Members of Reinhardt University’s football team partnered with R.M. Moore Elementary School to provide mentors for the fourth and fifth-grade boys. Men of Distinction, or the “MOD Squad,” pairs a football player with a student who may need a male role model and mentor.
The program was formed in the spring of 2019 under former principal Abbey May, Ed.D. In a description of the MOD Squad program, May says observations and data showed a need for support for fourth and fifth-grade boys. “Many come from homes with little or no male role model in place or without one that can provide stability, confidence, and support for our boys. This has led to obvious and reoccurring behavior and academic concerns for many of our boys.”
With a predominately female staff, R.M. Moore Elementary School looked for partners beyond the school’s walls and approached Reinhardt University with an idea. Working with the idea that many young male students find athletes and sports interesting, the Reinhardt football team partnered with the elementary school.
R.M. Moore Elementary students who are selected to participate in the program are paired with a football player. The football player visits the student once a week at the elementary school during the student’s lunch, recess, or specials (art, music, PE, technology) time. “They use this time to engage in conversation, game play, reading, or simply having lunch together,” says May.
Reinhardt University senior KeyOvione Whitlock volunteers with the program. He says, “Sometimes I help them with their homework, we play football or basketball together, and other times I’m just the person they can talk to about whatever they want. I think the MOD Squad offers the students a friend, and I hope they see me as someone that they can look up to as well.”
“The students eagerly looked forward to their mentors coming on campus,” says May. “It was the highlight of their week.”
The program has proven to be successful. “We saw their attendance, behavior, and academics improve,” says May. “This partnership created a confidence in the students that allowed them to achieve their goals and be more successful in many different facets of their lives.” She shares that the program has also been successful with the football players. “The relationships they have built with the students have helped them be mindful of their own decisions and responsibilities as well as become leaders themselves.”
Reinhardt University’s head football coach, James Miller echoes the sentiment. “It’s been a good program for both sides. It’s helped our guys understand how important they are and how important it is to have somebody like that in your life - somebody you can lean on, somebody you can talk to, somebody that’s not going to hold any type of feelings or grudges towards you. It’s a great program!”
Miller says football players volunteer to participate in the program, and participation is highly encouraged. “I think the ones that haven’t done it before are reluctant. Then they get over there, and they see what it’s really all about. Mostly it’s our older guys who volunteer, but we encourage the freshman to participate as well. The guys that take it seriously, engage, push the kids to communicate, and get to know them are the ones that really get a lot out of it. I think all the guys that have done it and put everything they had into it are the ones that have thrived, expanded their horizons, and get a good sense of well-being and purpose both ways.”
May says the Reinhardt football players have gone above and beyond to help mentor students. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, when team members could not meet in person with their students, they utilized technology to stay in touch. MOD Squad students have also been invited to football games and allowed to sit on the sidelines with the team during the game. “This partnership is about relationships and building a culture of support for two groups of students that truly need each other," says May.
The MOD Squad program was honored with a School Bell Award from the Georgia Association of Elementary School Principals (GAESP) at the GAESP’s Annual Fall Conference in October. Although May has moved on to another school and passed the position of principal to Matt Kimbrell, she says, "This program is near and dear to my heart, and I love hearing that it is still going and impacting students."