Teacher pushes for men to join mentor program at middle school

CHARLOTTE — A mentoring program at a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools elementary school is asking for 1,000 men to volunteer for everything from reading to students to being lunch buddies.

Teacher vacancies in North Carolina increased 58.4% last fall, according to a report last week from the Department of Public Instruction.

Educators said there is a way for the community to fill in the gap.

“We have about 948 students, so if we can get a thousand, we’d be happy,” said Michael Hayes, a fifth-grade multi-lingual teacher who has been at Hidden Valley Elementary School for 17 years.

It’s a big goal that Hayes believes can change lives and he hopes to bring in community members with a passion to serve.

“Just show up,” he said. “Just show up. Give me an hour, and you’ll change a life. Maybe change your own.”

Hidden Valley Elementary sits in the heart of a community that is majority Black and Latino.

Even with its rich history, the neighborhood has also faced highly publicized challenges with crime and upward mobility.

Hayes said when it comes to his students, that’s a temporary circumstance.

“Our students have to overcome so many barriers that many other students do not, and we have students who do that on a daily basis,” Hayes said. “In many situations, many of our families do not have a consistent male figure in the home.”

He took an idea from his principal, Michael Gray, last fall to specifically target men as volunteers for a mentoring program.

“The aim was to reach out and touch the hearts of people who say, ‘We want to do something,’” Hayes said.

“Let’s do this,” Gray said. “And let’s see how we can utilize these gentlemen coming in the building to make an impact on our students and their outcomes.”

The idea is to also offer help.

“Because they come in, they share their professions,” Gray said. “‘Here’s what I am. Here’s what I became. Here’s where I came from.’ So, they understand. ‘You overcame, so can I.’”

Hayes said, “Men Count,” which is held quarterly, has been a hit with students and volunteers.

“The younger students kind of say, ‘When is that man coming back? You know the man who had the thing, you know, he was telling us about? Is he coming? He was fun,’” Hayes said.

Gray and Hayes said that kids who know that someone cares about them can have a lasting impact.

The next event is on March 23.

“Men Count” does not affect instructional time.

CMS conducts a full background check and drug screen on all prospective volunteers.

If you are interested in volunteering with CMS, click here.

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Jonathan Lowe

Jonathan Lowe, wsoctv.com

Jonathan is a reporter for WSOC-TV.