Elementary students develop leadership skills

George Kibawa, 8, watches a volunteer work on his tie at Parker Bennet Curry Elementary School Friday, Feb. 2, 2018. The goal of the program is to motivate responsible behavior inside and outside of the classroom by giving them the incentive of wearing ties. The Boys 2 Men leadership program at Parker Bennet is headed by Tyreon Clark. “If they look good, and feel good, they can behave good as well,” he said.

Griffin Fletcher

The students of Parker-Bennett-Curry Elementary School sat in rows along the school’s gymnasium floor for the daily assembly on Friday morning, waiting to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, led each day by a fellow student, and listening to their principal speak about weekly student academic achievements.

Though most students remained seated for the entirety of the assembly, a select few keep to the side of the rows of students, each waiting to be fitted for a tie.

As part of the school’s Boys 2 Men leadership program, boys who display good behavior throughout the school week are given the opportunity to wear a tie on Friday, signifying maturity and leadership.

“It gives [students] a goal to shoot for,” Parker-Bennett Elementary Head Principal Delvagus Jackson said. “It’s about building character.”

Initially developed in 2014 by previous Parker-Bennett instructor, now assistant principal of Adairville Elementary School, Jonathan Stovall, the Parker-Bennett-Curry Elementary Boys 2 Men club was taken over by Bowling Green native and Parker-Bennett alumnus Tyreon Clark, who serves as student relationship coordinator at Parker-Bennett, last year.

“Boys 2 Men is a leadership program designed to teach young boys how to be positive members in the community and in the school,” Clark said. “Our focus is to guide these young men to success inside the classroom and outside the classroom.”

The club engages students in various leadership activities, such as Boys 2 Men Fridays, a development headed by Clark, where young male students who behave appropriately throughout the week and choose to wear a collared shirt on Friday are given a tie to wear for the entire school day, so long as they continue to behave maturely while wearing the tie.

“It’s a pride thing,” Clark said, noting Parker-Bennett’s behavioral expectations of every student wearing a tie. “You wear a tie with pride.”

With student participation ranging between 20 to 70 students each Friday, depending on students’ weekly behavior and accessibility to shirts, Clark said students and parents alike express excitement for the weekly occurrence, referencing certain parents who bring their children to school every Friday already dressed in shirt and tie.

Fifth-grader Benji Rodriguez was one such student who came to school this past Friday already dressed in a tie and sport coat.

“I feel like a man,” Benji said, speaking about being able to wear a tie on Boys 2 Men Fridays. “I always dress up in my tie.”

On account of schoolwide and outside support for this addition to the Boys 2 Men program, Clark has worked alongside Parker-Bennett-Curry instructional assistant Latoya Marks to create a similar program for the girls at Parker-Bennett, called Girls With Pearls, which operates almost exactly as the boy’s program, except that it allows girls the opportunity to wear pearls on Friday instead of a tie.

“If the kids dress for success, if they look good, they feel good, they act good, they are good,” Clark said. “If you see a woman in pearls, you respect that just like you see a man in a tie. You respect that.”

In regards to outside support for Boys 2 Men Fridays and Girls With Pearls, Chicago senior Chris Wilborn of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity has helped tie ties for and take pictures of students who participate in both programs for five months.

“I just want to give back to the kids,” Wilborn said. “I want the kids to see a positive role model.”

Such outside support includes that of other local elementary schools, including Bristow Elementary School, which plans to instate its own Boys 2 Men program this Friday, Feb. 9.

Clark hopes to eventually extend the program to five other independent elementary schools in Bowling Green.

“A program like this can have a positive impact on the whole city of Bowling Green,” Clark said.

As for why he decided to return to his former elementary school and work to develop the Boys 2 Men and Girls With Pearls programs, Clark said he just wants to pick up where Parker-Bennett’s past instructors and mentors left off.

“To kind of come back into this area and be able to do things that I’m doing is pretty special,” Clark said. “You don’t see a lot of young men come back to their community and, for one, work, but also take pride in giving back.”

Reporter Griffin Fletcher can be reached at 270-745-2655 and [email protected].