job and save money.

Ja’Ron credits the Alternative School and his teachers like Carver with helping him correct his behavior and be a better person.

“I’m thankful for the teachers that helped me,” said Ja’Ron, who was placed at the Alternative School for a slew of absences, dress code violations and poor grades.

Being a mentor, he said, has encouraged him to do better. He plans to attend Southwestern Illinois College after high school to pursue a career as a counselor.

The goal of the Alternative School is for students to eventually be placed back at their home campus whether its Belleville East or West, Gannon said, or the students earn enough credits to graduate.

Being in the Alternative School, Ta’Corie said, has helped her be more positive. “When I entered the Alternative School, I did have an attitude problem. I was a little disrespectful,” she said. “It helped me change. It helped me realize that being like that would get you nowhere in life.”

The teachers help motivate students to try hard and get their work done, according to Ta’Corie.

She plans to go to college and is considering a career as a pediatrician or a math teacher.

“If I never had that opportunity (to go to the Alternative School), I would probably have still been slacking,” she said. “The Alternative School is a really good school.”