During the instructional report of the February meeting of the Arkadelphia Public Schools Board of Education, Peake Elementary Principal Mary Snowden discussed a program she developed to help students.

During the instructional report of the February meeting of the Arkadelphia Public Schools Board of Education, Peake Elementary Principal Mary Snowden discussed a program she developed to help students.
“One of the things that I tried to do was develop kind of a mentor relationship for the few select students in my classroom. Students who I knew had disadvantages,” Snowden said.
Snowden explained that when she became principal, she was afforded the opportunity to expand that vision.
“Whereas, in the classroom I could only reach those students who came through my classroom. But as principal, I was able to extend that reach to more students than those in my classroom.”
Snowden disclosed that the reasoning behind the program was recognizing a growing difference between the African American test scores in comparison to their Caucasian counterparts.
“With our fifth grade students, in our English test scores there is a twenty three point achievement gap between the African American students and the Caucasian students.”
In reading, Snowden shared the gap was 35 points. Math and science gaps saw 32 and 27 points respectively. Writing’s gap was 14 points.
“One of my goals as part of my test is to find a way to close that achievement gap. I would like to see each sub-population on an even keel. So, it’s very important to me to put into place a program that can achieve that vision.”
Snowden then addressed the second reason, which she described, per her experience, was lack of motivation and not the issue of ability.
“As a classroom teacher, I found that the students had every capability of learning, but sometimes the motivation to learn was lacking. I felt that the biggest reason for that motivation is not having enough people in their life that they can aspire to.”
Thusly, Snowden moved to introduce mentors to these students whom they could idolize. The first factor in determining mentees was test score data.
“If I’m going to close the achievement gap for these students, then of course, looking at their test scores was going to play a big part in determining which students were going to be selected.”
The frequency of discipline referrals and family dynamics were analyzed. Snowden also took the recommendations of teachers on which students would be mentored.
“Based on those recommendations, initially I started with four students because being my first year as principal, I didn’t want to bite off more than I could chew because there was already so much I was going to have to learn.”
Although the program is still in its infancy, Snowden confirmed that she has already seen remarkable improvements in these students.
The mentors themselves are members from Henderson State University’s Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity. The group has had a longtime contractual relationship with Peake.
“I contacted those members of Phi Beta Sigma and said, ‘Hey, I’m wanting to do this mentor program, there’s two more years left in your contract, I would like for you guys to come and be mentors to some of my African American males.’ And they readily agreed to do that.”
Three of the mentors are from the aforementioned fraternity while another comes from Omega Psi Phi Fraternity. Snowden has since added additional groups to the program, upon interest to get involved being garnered, and female mentors.
“Members of Alpha Phi Omega, which is a service fraternity, reached out to me, as well as a few students from HSU’s Black Student Association.’
Snowden shared that there are five members from Alpha Phi Omega and two from the student association.
During a recent meeting, the principal stressed that consistency would be important in mentoring the students.
“They have been let down pretty much all their lives and so I told them, ‘If this is a task that you are wanting to take upon yourself, then you are going to have to see it through. They don’t need you showing up one or two times and then just dropping them because then they’re going to feel like it’s their fault and so forth.’ So those are kind of the conversations I had with these students.”
Snowden has met with students to determine interest.
“I feel like if our students can look at people like themselves and see them as being successful individuals, then that can motivate them to want that success as well.”
Permission slips were sent home to parents before students can be involved.
“I’m waiting to get the rest of those (permission slips) back in. They have until the end of the week and that way I can start matching up mentees with mentors based on their schedules.”
Students’ enrichment times are used for mentoring periods so they are not present during core subject teaching.
“However if a student can only come, say during math, then that student is welcome to sit in the classroom and we have had this happen with our males, sit in the classroom to offer that one to one intervention with that student.”
Once parings are made, there are meet and greets between mentors and mentees. Academic tutoring is also offered as part of the mentorship.
“So not only are our students getting the mentee benefit, but they are also getting that academic tutoring benefit as well.”
Snowden showed to the board a photo of one of the pairings. Before the student met his mentor, he averaged at least three to four discipline referrals a week. But since the mentorship, things have changed.
“I have not had to see him, I don’t even remember the last time I had to see him,” said Snowden. “Because he looks forward to his mentor coming and he does not want to have to tell him he acted up. And he takes pride in him coming because he will come and it’s like you can see his face light up any time his mentor shows up or you mention his name. The confidence level of this student has grown so much.”
Snowden said she would eventually like to develop the program as an after school offering.
Following the report, the board discussed factors of the low test scores, which included socioeconomic issues and poverty.
“Unfortunately, I can’t do anything about those,” said Snowden. “But I can do something about academic consistence in my school. That, I can do something about.”
At the time of the school board meeting, Snowden shared that the group was projecting to total 11 members, with four boys and seven girls. She continues to receive emails of interest every day.