KCC men’s basketball players mentor kids at Dudley STEM

Members of KCC's men's basketball team serve kids at Dudley STEM School in Battle Creek.

Members of KCC’s men’s basketball team serve kids at Dudley STEM School in Battle Creek.

Editor’s note: The following article was originally published on page 51 of the March 28, 2013 , edition of the Battle Creek Shopper News, with the headline “KCC men’s basketball team mentors at Dudley STEM School.” It’s republished here in advance of the team’s Girls and Boys Spring Basketball Camps, registration for which begins Saturday. Click here for more information about the camps from a post on this blog.

Marlon Allen is talking about success. Standing in front of a whiteboard-sized touchscreen and about 20 elementary school boys at Dudley STEM School, he makes his case for working hard.

“If you practice something and you work at it,” the Kellogg Community College sophomore says, “you’ll have high self-esteem and you’ll reach your goals.”

The presentation is part of a weekly after-school mentorship program that Allen – a guard on the KCC Bruins basketball team – and other men’s basketball players at the college participate in with second through fifth graders for two hours each Thursday.

Each week the team brings the class pizza and the kids and players eat together before two of the Bruins give a short presentation to the group, followed by a discussion and response time when the kids write in notebook journals about the topic of the presentation.

This week’s presentation – titled “The Relationship Between Self-Esteem and Academics” – draws laughs after Christian Covile, another sophomore guard for the Bruins, asks the presenters how self-esteem comes into play when talking to young ladies.

But the laughter dies down quickly, as Covile knows it’s a serious question young boys are thinking about and that the kids, many of whom come from homes without strong male role models, likely want to know the answer to.

“They get really amped when they see us, crazy excited,” Covile says later. “They remind me of me when I was in elementary school.”

Role models

The program is held in the classroom of Essence Williamson, a fourth and fifth grade science teacher at Dudley who last year sought out Melvin McKnight, KCC’s head men’s basketball coach and a close family friend, to participate in a mentorship program with her students that would include successful males in the community.

Melvin in turn offered up his team, and they ran the program with much success with fourth and fifth graders.

“She asked me if I could help her mentor some kids and I said sure,” McKnight said. “She said I’ve got a lot of kids; I said I’ve got a lot of guys.”

McKnight said many of the kids in the program – who are all African-American males – are growing up in homes without a father around, with some being introduced to the adult world of drugs and crime at a young age. The program allows them to see the men of the basketball team – some of whom come from similar backgrounds – making positive impacts in their community.

“This is what these kids need. They need male figures in their lives,” McKnight said.

Darius Holman, a sophomore forward for the Bruins, led the presentation on self-esteem alongside Allen. He said some of the kids have his phone number and will call him up and he’ll stop by the school to check on them. And some of the kids come to the Bruins’ home games and sit on the bench with the team.

“They look up to us. They look at us as role models,” Holman said. “It’s a good program.”

‘That’s progress’

By the end of last year – the program runs from January through the first week of May – Williamson said she saw huge gains in terms of the behavior of the students. She said the students are constantly looking forward to their time with the team – asking about the program as early as September – and that it has a positive effect on how they act in the classroom.

“It’s a big deal to them,” Williamson said. “They want to make this person happy. They don’t want their mentor to get a bad report.”

Williamson said teachers at the school will send her students in the program who are getting into trouble in class, and that she had one student who was being sent out of class two to three times per day for being disrespectful. When that two to three times per day stopped and stretched into a few weeks before the student had another issue, Williamson credited the positive influence of the program.

“That’s progress,” she said.

The program has generated attention within the community, with the Battle Creek Community Foundation supporting it with grants awarded earlier this year and a partnership with Jet’s Pizza keeping the kids fed each session.

Williamson said she had three times the registration paperwork come in for students entering the program this year than last year, when the program began.

When asked what he likes most about the program, 9-year-old Camron, a fourth grader at the school, said he likes that the mentors are funny, and that they work with the kids on their projects, which lately have centered around building a computer.

“They tell jokes and we all laugh,” he said. “We talk about motherboards, like in a computer. And we do it all together.”

For more information about the men’s basketball program at Kellogg Community College, visit www.kellogg.edu/athletics/mensbball/index.html.