Seventeen young males from Oakland Middle School recently completed the first Emerging Leaders Academy — a mentorship program launched this spring between MTSU’s Center for Fairness, Justice and Equity, Oakland Middle School and First Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Michelle Stevens, the MTSU center’s director, said the nine-week academy “was a success” and hopes to continue with new cohorts of students throughout each year.
“It offered positive outlets and mentorship for these students, and the work aligns with our center’s commitment to support the community by helping to eliminate any social, educational or economic barriers that may impact minoritized groups within the community,” Stevens said.
Stevens said the program targeted males in the sixth to eighth grade who had leadership potential and had been recommended for the academy by a teacher or administrator. The program was designed to provide social and emotional support to these students while supporting opportunities that encouraged educational engagement not only on the K-12 level but at institutions of higher learning such as MTSU.
MTSU provided funding for snacks and activities as well as faculty expertise. Oakland Middle served as the home base and pilot of the program, trained mental health professionals to help facilitate sessions and recruited the students. First Baptist Church on East Castle Street provided adult male mentors of color to work closely with the students.
“Every other week, the students were engaged in lessons on effective communication, integrity, accountability and decision making,” Stevens said. “On the opposite weeks, the mentors would engage them on how they applied the previous lesson in their lives at school and at home.”
The academy culminated in a field trip to the MTSU campus Wednesday, May 17. The boys took a campus tour, participated in a certificate ceremony, attended a lecture on being a college student-athlete leader on campus and enjoyed food and refreshments.
Shauntia Cook, eighth-grade school counselor at Oakland Middle and recent MTSU alumna, first brought the idea of partnering on the program to Stevens’ attention.
“I was talking with Dr. Stevens and told her how I saw a need for a program that showed leadership skills to young boys that incorporated mentorship and curriculum on the topic,” said Cook, who graduated as an educational specialist in professional school counseling earlier this month.
“I think having the sponsorship of MTSU is so impactful because it is introducing higher education to young people in hopes they see what this wonderful university has to offer…. The students said the academy has increased their knowledge of what leadership means, their effective communication skills, their integrity and their accountability.”
Russell Clark, one of the five adult mentors from First Baptist Church, said he had been wanting to participate in this type of mentorship for years.
“I was elated to jump at it,” said the sales manager and football coach at Oakland High. “MTSU did a phenomenal job with the boys. Many told me how much they enjoyed the tour. A few mentioned wanting to be a Blue Raider as we were wrapping up. It speaks to the university’s commitment to the community.”
Stevens and Cook said the plan is to continue and expand the academy going forward, with Stevens adding that schools interested in participating should contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We plan to … rotate and enroll new emerging leaders once a quarter (every nine weeks) for the whole school year,” Cook said. “That means we could potentially reach over 100 boys in a school year.”
“We are (also) seeking funding through community grants to expand the academy to additional schools within the area,” Stevens said.
Launched in spring 2021 under the MTSU College of Education, the Center for Fairness, Justice and Equity aims to help cultivate an inclusive and diverse education college by intentionally recruiting diverse faculty, teacher candidates and educational personnel from a multitude of backgrounds.
To learn more about the center, visit its website at https://www.mtsu.edu/fjecoe/.
— Stephanie Wagner (Stephanie.Wagner@mtsu.edu)