Albemarle High students get a hand up with mentor program

To illustrate the power of self-belief, especially when receiving encouragement from others, students, faculty and community members at Albemarle High School watched a short clip Friday afternoon of the 2006 sports drama “Facing The Giants.”

In the video, Coach Grant Taylor, trying to inspire his team which has endured several losing seasons, selects a player to carry a teammate the length of the field on his back while moving forward on his hands and feet — an exercise known as a death crawl.

Despite his protests, the player digs in and finds the inner strength to make the arduous journey — thanks to words of encouragement from Taylor and his teammates.

Similar to Taylor and his team, AHS principal Dr. Robert Wingate is working to make sure his senior class graduates on time — and he has invited people from across the county to act as mentors to help make his vision a reality.

“The whole time I was watching this, I was visualizing Dr. Wingate down there, pushing the players, pushing the seniors,” assistant principal Jerri Aiken said. “He is your biggest cheerleader and I think you guys have seen that.”

Wingate was unable to attend Friday’s event.

As part of the program, 29 people have volunteered to mentor the same number of seniors. The plan is to broaden the program to include all seniors and to continue the program each year.

“This is just a way of keeping a check on them and encouraging them to keep going,” SCS Assistant Superintendent Dr. Amy Blake-Lewis said.

The students are on track to graduate, but Wingate, in a phone interview, said he wants to provide them an opportunity for mentorship that he never had when he was their age. During his time at Wingate University, Wingate said he conducted research related to the importance of students having mentors.

“Everybody needs a mentor,” Wingate added.

Karissa and Brian Johnson, senior pastors at Perfecting Life Global Ministries, were selected as mentors, as was Melissa Smith, the district’s director of community engagement and dropout prevention. Others included Timothy Hatley, the SCS director of testing and accountability, Beverly Pennington, the district’s director of student services, and Michael Stovall, pastor of Resurrection Community Church in Albemarle.

After the pairs were announced, mentors and students got to know each other over slices of pizza. The mentors were provided folders with basic information about the students, such as their school schedule, along with a Bulldog mentoring action plan.

Brian Johnson was paired with 17-year-old Tayshawn Ligon, who hopes to eventually become a welder. Though they had never met, Ligon said he identified Johnson as a possible mentor before the pairs were announced.

“I just met him today and it was like it was meant to be,” Ligon said, adding he hopes his time with Johnson will “build me up stronger and motivate me more.”

How often they get together is dependent upon Ligon, Johnson said, but, “I would love for him to come and see me.”

Smith was paired with two female students. She said she did not know them, though she said she was an assistant principal at Albemarle years ago when one of the girls’ mother was a student.

Knowing the importance mentors had on her life growing up, Smith said she is looking forward to getting to know Akala Garrett and Anautica Meaders and wants the relationships to extend beyond graduation.

“Sometimes you just need that extra encouragement to just make that last push,” Smith said. “It’s a lot of pressure, especially when you’re transitioning into adulthood.

“When you have someone that is nurturing, that is there to try and protect you and provide that extra support that you need, they will never forget it.”