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The Power Is In You

Transforming Boys
Into Men of VALOR


A few years ago, my colleagues at Cesar Tarrant Elementary School in Hampton, Virginia, discussed ways in which we might improve behavior, academics, and retention rates for the boys we taught. That discussion led to the start of a mentorship program for our 4th and 5th grade boys. The program, which we called Men of VALOR, would endeavor to develop internal motivation and empower our boys with good decision-making skills. As a matter of fact, the word VALOR in that title is an acronym that spells out the skills we hoped to target and develop.

V = Vision
A = Attitude
L = Leadership
O = Overcoming Obstacles
R = Reaching for the Sky.
Each month at our school, we plan a Men of VALOR event. The informal and interactive events offer a platform for teaching and talking about the VALOR concepts.

[content block] Another thing we have done to help instill in our boys a sense of respect for themselves and others is to encourage them to wear shirts and ties every Wednesday. As the boys show up in their dress clothes, every staff member makes a special point to compliment them. We continue to comment their attire throughout the day. The messages we share include "You're looking very professional today" and "You look like a CEO of a big company or corporation" or "A well-dressed young man always demonstrates positive behavior." Even our great Tarrant morning announcer, Mrs. Hanley, sings the ZZ-Top tune on Wednesday morning: "Every woman is crazy about a sharp-dressed man." [video link]


Guest speakers are an integral part of Tarrant's Men of VALOR program. We invite speakers from the community to share their experiences with the boys. Those special speakers share how they grew and developed from the choices they made in their lives. Hearing from others about that important theme is a key element of the monthly VALOR events. Guests have included Warren James, Jerome Barber, and Kevin Swann.

Warren James is the security supervisor for our school system. When he visited, he reminded the boys that we all make bad choices, but that the important thing is Do we learn from our bad choices, and will we know not to repeat a poor choice?

Reverends Jerome Barber and Kevin Swann are pastors of large churches in our community. They have encouraged the boys to reach and shoot for the moon. One of the positive messages they convey to the boys is "If you shoot for the moon and miss, you will land among the stars." Another of their messages is that "you can make a choice to be a star with your attitude and grades, and the choices that you make in the classroom."

A popular story that Rev. Barber shares is about how the cleaning product Formula 409 was developed. A chemist worked and worked to develop a unique and superior cleaning product. Every time he thought he had the best product it was rejected by his superiors. He tried 100 times, 200 times, 300 times, 400 times. Finally, on the 409th try, his product was selected to be marketed and sold. After sharing that story, Barber looks our boys in their eyes, and says, "Always believe in yourself, and always believe that you will be successful in life regardless of the obstacles or setbacks that you might experience."


Of all the guest speakers who have addressed our boys, the student athletes of our community's Pheobus High School proved to be among the most influential. We invited about a dozen basketball and football players to come and chat with our Men of VALOR. The athletes came dressed in shirts and ties. But the athletes we invited were not just ordinary student athletes. These high school students had extremely high grade point averages, had committed to going to major universities, and had never been suspended from high school. (And did I mention that Phoebus High School's football team was the Virginia State Champions this year?)

"Always believe in yourself, and always believe that you will be successful in life regardless of the obstacles or setbacks that you might experience."

Each athlete began by introducing himself. He stated his name, classification, professional goal, and the college he was going to attend. Then we asked the young men to share what it's like to be in high school, how they got to high school, and what they did in high school that enabled them to have great grades, prepare for college, and have no suspensions. The best part of the team members' responses was that none of them ever mentioned that playing football was a major part of their lives. The stories they shared were all about making positive choices.

Finally, we encouraged our 4th and 5th grade boys to ask the high school players questions about their experiences in elementary, middle, and high school.

This session turned out to be inspiring, motivational, and very informative to our Men of VALOR. The resounding message that the high school athletes left behind with our elementary boys was that school and life is all about the choices you make every minute of every day. As our boys left the room, the athletes shook their hands as they emphatically told them that "the choice is yours!"


Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, a Chicago-based educational consultant, believes that if you want to have success with boys in an academic setting, then you must provide positive experiences in non-academic settings. In our school, Men of VALOR was created to do that. We have set aside a special time that is not focused on academics to instill messages that will impact the boys right now and throughout their lives. We invite outside speakers to come in to share their important messages of VALOR. The program has proven to be an excellent one because it is all about relationships, mentoring, and teaching kids about internal motivation and the importance of decision making skills.

I should note that our focus on boys with the Men of VALOR program has led to another program for our girls. Our GIRLS (Growing In Real Leadership Skills) program, led by our guidance counselor Diane Conage, has presented many outstanding speakers and had great results.

Article by Carlton Ashby
Education World®
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