03/27/07 — Setting roadmaps for the future

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Setting roadmaps for the future

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 27, 2007 2:00 PM

Ensura Flowers shrugged off the notion of one day going to college.

After all, she planned to drop out of school when she turned 16. So she often skipped classes or paid little attention when she went.

Now, the eighth-grader at Brogden Middle School has aspirations to go to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and to become a nurse.

The turnaround came soon after she became involved in a mentoring program begun at the school in January 2006. Sister to Sister is for eighth-grade girls recommended by teachers because they need positive reinforcement to go the distance.

The school already had a similar program for male students. Boys to Men started at the school four years ago, sponsored by the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, of which the school's principal, Dr. Earl Moore, is a member.

Moore first introduced the concept while assistant principal at Meadow Lane Elementary School. He said it is his passion to make sure students realize their ability to create a better future for themselves.

His fraternity's sister group, Epsilon Phi Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, agreed to become a sponsor. Several attend regularly and serve as chaperones and mentors. They also lead sessions, using the book "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens" as a guide.

Gloria Burney, curriculum facilitator at the school, serves as adviser.

"We're so focused on end-of-grade tests and making the kids pass. ... We really have not found the time to give them the time we used to give them," she said. "Young people at this age, they're looking for somebody to talk to, somebody they can identify with."

The group meets every other week. Students meet in small groups and discuss topics like interpersonal and coping skills as well as future goals like college and career decision-making.

The students also take field trips. A recent journey took them to a local store to demonstrate choosing proper attire for a job interview, then to a restaurant to practice what they had learned about setting a formal table and proper etiquette.

The program has earned some recognition for its work, but the real success can be measured in the lives of the students it serves, officials say.

"I have changed a lot since I came here. They helped me," Ensura said. "I used to be wild and not care about anything. I had low self-esteem. ... I was very disrespectful. If I hadn't been here, I would probably be at an alternate school or getting in trouble somewhere.

"Now I just have a good attitude. I smile and try to be the best I can be."

A new perspective can change a future, student Precious Lewis said.

"It's not just fun being bad. You can have fun doing good, too," she said. "That's why I come to school now, for Sister to Sister."

Vanessa Faison appreciates having mentors who care.

"You learn how to express yourself," she said. "I have got people I can talk to."

The girls said others have noticed a difference in their behavior, especially family members and friends. But one of the biggest changes has come in their approach to school.

"I pay attention now," Ensura said. "I didn't really care about my work at all. I made nothing but straight F's. Now I'm on the honor roll."

Which means no more skipping classes.

"Now I know it's important. You have got to go to college," she said.

Her classmates also see college on their horizons. Precious wants to go to N.C. State and major in business computer technology. Vanessa has chosen UNC-Chapel Hill, where she would like to study psychology.

Ms. Burney said it proves out the theory that young people need rules and discipline.

"They don't reject direction. They actually want it," she said.

Programs like Sister to Sister give youths a voice as well as adult advice. And it carries over into the classroom.

"They want to participate, so they watch what they do in class," she said. "We won't take them out of the program, but they won't be invited to go on the extra events, so their attitude has to be good in class."

And Ms. Burney hopes the lessons the students learn will move on with them to high school.

"We want to do more than have it happen while they're at Brogden," she said. "We want to give it to them before they go to the high school and all those peer pressures kick in."

The girls they see have a lot of potential, said Anne Fennell, who also volunteers as a mentor.

"We want to help make a difference," she said. "We're concerned with the total person, not just academics but their behavior."

It's already paying off.

"These girls are excited. They go out and tell others about it," she said. In turn, the mentors intend to follow up on their charges when they transition to high school.

Similar programs could also benefit other students around the county. Shirley Blue, vice president of the local sorority, said she is looking into the possibility.

"We would like to do this at all our other partnership schools -- North Drive, Goldsboro Intermediate, Goldsboro High and Dillard Middle," she said.