But if Flight Plan is the foundation for PDS’ character education curriculum, then the eight male staff members who serve as mentors for the program comprise its beating heart. Mentors meet regularly with small groups of 5th- and 6th-grade boys, spending 40 minutes each week in a loosely structured setting that follows the book chapter-by-chapter — while also serving as advocates for their group of boys throughout the week.
“If you look at the scripture, Jesus invested in a small group of guys; he was teaching the masses, but investing in a small group so that they could invest in others,” says Brady. “Using that as the model, we wanted to make sure that we each invested in a small group in each grade, so that we can be an advocate, coach, and mentor for each boy.”
The mentoring program itself has been geared exclusively to sixth graders since its inception, but in 2014 it was expanded to include fifth graders and will eventually be introduced to fourth graders as soon as next year, albeit on a less formal, introductory capacity.
Presbyterian Day School Chaplain Braxton Brady meets with his mentor group.
“When we initially started with the sixth grade, what we found was that by the time we were finishing the year, we were really only scratching the surface,” Brady says. “By introducing it sooner, the boys will already have the tools and basic understanding in place; what it means to be a true friend and what the definition of manhood looks like.”
The expansion of the program also means the role of mentors will become even more vital, Brady says.
“It’s hard when you have 70–80 boys to have a deep relationship with all of them,” he says. “This gives each mentor the opportunity to zero in on a small group and let them know that they are loved and being looked out for.”
Elementary Principal Mark Fruitt says he expects mentors to be a sounding board for the boys when they have questions, as well as a resource when the time comes.
“If there is a discipline problem with a boy, for instance, I want the mentor to be that boy’s advocate to me,” he says. “The mentor is a person who knows the boy and can speak on his merits, based on his own interactions and experience.”
Spencer McLean, Director of Athletics, is one such mentor.
“We try to address the situations and moments that they are going to have to face in the years to come that will test their character, challenge their commitment to doing what’s right, and help shape the kind of men they’ll become,” he says, “whether it’s situations involving sex, drugs and alcohol, peer pressure, you name it.”
McLean says it is important that each mentor be able to add context and address their boys’ individual questions, sometimes by looking at examples in the scriptures and sometimes by sharing their own experiences. The program can help launch important, enduring friendships, too, he says.
“My favorite scripture verse is Proverbs 27:17: ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another’,” McLean says. “It’s a valuable personal relationship that you want to build as a coach and an advocate, and it’s something you want to see the boys building with one another, too. These guys are going to be seeing a lot of new things together, and it’s a lot easier to make good choices when you have a friend there with you.”
Parents’ response to the mentoring program has been very positive, says Brady, who is himself a PDS parent.
“There comes a time for most parents where they want their boy to hear from someone else instead of just hearing from them,” he says. “From the parents’ perspective it gives them a great sense of comfort and peace knowing that their son is being looked out for personally, and has somebody that he can go to.”
“At the end of the day, we often wind up spending more time with these boys during the week than their parents do; it’s comforting for parents to know that they have a godly man looking after their son on a regular basis.”